Sunday, September 11, 2011

Drinking it up: I drink an afternoon of session and publicly post my BAC

As posted below, I was involved in a session beer event at Farmer's Cabinet in Philly. Matt Scheller invited me to take part in what amounted to a session beer tap takeover: they have about 24 taps there, and Matt planned to have all but about four of them at 4.5% or lower (including some of Terry Hawbaker's new house-brewed beers), and those four would be 5.0% or less. And I was going to talk about session beers.

That was the plan...but it kinda fell apart, to some extent. Matt's suppliers let him down on some of the beers (including Coniston Bluebird Bitter, which was a -- urk! -- bitter disappointment for me), including some of the surprisingly low-ABV Mikellers. Bummer. Then, well, I'll be honest: not that many people showed up. At one point we had about ten, and that was the high for the day. So we just kind of sat around and chatted about session beers...and drank 'em.

I did do one other thing. I took along a piece of foamcore and a broad Sharpie, and put the whitesheet up on a shelf in the bar. I wrote "LEW'S BAC -- 1:15 -- 0.00" on it; my blood alcohol concentration at 1:15 was 0.00, according to my AlcoHawk Pro. I then publicly posted what I was drinking, with ABV. I thought I should put my money where my mouth was and, well, if my BAC was too high, I'd stay in the city till I was legal.

It wasn't even close. After five beers in about two and a half hours (I stopped drinking the proscribed 20 minutes before blowing), the AlcoHawk pegged me at 0.02 BAC, completely legal in Pennsylvania; I think I could probably have bought a bottle at a "wine kiosk."

And the beers? Pretty good! The House Bitter (Terry's) was tasty, but lacking in body. The Meantime Pale was chewy with British malt, a nice drop. Terry's House Grisette was delicious -- herbal, floral, dry on the end -- and had it not been for wanting to keep varietal, I'd have drunk much more of it. The Bells Oarsman was tasty without going overboard on the sour clench; quite refreshing. And the Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted was a nice solid glass to wind up the day with.

What did I learn? Well, maybe the format is not the best for promoting session beer. In fact, I'm starting to think that focusing on session beer doesn't work, because of session beer's character; it's a type of beer that's not about taste, taste, taste; it's more about drink/talk/drink/cards/drink/pool/drink/eat/drink/pool...Not what you do at a "Beer Festival." Need to think more about this.

But check this out. This was a two-day/all-day event, and the beers were simply on offer for regular customers, no entry fee needed. The bartender told us that Friday night the beers had been selling fine, and the place was packed, and they were all drinking, but...they never turned stupid or started acting like drunk jerks. Hmmm...another reason for bars to include more session-strength craft beer on their menu?


  1. Not to start a debate on testing devices but the AlcoHawk Pro can be extremely inaccurate. It also state within its introduction of use:


    Intended Use
    This breath alcohol tester is intended to measure alcohol in human breath. Readings from this device are used to determine alcohol intoxication. The accuracy of this device has been proven at a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.008 and 0.032. Accuracy at a BAC greater than .032 has not been established.

    Effects of Alcohol
    Variations among people and other factors, such as altitude and air temperature, affect the degree of intoxication. Some people may become intoxicated at low BAC levels. A low BAC on a breath alcohol tester does not mean that a person’s reaction times can respond to any emergency. You should not drink alcohol and drive or use any machines after consuming alcohol. There is no safe way to drive under the influence of alcohol. Even one drink can make you unsafe.

  2. So...are there accurate portable breathalyzers for under $200?

    And don't worry: we're not going to have a debate on testing devices. Because it's a moderated blog.

  3. >In fact, I'm starting to think that focusing on session beer doesn't work, because of session beer's character; it's a type of beer that's not about taste, taste, taste; it's more about drink/talk/drink/cards/drink/pool/drink/eat/drink/pool...Not what you do at a "Beer Festival."<

    Way back when you and Big Dan did the session beer dinner at Northside, I made the same point: if you are pouring beers which are designed to make you want another, doing a "now let's try another beer" event is so counter-intuitive you should have gotten headaches ever considering it.

    >The bartender told us that Friday night the beers had been selling fine, and the place was packed, and they were all drinking, but...they never turned stupid or started acting like drunk jerks.<

    This information would be more useful if we knew how often drinkers at The Farmers Cabinet turn stupid and start acting like drunk jerks. If this is commonplace, then it tells us something; if not, it's just hyperbole designed to support a desired position. Did you ask?

  4. Ah, but you were just hypothesizing. This is real evidence. As for your second question...I'm basing that on the general tendency of bar crowds to turn stupid. It does happen; seen it many, many, many times. Besides, given the subjective nature of one bartender's judgment on such measures...why should I think you'd accept such testimony?

  5. A. I have to say this the first time I've heard the argument that "the evidence proved your hypothesis was correct so therefore it doesn't count" argument. Well done.

    B. As I understand it, you are arguing that you accepted what the bartender said because you felt it supported a general tendency (which seems to support my "designed to supported a desired position" argument, but maybe that's just me), but no matter, since because I would questioned what the bartender said in any case I wouldn't have believed him anyway? Or something? I am thoroughly lost here.

  6. not enuf info, Lew

    and, i'm not talking about testing devices

    1) Height?
    2) Weight?
    3) BMI?
    4) Last 8? What? Eat during the 'session'? What?

    EVERYthing matters (including ABV & portion size)but when & what u eat can be a HUGE factor:

  7. 6'1", 280 lbs. -- so that's clearly a factor. My BMI is too embarrassingly high to post publicly. I'm 52. I had nothing to eat during the session (well, I had a piece of fried potato about the size of the last joint of my thumb). I had Eggs in Hell for breakfast at about 10 AM.
    "Last 8"? Don't know what that means.

  8. Jack, in response to your second initial response was flippant. I'd no idea you were taking this so seriously.
    If you did indeed say what you claim at the initial Big Dan Session event, sure, you were right then.
    On the second one, it was just a conversation, and I'm just reporting it as such. I didn't follow up. Maybe something for the future.

  9. People are getting a lot more into the science and accuracy of your BAC than I would have predicted.

    I think you are right about the format not being perfect for session beer. When I think of the places where I feel like session beer would be most appreciated, I think of a few things:

    1. Sports bars. You sit down to watch a football game for three hours, and most sports bars with offer you a choice between Miller Lite and a token craft beer, which is usually on the order of a Victory Hop Devil.
    2. Lunch. Acceptability of a beer with a business lunch varies widely by region and guests, but I feel like it might be universally accepted if the beer were obviously intended to be a flavorful beverage, as opposed to an alcohol-delivery vehicle.
    3. Concerts/events/non-beer festivals. Mostly the same reasoning as #1.

  10. You put up numbers, Greg, that's what happens; believe me, I know!

    Some of my thoughts on a session beer festival can be found in the 1st and second posts you get from this search:
    Note that NERAX is not a session beer fest per se, but given the beers on offer, easily could be seen as such. And it's largely a bunch of people sitting at tables and talking, and then going to get another beer. I think the setting is at least partly to credit.

  11. Lew,

    As to the 'drink/talk/drink/eat' aspect of this session beer tasting: wouldn't that be typical of ANY beer tasting?

  12. Yeah, but I picture the "talk" at the session beer event being less about the beer and more about life. I could be wrong.

  13. Necro-post! But Lew, what if a session beer "tasting" wasn't an event in itself, but an add-on to another social event or gathering that's a little more session-friendly, like a Kiwanis Club night or a networking event or school reunion. You have a guest bartender or someone that gives a 5-minute intro to session beers and what's on the menu, maybe some information cards for people, and then let everyone get down to business. Bartender chills out and answers questions people have if they want to know more.

  14. I'd much prefer that kind of event. My idea of a session beer "event" is exactly that: another event WITH session beers. Yeah.

    But...I gotta work with what I can. Maybe the ideal would be to slip one past a venue, have it be a session beer event without telling anyone...


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