Saturday, February 26, 2011

Session Beer Poll?

Yes, "Drink Craft Beer" has put up a TwtPoll asking "What is your abv% cut-off for a 'session beer?'" Choices are 4%, 4.5%, 5%, and "Over 5%."

Well, you know where I stand. And I think it's blazingly typical of American craft beer that currently "Over 5%" has a commanding lead. Go vote, folks, go vote. I'm perfectly happy to drive traffic to this poll, because it does fuel the discussion!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Interesting trends on the west coast

Just got the following note from's Joe Tucker about a San Francisco Beer Week event he attended Sunday night, and of course found it intensely interesting. Read on...
I just wanted to drop you a brief note on something Ken Weaver and I took note of at last night's Nanobrewers mini festival at Social Kitchen in SF last night. More than several of the brewers:
  • were brewing session beers under 4.5% abv
  • presented beers of English and non-English tradition (cask and non-cask, traditional hops and recipes and not)
Additionally, several brewers articulated:
  • a market demand-related reason for brewing lower abv beer
  • a business/cost-related reason
  • a business/sales reason (sell two or three pints of session instead of one burly beer)
  • a health and safety reason
While these weren't the dominant styles of beers offered at the event, the number of low abv offerings were grossly over-represented relative to their numbers in the existing market.
 So...trend? Interesting question, considering that Social Kitchen had named the event "Breweries of Tomorrow." If you haven't hit the link, do so, and read how the breweries described their output. "Subtle yet complex session ales intended for the social drinking style of a traditional pub," and "session beers with character – the kind of brews you can enjoy more than one of, and won’t get bored with."

The Session Beer Project, bearing fruit? I suspect it's more a case of being sensitive to the first small stirrings of a new direction in brewing. Whatever, we'll take it. Cheers to the choices!

Friday, February 11, 2011


Scott Smith is making it work in Pittsburgh. His incredible Session Beer Series just keeps knocking out really interesting session strength beers. Witness the latest:
Session Ale #52 "Drayman's Heather Ale" is a long-boil Scottish ale that's been cool fermented, and has 3 separate heather additions. One for flavor, one for aroma, and another "dry-heathering" done in the fermenter. This beer is 4.2% abv, fitting nicely into our "Under 4.5%" Session Ale guidelines, that we follow... most of the time.
Some history: You may already know that hops don't grow well in the Scottish climate, so rather than pay the high prices for the hops imported from their "friends" in England, the Scottish crafted their beers to have very low hopping rates... certainly very little hops were used for such frivolities as flavor and aroma hop additions. At those prices, hops were just used for bitterness, and even then as few as possible. (Don't let Ron hear you say that...) Local plants were often used as a substitute bitterness source, and since Heather was in abundance, it seemed the likely choice. So we thought we'd give it a try here.
The long boil used to brew these beers develops more carmelization in the kettle which carries through to the glass.  And the cool fermentation temps give them a bright clear malt profile without all the esters you'll find in an English Ale.
The Scottish hopping theory aside (and I'll admit, I used to repeat it), this sounds like a truly interesting beer. Again. Cheers, Scott!

Some Consistently Interesting Session Beer Commentary

Joe Stange's blog Thirsty Pilgrim has featured some interesting posts on session beers, and I've been neglecting reposting them here. So...

From October, a post about "session" as both adjective and verb, something that's gotten a few knickers twisted -- relax, it's just beer.

And from November and January, Joe notes the Public House Brewing Company in Rolla, Missouri is opening as an all-session beer brewery, and then visits and tells us about their "toasted-bready, dryish, full-flavored mild weighing in at 2.5% strength."

Keeping it up, he posted this week about the trumped-up "Session vs. Extreme CAGE MATCH!!!"...and suggests we should trump it up even more. And you know? Might be a good idea!

Check out Joe's blog; it's a good one.

(And thanks for reading the Session Beer Project! It's actually passed my 'main' blog in the Wikio ratings, which is kinda cool.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Nicely done reaction to Jason Wilson's session beer piece here. It truly does my heart good to see this kind of discussion taking place; this is what the SBP is all about.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Extreme Session Beer, Part II

After that last post about the Alström's Extreme Session Beer Project, it was interesting to see this post on The Notch blog. Chris Lohring is brewing a grodziskie, a mostly extinct Polish style of beer he described as "a beer made from 100% smoked wheat malt, very low ABV, very high hop character, fermented with an ale yeast, and served unfiltered yet with out yeast turbidity...True Grodziskie involves oak smoking green wheat (steeped and germinated wheat) while being dried and kilned."

I've had a shot at a (I guess non-traditional) grodziskie made at Yards, and it was really interesting and bold -- bacony, really, but refreshing.When I read that Chris was brewing one for The Notch, well, that's kind of exciting.

I was let down to read this, though:

"...the email came regarding Extreme Beer Fest. I was not on the invite list for participating brewers, as invites go to “brewers known for brewing extreme beers.” And it didn’t surprise me, as I understand I am the new kid on the block (at the same time being from the old school). We built our reputation at the Tremont Brewery on well balanced beers and were quick to call out extreme beers as gimmicks. So I had this coming to me.
Quite phlegmatic, Chris; tip of the hat to you for being mature about it. Why invites wouldn't go to both brewers known for extreme beers and session beers, I'm not so sure, but it is the Extreme Beer Festival, and the "Extreme Session Beer Project" is a subset within that, so... Anyway, the cool thing is Chris's reaction to suddenly not having an automatically appreciative audience for this quirky beer:
"I was too far down the path to Grodziskie to turn back."
Atta boy! He got the smoked green wheat malt (at Valley Malt, in Hadley, Mass., a very small husband-and-wife-run custom maltings) and went ahead and brewed a pilot batch. And now he's waiting on, as he put it, maybe the most important question:

how does Grodziskie taste? Is it in the dustbin of history for a reason? Well, it’s been one week in the fermenter, and I should have some sense of what this beer tastes like in another week. And then I can make the decision if this beer can scale to a commercial brewery, with commercial potential. With no captive audience to rely on at EBF, this beer will need to be sold to bars, and willingly purchased by craft beer fans. Something to ponder while I  gear up for the bottle release of Session Ale and Pils later this month. Sleepless nights are becoming common.
That's ballsy. Session beers are not for the faint of heart when it comes to brewing and selling them; at least, not yet. Tom Baker tells me that the session beers are a tough sell at Earth + Bread and Brewery (and they don't have one on, currently), only Victory seems to have no problem selling bitter at their pub (or maybe they just always have Uncle Teddy's on because Ron likes it, I dunno). All I ask: if you see a session-strength beer on at your local brewpub or bar, try it. And if it's good, tell me -- and I'll help get the word out, here, on Twitter, and on Facebook -- and most importantly, have another. 


Saturday, February 5, 2011

This is: Getting It.

Jason Wilson wrote a piece on session beers for the San Francisco Chronicle (which is just now starting a beer column? WTF?!) that definitely gets it. And not just because he quoted me extensively. Really. No, he clearly gets the whole thing, to the point where he recognizes that he has to up his session beer ABV ceiling to BeerAdvocate's 5% ceiling to come up with some beers to talk about...because there just aren't that many sub-4.5% beers out there.

Using BeerAdvocate's 5% is no real surprise: he quoted Todd Alström (and Sam Calagione, too) about the Extreme Session Beer Project. Which, by the way, is fine by me, great idea...except for the 5% top end and the totally misplaced anger. (And it's not new anger, either.) Check this out!
As you might imagine, the editors of Beer Advocate, Todd and Jason Allstrom [sic] - who run the annual Extreme Beer Fest in Boston - take the opposing view. In December, Todd Allstrom announced the launch of an Extreme Session Beer Project. "For too many years the mainstream press and haters have attempted to pigeonhole extreme beer as being just about high-alcohol and unbalanced beers," Todd Allstrom says. "Let's be honest, they're f- clueless."
Todd Allstrom's project co-creator is Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head in Milton, Del., a renowned extreme beer producer. Calagione sought a more evenhanded tone. "I totally agree and find it really destructive when beer folk say session beer needs to supersede extreme beer. Or vice versa. Like they're mutually exclusive."
Who the hell's saying that?! I know damned well I never have. I've made fun of some extreme beers; hell, why not, some of them deserve it. I've poked at people who only want extreme beers, who only want brewers to make extreme beers, but it's because this whole thing is about variety, dammit. If all the brewers made session beers, I'd be bitching about that. I have not heard anyone say extreme beers have to go away so session beers can thrive. Period.

But you know, extreme beers, big beers? They don't need a lot of help right now. They don't need me saying "Come on, people, open up your minds a little and try this stuff, it's frickin' awesome!!" Which I would be, if they were being ignored. However, they ain't, and the extreme defensiveness of some people about them puzzles me. In fact, as Wilson quoted me:
Bryson remains perplexed by the defensiveness. "It's like session beer is a threat of some kind to the extreme beer guys," he says. "Well, bite me. I want my choice, too."
And I do! Happily, articles like

Thursday, February 3, 2011

This is: not getting it

First: 21st Amendment's Bitter American is a delish session beer, and I can't wait till it shows up in Philly, and I will drink it.

Second, this guy got that...but that's the only thing he got. There is so much wrong with this, it makes me want to cry, vomit, and commit mayhem.