Saturday, June 18, 2011

Wasatch Evolution Amber Ale

Stephen Beaumont and I do beer reviews for All About Beer, and it engenders frequent emails. Like this one, that he sent a couple months ago:
BTW, Lew, if you haven’t, you need to get a hold of some Squatters beer from Salt Lake City. They sent me a bunch for the World Atlas and I am very impressed with their 4% brews, especially the Provo Girl Pilsner.
I rarely ignore advice from Doctor Beaumont, so I fired off a request for samples to the good people at the Utah Brewers Cooperative, and they very nicely responded...and then I got busy as hell. The beers went into the fridge and stayed dark and cold till today, when I grabbed an Evolution Amber
You may chuckle at the idea of 4% beers from Utah. I don't. I remember a year when Utah brewers swept the schwarzbier category at GABF with low-alcohol lagers that were just awesome. See, when you have tough rules, you get really good at working within them. Kind of like the 4.5% ABV guideline I've proposed for session beer...

I was ready for something good, and I got it. This is a nice malty amber, and the nose proclaims that: bread, cookie, and a pleasing fresh grassiness. It follows through just fine with a light-but-not-lite body, good malt flavor, and just enough sweet to get the juices flowing, and just enough hop to clean it up. Very nice post-ride beer, and one you could easily session. More of these to come...

Battlefield in Fred-burg goes session in a Scots way

Got a message from an old friend, Lyle Brown, who -- after years as a very accomplished homebrewer (won silver in the GABF Pro-Am in 2008 with a rauch; more on that shortly) -- has made the jump to commercial brewer at the new Battlefield Brewing Company at The Pub in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I will reluctantly, sadly, admit that I haven't had a chance to stop in yet (gonna happen, it's on the way to the brother-in-law's and Blue & Gray Brewing and A. Smith Bowman Distillery (home of Virginia Gentleman bourbon), where my good friend Truman Cox is about to take over as master distiller).

However! Lyle knows I like a good session beer, so he sent news: We now have Spotsylvania Scottish 70 on tap at 4.0% ABV. This beer is a malty sweet beer, with a mild balancing Styrian Goldings bitterness, yet light in body and ultimately drinkable. There's also Chancellor Pale Ale (4.6% ABV) an American style Pale Ale with Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe and Amarillo hops.

I'm not going to quibble about 0.1%, I'd dive in on that Chancellor. Besides...Lyle said he's also got a Rauch Marzen tapping in a few days, and I don't give a damn what ABV that is; if I get half a chance, I'm getting some!

The Pub is at 4187 Plank Rd, Fredericksburg, VA 22407, 540-785-2164.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Session gets more good -- smart -- press

Financial news site has a piece on session beers and canned crafts this week -- "Cans? Low Buzz? What's up with Craft Beer?" -- that really does get it. One of the things they get is how session beer is fighting a real headwind: low-alcohol = low flavor/quality.
As craft brewers embrace beers with less than 5% alcohol by volume and can packaging long held to ridicule after being stacked in "beeramids" and smashed against one too many frat boy foreheads, they're battling both for market share in an increasingly crowded segment and against longstanding beer stigmas passed down through generations of drinkers. 
True. But craft session beer also addresses a problem, as ratebeer's Joe Tucker (a strong ally of session beer) points out: 
"We have a 'usability' problem -- average alcohol by volume is way too high to be sipping multiple beers down at the river, cutting the lawn or at the game," says Joseph Tucker, owner and operator of RateBeer, who sees session beer as a solution to craft beer's summer quandary. "High-alcohol beer is more filling, it has more calories and it's dehydrating, and this makes the average craft beer a problem in the summertime."
Can you drink big beer in the summer? Sure: that's what air-conditioning is for. I had an Otto's Double D during Philly Beer Week in the coolly chilled Grey Lodge Pub, and it tasted great. But when I was sweating it at a packed event later in the week, doors and windows open wide to try to get a breath of air into the place? Nice cold Kenzinger, baby.

One problem I continually struggle with is the folks who want to up the definition of session to include 5% and even 5.5% beers. I don't want to get to be an ABV Nazi, but the fact is, if most world beers, if average beers home in around 5%...that makes "session beers" no big deal, and once again stuffs 3.5% beers down into the "not enough" category we've seen expanding in beer judging, and in the pale ale, IPA, and even double IPA categories, a real "go big or go home" mentality that I've pegged as the "get a bigger monkey" syndrome. Keep "session beer" defined as 4.5% and less -- or 4% or less -- and you'll get a more level playing field for these beers, and you will see more creativity and more flavor at that level. We're seeing it already.

Chris Lohring, at The Notch, doing all session beer, naturally thinks a lot about the subject, and offers this:
"If it's fine to call something 'extreme,' and the craft beer community has really embraced that term, then what's so bad about embracing a term that's the opposite of that in 'session'?" 
Indeed. What's so bad about it? What is everyone so scared of? Summer of 2011, baby: the Summer of Session? Finally? 

Steve Body's Still Not Getting It

Steve Body writes a blog for the Seattle P-I called "The Pour Fool." He doesn't get -- or like -- session beers, and he's made that clear. He made it so clear that when he got a bunch of angry responses to his misunderstanding and dismissal of session beers as the choice of drunks, he felt compelled to not only delete the comments, but to spend his entire next blog post in a weenie-like defense of himself -- without mentioning "session beer" -- and his actions.

Just to show he's not scared of us -- and that he hasn't learned a damned thing -- his latest post (a paean of praise to Pike Place Brewing, which I didn't mind at all: I like Auld Acquaintance a lot, among others) goes there again, even though he didn't really have to. At the end of his description of Naughty Nellie Golden Artisan Ale, he sticks this sharp stick in session beer's eye:
Pike describes this as a “session beer” and, despite my stated aversion to the idea of sessioning (which I refer to as “drinking too much”), it’s just a glorious beer for anyone who wants more than one of the same.
I'd leave a comment on his blog, but he'd probably feel compelled to delete it. So here's my comment. First, "more than one of the same" is a key component to "sessioning." I just want to be able to have four "of the same" compared to your two of the same, because I like my beer to refresh my thirst, and I like to hang out with my friends for longer than you, apparently. That's so reprehensible? Second, firing up my trusty Session Beer Equivelator®, I see that if he has the 22 oz. bottle of Old Bawdy he talks about, I can have five shaker glasses (the roughly standard "pint" glasses (that aren't really pints) of beer bars) of 4% session beer and take in the same amount of alcohol. Hey, maybe I just like drinking beer more, I dunno.

Of course, we'd have to do this later in the day, because Steve's got all kinds of rules about drinking. "I NEVER drink anything with alcohol in it before 3-4 p.m," he says later in the post. Must be tough to get all the tasting in. Me, I generally don't do any serious tasting after 4 PM, but I'd hardly call it a rule. This guy's wound a little too tight. Maybe he does need those high-proof beers after all.

Look, I'll be honest. I don't know Steve Body, and I'm only beating up on him because he seems to personify a lot of the misunderstanding about session beers. We'd probably agree on some things, though I'm not sure about people in 2011 who loudly proclaim that they're a "beer snob" and describe pilsner as Bud injected with flavor. But to be this assertively wrong about something, and deliberately try to get in someone's face about it...well, I can't let that go. I don't disrespect his choice of having a couple big beers; that's a choice. What's so wrong about choosing session beers?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Big piece on session beer (it's good; I wrote it)

I did get to write a lengthy piece on session beer -- local session beer -- and it came out yesterday in Massachusetts Beverage Business, a trade journal I've been writing regularly for since about 1998 (sad to say that this is their last issue as an independent magazine). Check it out; I think I hit most of the bells on this one. Love the bit about the line out the door at the Lower Depths: people lined up to get openly-declared session beer. That's pretty damned extreme...