I was interviewed about session beers recently. I've kind of become the unofficial point person for session beer since starting this blog, so that's happened fairly often in the past four years. I've tried to be outspoken, because that's what session beer needs: vocal support (and your vocal support, too!), so brewers know that not everyone wants just more bigger, boozier, more extreme beers. Some of us also want great-tasting lower-alcohol beers that we can have at lunch and keep working (and I mean two full pints at lunch and keep working), or have a few of – or four or five of* – over two or three hours and not get silly.
So anyway, I was doing this interview, and one of the questions was: "There's been a lot of talk in the media about the session beer trend taking off, though it's often hard to see when you go to a bar...and see 30 taps, 90% of which are 6% and up. Have you noticed any solid evidence that the session-beer revival is really happening here?"
Fair question, if that's what you're seeing...but it's not what I'm seeing. I'm seeing more talk about session beer – a lot more – I'm seeing breweries making more session-strength beers, I'm seeing breweries making commitments to session-strength beers – like Chris Lohring with his contract brand, The Notch, which are all 4.5% and under – and I'm seeing more people responding.
Okay, I'm seeing that because I'm looking for it, to some extent, but I was looking for it four years ago, too, and it wasn't there. It's here to see now, and it is growing, and some of that's because the beers – like Yards Brawler, and Notch Pilsner, and Stone Levitation – are so good that we tend not to notice that they're so low in alcohol. Chris did a Notch Saison this summer that clocked in well below 4.0%, and it flew, though I suspect most people who drank it up never even knew.
One session beer's done so well that it's broken out of its seasonal slot and is going nationwide: 21st Amendment's Bitter American. I first had this delicious low-alcohol brew at 21st Amendment's San Francisco brewpub, and greatly enjoyed it. When it arrived in my Philadelphia market in cans, I was one happy camper, but my joy was tempered by its here-today-gone-next-month status.
No more. 21stAmendment has decided that Bitter American is selling so well that it will hold up as a year-round beer.Here's 21st Amendment Brewery co-founder Nico Freccia: "We got so many emails and tweets asking us to make this a year-round beer, we just couldn't ignore them. It's the perfect antidote to the big beers of winter and also the perfect summer brew."
"Bitter American is a great beer during colder times when strong beers seem to be pretty prevalent," added founder and Brewmaster Shaun O'Sullivan. "When we first brewed this beer it really scratched the lower-alcohol-session-beer-
that I would get when I was tired of drinking barley wines, imperial stouts and
other stronger hoppy beers. I wanted and I think a lot of good beer drinkers
want a session beer where you can enjoy a few pints of a beer with huge flavor
but without all the alcohol."
I think they're absolutely right. It's a tasty, crisp beer (much like Narragansett Summer Ale, another session-strength can that should go year-round, though probably with a different name!), it's got eye-catching graphics, and people instinctively know they can drink the hell out of it.
There's your proof. Beers like this are gaining sales (and not at the expense of big beers, you extreme crybabies; everyone's gaining), and the whole idea of a lower-alcohol, higher-flavor beer is gaining momentum. Why not? Because some people think it should cost less? News for you: thousands of cans sold disagree with you. I do think we'll have to have this pricing issue out one of these days, but the people have spoken, for now: they're willing to pay for flavor, even if a smaller group apparently only wants to pay for alcohol.
So...the blog is back. Tomorrow, an interview with Victory brewers Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet about the mistake that turned their Dark Lager into a session beer, and why they're glad it happened. See you then!
*Some might call that 'binge drinking,' I tell them to check the total alcohol and the time...and leave me alone.