Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bigger brewers joining Session Beer Day

Up till today, Session Beer Day was all about the little folks: me, you, some brewpubs, and some bars. Today we got support from some much bigger friends!

New Holland Brewing jumped in with a special price for the day at their pub. And yes, I know Full Circle weiss is 4.9%; don't be a hater, just get the Doug E. Fresh at 3.0%! Thanks, guys!

And then, just after I got calmed down, I saw this on Twitter from @GooseIsland :
Make sure you're prepared for #SessionDay on April 7th, drink anything under 4.5%. 312, Honkers Ale, and Old Town Yard would qualify!
Thank you, Goose Island! Now...if we could get some Levitation Love at Stone World HQ...and some official love from our favorite session brewers in Philly, Yards and Philadelphia Brewing...and maybe some shout-out from Vanberg & DeWulf over Avril and Jade...my Session Beer Day world would pretty much rock. 

High and Mighty: mighty damned tasty

Massachusetts is lucky: they have two brewing companies devoted to drinkable, flavorful, session-to-middling strength: Notch, and High and Mighty. I drink both of them* whenever I can. High & Mighty has a lot of fun, and their beer philosophy sounds a lot like mine:
Sure, we used to like IPA quite a lot, and we still enjoy a pint now and then, but, as is the case with such things, our taste changed over time, and we found ourselves going back to classic European beers. We weren’t going to try to recreate those, either, but we like to think that our beer leans more in that direction, with a decided American accent.
Although I like IPA more than "now and then," I'm liking the classic European beers a lot. So H and M's Beer of the Gods (Germanic lager) and Two-Headed Beast (stout) hit me right in my happy spot...and they're both 4.5%. Thanks, guys!


*If it matters to you, both Notch and High and Mighty are contract brewers: they brew their beer at an existing brewery (Notch mostly at Mercury/Ipswich, High and Mighty at Paper City). I'm mostly of the "how's the beer taste" school of thought on this, and both outfits are run by people who know good beer, and have been involved with it for years. Just so you know.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Session Beer Day Participants: where YOU can celebrate!

We have our first official participants in Session Beer Day!

Cape Ann Brewing in Gloucester, Mass., will be tapping their 3.5% Rauchbier on Session Beer Day.

A natural participant, where they do great session beer every day: "We are thrilled to participate in Session Beer Day at the Pratt Street Alehouse in Baltimore. We will be offering our three "session" year round brews (Blonde Ale 4.3%, Dark Horse Mild 4% & Bishop's Breakfast stout 4.4%) at the special price of $3/pint on April 7th."

Add Prism Brewing in North Wales, PA to the list: "We're brewing White Lightning today, a 4.2% ABV wit brewed with chives. Should be done in time for a 4/5 tapping, so count us in! We'll run it at $4 a pint on that day as well!" Nice!

If YOU are hosting a Session Beer Day event, please add it as a comment to this post! Update: there are more events already; please check the comments for more Session Day events.

I don't mind this getting out of control...as long as it's about session beer at 4.5% or less. That's pretty much the only guideline. It's not about "sessionable!"

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Eagle & Lion: another session-loving brewpub

Caught wind of this place recently: the Eagle & Lion Brew Pub (clever name for a place in Griffin, Georgia). I'll let their website tell the story:
The Eagle & Lion Brew Pub is now open for drinks and food. The unique brewery specializes in English-style Real Ale served from the casks they were conditioned in. The brewer, Mark Broe, trained at Brewlab at the University of Sunderland and worked several years at the Grand Union Brewery in London. The opening line-up will include a mild, an ordinary bitter, a gold, a special bitter, a single-hop varietal IPA, and a stout. The 8 barrel brewery is from the Birmingham Brewery in the UK. Craft keg beers will be featured along with interesting bottled beers, as well as a full service bar. The scratch menu emphasizes pub food and changes daily.
Currently, the house beers include Tipsy Toad (3.7%), Golden Eagle (4.2%), Brass Monkey (4.2%),
Yes Face IPA (4.5%), South of Taylor Special (4.5%), and the non-session but what the hell I'll throw it in anyway East Griffin Stout (5.0%). Now there's a session beer line-up! They do have non-session guest taps, too, so you can take your big-beer insistent buddies along (and carry them out if they try keeping up with you). 

About that sticker...

We've mentioned the Session Beer Project sticker a couple times. It is for sale at CafePress here. It's $3.74 plus postage; less than a buck of that goes to me. I'm not even sure why any of it goes to me; but it's minimal on all the merch there (including the big SBP hoodie I'll be wearing on Session Beer Day).

The reason I bring it up is because there are now two of them out there (and it only took three years...). Piper's Pub in Pittsburgh is now proudly displaying one, as seen below. This is the regular model; there is also a clear one now. Great way to show your sessionality!

Bulls Head Pub does a session beer takeover on April 7

I know, I was going to put all the events in the comments section of the Session Beer Day post down below, but this was so cool I decided to give it a whole post. Paul Pendyck's Bulls Head Public House, in Lititz, Penn. is doing a total session takeover on April 7! If you didn't already know, Paul's a cask beer guru, a cask consultant, and one of the people most responsible for bringing good cask ale to America. This will be session beer done right!

Session Beer Day, April 7

All beers will be 4.50% abv and all pints will be $4.50!

On Saturday April 7 bars and breweries throughout the US will be participating in Session Beer Day.  The Bulls Head will be participating by having a tap takeover of session beers (as long as we can get them all in!) Either way there will be plenty for you to try. In addition, all the beers that are served in pints will be priced at $4.50!
(Session beer is close to my heart as growing up in England most of the beers offered in pubs are session beers.) 

How about that! If I didn't have to sing at home on the evening of April 7, I'd be dropping anchor at the Bulls Head!

Monday, March 26, 2012

MORE session-friendly brewers: two NEW ones


Nimble Hill Brewing Co. (at Nimble Hill Winery) is in Mehoopaney, Penn. (really, look it up), and is so brand-spanking new that according to brewer Michael Simmons, "Our first brew as a new brewery will be an English Mild, called Fuggle, at 3.5% ABV. It will be ready by April 7th! It will be available in draft only, at restaurants near Tunkhannock, Penn." That's west of Scranton, and proves again that even rural Pennsylvania is rapidly getting hip to craft and session beer.

Next up is a brewery far from the Wyoming Valley: Strike Brewing is based in San Jose, Calif. They recently told me that "We are a three month old brewing company in the Bay Area and launched with a series of session beers. Our Blonde is 4.6% [very close...], Wit 4.3% and Brown is right at 4%." 

Pretty cool stuff, and thanks to both Nimble Hill and Strike for giving session a shot!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Another session-friendly brewery: Pateros Creek

Pateros Creek Brewing in Ft. Collins, Colo. also reached out thanks to the Session Beer Day buzz. I got this from "Beer Maker" Steve Jones:
I just found out about this and I am stoked! I have been brewing session beers for a while and when I (Pateros Creek) opened my doors last June I had opened with the thought of doing only session beers. That has changed some and I have a few that are over 5%. I know that you are saying 4.5% is the top so I was mistaken there as I couldn't find enough literature on the definition of session (no one can, Steve; we're happily winging it!). I have been creating small beers for my customers but being in Colorado, it has been hard to garner support at times. Everyone wants crazy amounts of alcohol in their beer (easy to hide flaws and get drunk I suppose). Anyway, I am going to have some sort of celebration on April 7th for Session Day. #sessionday
I'm pretty stoked, too! Steve currently has Old Town Ale (a k├Âlsch) at 4.5%, Car 21 Best Bitter at 4.5%, and Remittance Ale (a mild) at 3.1%. Hope to hear more about his Session Beer Day celebration!
 

Barley John's Brew Pub -- sessioning along

Got an email recently from Brian Lonberg, head brewer at Barley John's Brew Pub in New Brighton, Minnesota. Just gonna reprint the pertinent bits; he's doing session beers, and I know you'd be interested. (They just celebrated their 12th anniversary, too: congratulations!) It's a sure bet they'll have session beer on Session Day, too. He's still using "sessionable," but I figure that could take a while for me to stamp out completely...(that's tongue-in-cheek, Brian!)
I have been following your blog for a little while now, and have a couple of session beers that would be prefect for your blog.
Our Little Barley Bitter (year-round beer!) is a pretty excellent example of a British Bitter, clocking in at 3.5%.
Our Northern English Brown Ale is also quite sessionable at 4.3%.
And at 5.2% (assuming you're still calling that sessionable) we have our newest seasonal called Vulgare's Munich Dark - a Dunkeles that is anything but your common lager. (It's not session, but I'm a big fan of Dunkel, so I certainly wouldn't kick it out of bed.)
Good to know more folks are doing session regularly (and doing lagers, too!). 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Session Beer Day, April 7!

I suggested to the members of the small (but rapidly growing) Session Beer Project page on Facebook that we should make April 5th (4.5) or April 7th (Little Repeal Day, when 4.0% ABV beer became legal before repeal of the 18th Amendment) our day, Session Beer Day. We could ask for session beers at our favorite bars, and brewpubs, and suchlike, invite people to try them, gin up plenty of social media whoopee, and all dat.

We decided on April 7: there are a lot of photographs of a LOT of Americans happily drinking 4.0% beer we can use, it's a day the beer industry is already aware of, and...it's a Saturday this year (the day before Easter, which is actually kind of weird for me; I have a tradition of drinking big beers that afternoon), which doesn't hurt when you're planning a beer event!

What to do? If you work at a bar (or manage one, or own one), please consider throwing some under-4.5% beers on for April 7th, and making a special price or promotion for them. Tell folks it's Session Beer Day, and encourage them to see how good lower alcohol beers can be. (Good day to get a "We Support" window sticker, too!) If you're a brewer or wholesaler, encourage your accounts to pick up your under-4.5% beers for that day; it's a great chance to promote those beers! If you're a beer blogger/tweeter/writer, please consider spreading the word about Session Beer Day: use the hashtag #sessionday . And if you're a session beer drinker...get out there and ask for it!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Stout Day!

I posted over at my other, main blog about St. Patrick's Day, and while some of it's about whiskey, there's a good chunk about how this is a huge session beer day. People suck down dry Irish stouts of various manufacture -- mostly Guinness -- and they're almost all under 4.5%. It's a good day for session beer, and I should have done more to point that out. I have to think about this stuff!

Hmmm...maybe April 5th -- 4.5 -- as Session Beer Day?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Blatant Session

I picked up some beer in Newton, Mass at Marty's last Friday when I picked up Thomas from BU; a sixpack of Notch Pils -- just cuz -- and 22 oz. bombers of Cambridge Brewing's Audacity of Hops, and Blatant Brewery's IPA and Session. I'd seen pictures of those three on Facebook, and made a stop at Marty's mostly to get some (and partly because I'd just done a telephone interview with Marty Siegal two weeks before, and was really interested in seeing the store -- rightly so, it's freakin' awesome). Of course they had Blatant: their distributor is Atlantic Importing, run by Marty Siegal's son Sean. I brought them home and have been waiting for the right moment.

Tonight we had burgers grilled outside in the cool evening, and we wanted something not to boozy: we're closing on our refinance in about 15 minutes. Blatant Session, at 3.9%, sounded perfect. Cathy's first sip put a smile on her face: "Oooo, that's yummy." It was a bit like Stone Levitation, but without the forward malt, and without quite as urgent a hop character. Tasty, bitter, good malt backbone, and very finishable.

I'd like to spend some time at a bar with this, three Notches, and the Sam Adams Belgian Session on tap, and play some cards, and talk some politics, and watch some baseball. I feel that day may not be so far away anymore. Maybe I was wrong about last year being the Year of Session Beer. Maybe it's this year.

Chris Lohring is Cool...and by extension....

I swear, it's not that I'm piling on with Chris Lohring and Notch Brewing. But about half an hour ago I got an email from The Daily Meal that Lohring made their "60 (Plus) Coolest People in Food & Drink" list. Okay, it's not a James Beard award, but when you're the ONLY brewer on the list (and yeah, I know Notch is contract, but Chris is definitely a brewer) and there are people like Sam and Greg and Garrett and Adam and The Bros and Dick out there...it's a definite tip o' the cap.

So congratulations to Chris, because what he's doing is cool, and he's being very cool about it -- just read the blog sometime -- and the write-up of his inclusion definitely gets it:
Low-alcohol, "sessionable" [there's That Word again...] beers may have everyone in the craft beer community buzzing right now, but back when Lohring started Notch Brewing that was certainly not the case. Frustrated by the oversaturation of high-alcohol craft beers on the market at the time, he went against the grain, developing a balanced, flavorful line of brews that check in at less than 4.5 percent alcohol by volume. An ahead-of-his-time guy who strove to make a better-tasting beer that you can drink more of without getting sloppy drunk? Definitely cool.
Chris: gonna steal some of your cool here. Not for myself, not for the SBP at all...but it would appear that if Chris and Notch are cool...session beer is cool.

Damn right it is! Keep it coming, people: ask your local bar to carry some good craft beer under 4.5%, ask your local brewpub to make one, and then drink them! If you don't ask, it may not happen...unless someone as cool as Chris Lohring comes along.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Interview: Chris Lohring of all-session Notch Brewing

I was going to do a post on the 2nd anniversary of Notch Brewing, which founder/brewer/everything Chris Lohring is celebrating tomorrow with the seasonal launch of his Saison — now in 12 oz. bottles! — so I asked Chris if he could answer a few questions, just to get some quotes to spice up a small post. Well…I asked some good questions, and I happened to hit him when he had some time (and a good cup of coffee)…so I’m just going to run the interview. It’s a smart encapsulation of how session beer is really starting to roll, in a picture of the first two years of a brewer dedicated to only making beers at 4.5% and under.*

When you started Notch, did you have a hunch that you were about to catch a small wave of interest in session beers? Or did you just take a chance on something you liked, like so many other small brewers?

It was a combo of all, except the wave part. I never imagined the interest session beer was about to gain. It started with my own habits. When I got out of brewing for a few years, I found it increasingly difficult to find interesting and fresh low ABV beers, because the focus had moved to the extreme. Even the 5.5 to 6.0% craft beer standards (Harpoon IPA, for example) are still higher alcohol beers in my mind. Notch Pils is 4.0%, Harpoon IPA is almost 6%, and that is 50% more alcohol. That adds up quick. As an avid runner, I was also very aware of the calories packed into a 6% ABV beer.

As a former professional brewer, I knew it didn't need to be this way. We could make wildly flavorful low alcohol beers, but the craft industry chose not to. They instead ran to high margin, high ABV beers. Would this really grow craft beer to its full potential? Session beer to me was a logical path to expanding craft beer market share, for new consumers (session beers are great gateway beers) and for what people smarter than me call usage occasions (there are many times session beer is far more appropriate than a fully loaded beer).

From a business perspective it's simple; there's a gap in the market. But the question remains, and needs to be proven, how many beer drinkers find value in session beer. How many find value in having one beer when they normally thought it was out of the question, or having 3 or 4 and walking a straight line out of the bar. I asked around before launching Notch, but I realized consumers are poor at evaluating a concept, it needs to be real. The only way to test something is to make it and sell it. So, Notch was born.

And for the record, without the Session Beer Project providing some glimmer of hope, I'm not sure I would have jumped so quick.

Can you give me any kind of growth rate numbers for your second year? Are things going okay, really well, hard to keep up with?
The first year was me brewing small, draft only batches that were used to convince retailers and wholesalers "session" had viability. (Just think about that two years later.) Year two was the bottle release, so growth was huge, but we were starting from nothing. I sold so much out of the gate in year 2 that I was consistently stocking out, and had to keep my distribution territory to greater Boston only. My host brewery, Mercury, increased capacity, so I was able to go statewide in September.

But a really odd thing happened last year. I sold more beer in December than any other month, and I sold more Pils on draft in December than any other month. It proved to me that session beer was not a summer concept, that it had relevance year round. At a time when other breweries were pumping out barley wines, strong ales, and highly hopped bombs, there were consumers drinking a whole bunch of unfiltered Czech style lager. Let’s just say that demand was not in my production planning, and it took me a few months to catch up.

Saison's coming out in sixpacks; do you think you'll be able to keep up with demand?
I have no idea what to expect from a 3.8% Saison in a six pack at $8.99. I'm not sure anyone has done something like that in New England. While I hope demand is strong, I certainly have a knack for picking difficult beers to brew from a production standpoint. I really need to give Mercury Brewing and their Head Brewer Dan Lipke credit for allowing me to have such freedom and creativity. But I ran a production facility for years, so I know when to admit something is not practical. Saison yeast is on the edge of not practical.

Any plans for a brewery yet?
Not for full production. Without reasonable scale and solid margins, a physical plant is extremely risky. As long as I have breweries that allow me the production I need with the ability to be extremely hands on, I'll be happy for awhile. If my volume grows to where it makes sense to build, I'd evaluate it, but that's a long way off. A small R&D brewery for one-offs with a tap room and beer garden? That makes more sense to me.

Session beer has a lot of interest, and that's showing in the number of beers that are tagging themselves as session beers or "sessionable"...even when they're over 5% or even over 6%. What's your reaction when you see a beer like that?
Jumping a train is easier than building one, and calling something session beer is easier than actually brewing it. Those beers are standard or slightly higher than standard ABV (Look at the CDC's measurements for standard drinks: 12oz beer at 5%, 5oz wine at 12%, or a 1.5oz measure of 80 proof spirit). Session beer is LOWER than standard, it is that simple. Some brewers are using session when they are referring to easy drinking. Not the same.

In Massachusetts, we've had a number of brewers come out with session beers in the last year that fit the Session Beer Project definition. Maybe we're better at math, or maybe we don't lie to our livers?

Are you enjoying the ride?
I've been having a great deal of fun these last two years. I work seven days a week [seriously, he does; following his Twitter feed -- @NotchBrewer -- makes me feel like a slacker] and rarely feel like I'm working. It's been rewarding to have so many beer fans come up to me and thank me for making session beer. That helps.

Thanks Lew, and thanks for all the support the last two years, you've been a big part of the ride.

*Disclosure: Chris is an acquaintance — I got to know him back when he ran Tremont Brewing — but I have no financial interest in his business — or any plans to have one — and there has never been any coordination between us except the one time we did an event together. Essentially, I write about Notch and Chris so much because he’s dedicated Notch to brewing only beers under 4.5%, and that’s made it a natural experiment for the SBP to follow.

"Sessionable"? Not here

I know, I know, I promised you a post about why session beer pisses off beer geeks -- and you'll get it -- but right now, another example of why beer geeks piss off The Session Beer Project. Take a look at this. Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland, Oregon, has released a new beer for the start of Major League Soccer in town: Yellow Card Premier Ale. Allow me to quote (emphasis is all mine):
Just in time for the kickoff of the MLS season here in town, we made a sessionable English ale that will help you keep your eye on the ball and cheering for the Green!
Yellow Card is light-bodied, dry with subtle bread character featuring a crisp, mild and spicy hop bitterness. You can get it on tap and in growlers to-go at Hopworks Urban Brewery and Hopworks BikeBar.
This beer is made for the ultimate soccer fan. This one’s for you TA!
30 IBU and 5.2% ABV.
Yeah, that's 5.2% ABV. Let me reiterate: if your "session" beer is over 5%, what's the point? It's not "session beer" just because it's lower in alcohol than your double IPA. This is the flip-side of the growing acceptance of the idea that a flavorful lower-alcohol beer can be very enjoyable: "session" becomes a tag that reaches a market, rather than an idea that encompasses great beer at lower strength (for all-day drinking).

But maybe the sneakiest thing here is that the words "session beer" aren't even used. The beer is described as "sessionable." This is pure geek-speak, the snarly rebellion that "if I can drink four of them, that's sessionable!" This is sneaking into the session beer conversation, and yet...what does it mean? That a particular person will drink more than four of them? That doesn't mean much, and neither does this word.

No, really, it doesn't: you know how when you put a word followed by "definition" into Google, and fourteen competing "dictionaries" offer their definition? The only one that offers a definition for "sessionable" is the Urban Dictionary (and it's a reasonable one (!), and there's a very good definition at "session beer" too; the first one, that is). Merriam-Webster, my go-to for definitions? "The word you've entered isn't in the dictionary."

Therefore, I've made a decision: I'm not going to use the word "sessionable" anymore. It's become a weasel word, a dodge. I used it three times in past blog posts, and I've gone back and clarified those occasions, changing it to "session-strength." A small thing, but if this word's going to be misused, it's not going to be with my help.

Brewers? Step up. There are honest arguments over what ABV limits a session beer has -- 4.0%, my own 4.5%, BeerAdvocate's 5.0% -- but if you're over 5% and calling your beer "sessionable," sorry, you're just trying to latch onto the latest trend. And God help me, we worked too hard to make this a trend to let it be used...especially by craft brewers who should know better.