|Session Beer? Or not?|
Through the end of June, Founders had sold over 130,000 case equivalents (CE’S) of All Day IPA since March 1. Sales of its next best-selling beer, the year-round Centennial IPA, have only barely eclipsed 102,000 CE’s.Well, boom! Founders CEO Mike Stevens expanded on that, saying that he expects All Day IPA to account for nearly 40% of the brewery's total production in 2014, that the folks at Founders "are looking at this brand as a category leader in the session ale category,” and, significantly, "even though it’s called ‘All Day,’ the most important words on that label are ‘session ale.’...It’s an underserved category and All Day isn’t taking away from what is really great about well-made craft beer.” The All Day label illo is now the opening illo on the Founders website, even.
Which is causing me some seriously mixed emotions. Because while I'm thoroughly excited that a brewery celebrated for its big beers -- Devil Dancer, Breakfast Stout, Dirty Bastard, Double Trouble -- brewed a lower-strength beer and found that it sold like mad... That beer is 4.7% ABV, just over the 4.5% ABV upper limit the Session Beer Project recognizes as "session beer." ARGH!
So do we celebrate? Or do we tear out our hair and weep and moan, because "session beer" is tagged on a 4.7%er? Do I say, "Oh, hell, it was just an arbitrary limit anyway...yeah, it's session beer, and WE WIN!" Is this the end of the session beer universe?
Well, no, it's not the end of the world, and no, I'm not going to tear out my hair. I already said that, here. And I'm going to celebrate a little bit, because of that "the most important words on that label are ‘session ale.’" quote. But yeah, I'm gonna hold the line on this. I'd rather see All Day IPA at 4.5% or less; sure, I would, if they're going to put "session ale" on the label.
And I'm pretty sure we will see very successful beers at 4.5% and less, and fairly soon. If this IS as hot a category as Stevens seems to think it is -- and I think he's right, been thinking that for a while now -- other brewers are going to be jumping in -- and they are; as Lohring says, it's easier hop on a train than it is to build one -- and some of them are going to differentiate themselves by getting great flavor out of beers that are under 4.5%. And they're going to serve them in larger glasses, and they're going to price them lower (not because they're significantly cheaper to make, but they may see that as a marketing cost), and they're going to change craft beer. Really, I think there's a real chance of that.
So I'm not going to celebrate All Day IPA as a session beer -- though I'm happy to drink it -- but I'm going to take its success as a harbinger. And I'm going to encourage other brewers to kick its ass by making a beer that's just as good, just as interesting...and under 4.6%. I know they can do it; they