Saturday, February 28, 2009

Session Beer Evolution

Chris Leonard has written Part I of an exposition on session-strength beers, and how he's tried -- and tried, and tried -- to sell them at the General Lafayette Inn, and is finally succeeding. Well worth reading for anyone who is learning to love these beers, and there's more -- more technical -- to come.

Session beers at Devil's Backbone

Just heard from Jason Oliver, who's opened a cool new brewpub in the mountains of Virginia, Devil's Backbone. Jason's been brewing at Gordon Biersch DC for years (and other DC-area breweries before that; he's a pro on both sides of the top/bottom-fermenting divide), and has now gone out on his capable own. And he's a big fan of drinkable session beers:
Right now I have two seasonals that fit the bill, the Ale of Fergus English Brown Ale on at 4.5% and the Ramsey's Draft Stout at 4.1%. My year round Helles, called Gold Leaf Lager is around 4.5% as well.
Sounds like a hill trip for a Session is in order.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Recessionale at Flossmoor, Golden at Fifty Fifty

Just heard from the outgoing Matt van Wyk at Flossmoor Station (he's moving on to Oakshire Brewery in Oregon, and good luck to him!):

Hi Lew-
I currently have a beer called RecessionAle. It's a 3% small beer that leans towards American Pale Ale. American mild, if you will? We serve it as the lowest priced beer, to go along with the name. It certainly is not getting the love of our 7.5% IPA (which is $1.75 more per pint) but I love drinking a whole growler at home. Delish! Oh, and our two lightest beers (Golden Ale and American Wheat) hover around 4.5%. Cheers!
And then this from Todd Ashman at Fifty Fifty in Truckee, CA:
We are currently making 'Blonde #1' which is a Golden Ale that clocks in at 4.2%. Selling well and gaining new friends all the time...

Sessionate it!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Session Beer is Without Honor at Devil's Den

Oh, depressing. Cathy and I went out to test-drive TDI Jettas today, then popped down to Devil's Den to sample Flying Fish's Belgian Mild, a second-runnings beer (off their Imperial Porter). It was good, full of flavor, herbal and fresh (and Cathy's Weed Brewing Shastafarian Porter was good too), but the bartender dissed it! Compared it unfavorably to Brooklyn Blunderbuss Old Ale. "A lot better than that stuff," he said. Now, he was good enough to offer a taster of the Blunderbuss, and it was good, but...come on. It's like comparing a dirt bike and a tank for cross-country performance.

Then I asked about the Eel River Organic Pale Ale, and the dude disses pale ale! Said he just didn't think pale ale had much to say. Then he dissed the flagship lineup of Philly Brewing and Brooklyn -- now wait a minute, I said, Brooklyn Lager is delish, I could drink it all day. And the waiter, walking by, does a spit-take laugh and blows a raspberry! "Grow up!" I bellowed. "No one appreciates subtlety any more." So I got a 16 oz. glass of Eel River, at 4.5%, and enjoyed the hell out of it: crisp, hoppy, grassy, light and nimble on the palate, delightful. Ah, me.

Truthfully, the guy did a great job tending bar, talked smart, right on top of things. We had a great time, too, and the apps we got were very nice. But damn me, this strong beer madness gets irritating sometimes.

Friday, February 20, 2009

More press for Session Beer

I just got interviewed for a piece on High-ABV vs. Session Beer for the Philadelphia Weekly, part of their Philly Beer Week coverage. Like I keep saying, this is the Year of Session Beer. No way this story would have even been thought of two years ago. We need to keep talking it up. Thanks to the Philly-area brewers who are backing SBP up with great beers!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Philly Beer Week gets Sessional

We have a (soon-to-be) official Philly Beer Week/Session Beer Project event! Chris Leonard is still working out the details, but we'll be doing an all-session beer event at The Tiedhouse (Chris's new place in Philly: 2031 Hamilton St., 215-561-1002) on
Monday March 9th, at 6 pm.
Still to come: price, menu, beer list, and all that jazz, but we'll have that soon, and I'll just post it here as it comes in. I'll be talking about what session beer is and why it's getting popular, and I hope to get Chris to talk about how brewing session beers is different from brewing big beers. (Chris won't actually be there; he's got an event at the General the same night, but his brewer, the beloved Russ Czajka, will be there, and can get down and geeky with you. I'm trying to talk Chris into writing us a treatise on session beer, to be posted here.)
If you can't wait that long, Chris also told me that he's got a new session beer coming on next week: "Our new low-alcohol offering -- a dry-hopped, hop infuser-poured APA (Columbus and Cascade hops) at 3.5%, called The Economizer -- will be ready to go next week." Looking forward to that.

Do we have a winner?

The poll's over, and the winner, with a solid plurality, is Good Enough to Have Another. But since I posted that poll, someone sent in a logo proposal with a tagline on it: "Good beer is good company." I like that, too, and both of them really get at the idea of session beers.

So I think we're going to have a run-off. Please take the time to vote again, thanks!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Session beer in the Times

Forgot about this one: there was a piece in the New York Times last August about session beers. I do feel foolish about forgetting this one, because this quote, from well-known importer Don Feinberg, was what really re-kindled the session beer fire for me:
“A bunch of guys talk in the market,” said Don Feinberg, a founder of Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y., and an importer for Vanberg & DeWulf there. “We’ve all been saying the same thing for about 18 months now, which is, enough of the high octane.”
I was quoted briefly, but my main contribution to the piece was directing the writer to some of the other people she talked to. Which is just what I want to do with the Project. I want to help brewers, publicans, retailers, and beer drinkers get together over session beers. That's all. We can do it together: spread the word!

Philly Weak Beer!

As Uncle Jack has reported (and used as a springboard for yet more regrettably personal abuse of my own sweet self), Earth Bread + Brewery has scheduled an session beer 'event' during Philly Beer Week. They're going to expand their session-strength taps to run all session beers all week, house-brewed or local, from March 6 through the 15th, an idea they're calling Philly Weak Beer.

Ordinarily, I'd say this was a good thing. However, I've been sampling Tom Baker's session-strength beers at EB+B since he opened, so I'm going to have to say that this is a totally brilliant thing.

What's even better...I'm putting together another all-session event for Philly Beer Week, and if we can pull it off, I'll make an announcement about that later this week.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

We have a festival!

I am very pleased to announce that the Kennett Brewfest for 2009, a noted beer festival in Kennett Square in suburban Philadelphia, will be featuring Session Beers at their perhaps even more noted connoisseur session, a Conn-o-session, they're calling it. Brilliant.

Here's the release, from Brewfest beer honcho Jeff Norman:
The board of Historic Kennett Square, along with the Kennett Brewfest committee enthusiastically approved the concept of the Kennett Conn-o-session serving all 4.5% (or close) or less session beers during this years Connoisseur tasting. We are thrilled to follow the lead of “the year of session beer” and look forward to unique offerings from local, regional, national, and international brewers. This is a 180 degree departure from previous Connoisseur tastings at Kennett but no less exciting. We constantly strive to make this event unique with respect to brewfests. I already have commitments from 8 breweries and all have been very enthusiastic.
Sorry about getting carried with my usual enthusiastic bolding, but I was pretty excited. Jeff and I have been back and forth on this for about a week, wondering about how to best do this, whether it would be well-received, whether it would even be possible. But Jeff took the bull by the horns, presented it to the Committee, and made it happen.

As Uncle Jack has already noted (Jeff sent the release to both of us, Session Guy and Favorite Son, at the same time, but I was at rehearsal), this may cause some wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst the geekerie. They're used to getting their big fat double everythings with extra helpings of hops and brett. It's risky to piss these folks off, but if they don't want to buy the Conn-o-Session tickets, maybe someone else will get a chance to go!

I've also got word of another session beer festival forming up in California. And the year's just beginning. I'm telling you, folks: this is The Year of Session Beer!

Is the End of Empire Near?

Okay, I doubt that the big imperial beers are going to disappear any time soon. But I do sense just the beginnings of a shift in the tides away from the big fat beers that keep getting crazier and crazier.

That's why I wrote this piece in Ale Street News, called "An End of Empire?" Here's the heart of it:
Big beers inevitably cost more, and as layoffs domino through the economy, there are fewer dedicated followers with the money to buy them. But still they get bought, because the hype on imperials is reaching into the mainstream, and trendy consumers are willing to pay wine prices for them – for now. One example: Samuel Adams Double Bock was about $8 for a six-pack, a very reasonable price. The new, bigger Imperial Double Bock, part of the Samuel Adams “Imperial Series,” is $10 – for a four-pack, an increase of 80 percent. Beer enthusiasts are getting vocal about prices they think are gouging them.
It isn’t just price, either. With the sale of A-B to InBev, craft brewers are thinking about how to capitalize on their status as true American-owned breweries, and it’s a snap that most Americans don’t want anything imperial. The most common complaint about craft beers is that they have “too much flavor.” Brewers are making the adjustment. Full Sail is doing well with its Session Lager, Harpoon’s booming along with their American hefe, UFO. They’re smelling opportunity, and it’s not in another small-batch, high-end imperial whatzit.
Beer drinkers may be sensing it, too. Here in Philly, Tom “Heavyweight” Baker’s new brewpub, Earth Bread + Brewery, is successfully selling two out of four taps at under 4%, and Yards Brawler, at 4.2%, is seeing a lot of interest and attention. Scott Smith’s East End Brewing in Pittsburgh has a line of Session Ales that have been consistent sell-outs, interesting and drinkable. It’s quiet — no dance music — but it’s happening.

We'll see what happens. I just got word of a major session beer event...and I don't think it's going to be the only one this year.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Smallville: another article on session beers

There's another article online about session beers, in Imbibe magazine. I'm quoted in it, but it was written by Adem Tepedelen, who I was fortunate enough to meet in Denver last fall when we both won Michael Jackson Beer Journalism awards. Adem's a good writer and a nice guy, and he did a great piece here. Take a look.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Session Beers in All About Beer

I've got an article on session beer in the latest issue of All About Beer. I've picked up some nice compliments on it already from brewers and drinkers, and one just suggested I share it here. So I am. Pick up a copy at your local beer or homebrew store.

Two sample paragraphs:
"Strength doesn’t, I think, have that much to do with it," [Martyn Zythophile"] Cornell said firmly. "What makes a good session beer is a combination of restraint, satisfaction, and ‘moreishness.’ Just like the ideal companions on a good evening down the pub, a good session beer will not dominate the occasion and demand attention; at the same time its contribution, while never obtrusive, will be welcome, satisfying, and pleasurable. And yet, though each glass satisfies, like each story in the night’s long craic, the good session beer will still leave you wishing for one more pint, to carry on the pleasure."

Then relax and enjoy. That’s one of the best things about session beers: you can think about something besides your next beer. You can finally become more of a beer drinker, and less of a beer geek. And you and your friends will find that you have more in common than just beer, and maybe you’ll learn a new card game, and maybe – could we get another round? Yeah, the same – you’ll make some new friends, and maybe instead of constantly beer-hunting, you’ll become a regular and develop a local pub. Hey, even Michael Jackson had a local.

Hope you can find it, hope you enjoy it!

Monday, February 9, 2009

SBP on Facebook

I've created a Session Beer Project page on Facebook. If you do that thing, have a look. It's all about spreading the word. Do what you can.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Homebrewing Session Beers

I took your suggestion, and suggested a Session Beer homebrewing competition to the American Homebrewers Association. Here's their response, from Project Coordinator Janis Gross (who we like; check out what she's brewing!):

Thanks for sending us your link and your thoughts about something I'm really big on too! I'll definitely check out your blog, and I may even be able to post the link with one of the Big Brew recipes this year, English Mild. (It appears that this year's Big Brew recipes aren't up yet; I'll link to them here when they are. Meantime, here's last year's Chiswick Bitter recipe (in all-grain, or extract-plus), an ordinary bitter brewed in honor of the extraordinary life of Michael Jackson.) I have been championing session beers for some time now, and the mild recipe will be the one I brew for Big Brew.

As for your reader's comments about having a competition for session beers, we had a Low Gravity/Session Beers Club-Only Competition 2 years ago (February 2007) that was hosted by the Maltose Falcon Brewing Society club who are renowned for their giant beers. (Results are here; and the Maltose Falcons may be renowned for giant beers, but as I found out, they do a pretty damned good mild, too!)

The Club-Only Competitions (COCs) are the only competitions the AHA puts on apart from the National Homebrew Competition. The COC schedule is currently booked through May 2012 and there is one session style competition scheduled for January/February, 2010, a year from now. That competition is being hosted by the Impaling Alers in Kent, WA.

The styles for the COC are for the most part chosen by the hosting club from a list I provide. My policy is to not repeat a BJCP style for 3 years, so my available BJCP style list is always changing. I don't see the AHA specifying a Session Beers competition to be one of the 6 COCs each year, but I could be wrong.

So there you have it. Now...if any of you who homebrew would want to start up a session beer competition in their local club (ahem...Bob), I'd be happy to post about that here if you let me know. Meantime, I'll see what I can do about prodding the Philadelphia homebrew scene on sessions.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bar Owners: make more money with session beers

Maybe you're a bar owner, and you're wondering, will these low-alcohol session beers really sell? Here's a note from Drew Topping, who runs Piper's Pub on Pittsburgh's South Side (great place, highly recommended). He's got three hand-pumps pouring cask ale, and...well, here's what he said.
Most of the beer we get for cask consumption is session ale. We also get a knock about the great number of European Sessions we have on tap but with the bulk of consumption during our Live English Soccer matches being between 7am and noon, that is what our clientele likes to drink. And as you say, the volume of sales makes up for the Hophead's disappointment.
"Volume of sales." That's session beer in a nutshell for the bar owner. Once you start serving a tasty, drinkable beer that doesn't get your customers all banged up, you'll see them drinking more and more of it. Everyone's happy...but not too happy. Which is the whole point.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Two Logos Submitted

Two people have sent in prospective logos for the projects. One thing's clear already: asking other people to do this instead of trying to do it myself was a very good idea. Keep 'em coming!

Two more as of 2/5...

Monday, February 2, 2009

More Support

Another blogger has posted in support of the SBP. He's getting it, thought I'd rather see session beers at bars first.

For almost a year, I’ve been saying how much I’d like to see a Seattle session beer festival. All the festivals here are packed with double this, imperial that, with everything at 7% ABV or higher. There are always a few solid, lower alcohol options, but those are in the minority. How cool would it be to go to a beer fest and have 20 samples (hopefully most of which were flavorful and interesting), and come away with nothing more than a slight buzz?
So I’m carrying the flag for Bryson’s cause here in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe we can get local brewers to consider making styles we don’t normally see in these parts: milds, bitters, a variety of lagers, etc. Who knows? If this movement gains momentum, maybe Seattle Session Fest will become a reality.

Okay, I'll admit it, I'd like to go to a session fest again too. It's so good to drink for two or three hours and not get all polluted!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Score! I found some nice SB in NJ

I was over at the Mt. Holly Fire & Ice Festival yesterday, signing books with Mark Haney at the little beer festival High Street Grill put on. $20 for a one-hour session, three times, in a tent in the street, and it was rocking. Some excellent beers, those who went definitely got their money's worth. I was getting River Horse Hop-alot-amus (their new DIPA, good stuff, and not all piney/grapefruity, either), Smuttynose Robust Porter, and Founder's Porter, all quite nice and repeatable. Mark and I ducked into the Grill to warm up between sessions; cool place, good taps (whisky, too: I got a snifter of Caol Ila that really satisfied that warming need), and I'll have to go back when it's not so crazy.

But after everything was over, I walked down to Red White and Brew, a small but well-stocked package store just down High Street that I've been using for a few years now when I have a tasting in the area. I needed to pick up some beers for a beer cocktail piece I'm writing, and RW&B always has good stuff. And while I was looking, I saw bottles of Tomos Watkin's Cwrw Brâf, a wonderful session ale (4.2%) from Wales. "Ho ho," I called out, "you've got the Cwrw Brâf! This is great!" And the wonderful woman at the counter (Stacey?) says, "I've got cases of the OSB, too, only $18." Bonus, I'd been wanting to try it! So I came home with 4 bottles of Cwrw Brâf, and a case of OSB (4.5%).

Good session drinking for Super Bowl, coming right up!