Thursday, November 4, 2010

"People should not be confused about the name 'session.'"

First, before we get going, let me say: I love Full Sail, and I really love Jamie Emmerson. He is (like Ferris Bueller) a righteous dude, and a great interview, and he let me drink pretty much all the Old Boardhead I wanted when I visited the brewery.

That said, Full Sail's "Session Lager" and "Session Black" aren't doing me any favors. I love 'em, good lager beers (which 'Cascadia' needs more of), but the name! They're 5.5%! What's Jamie say about that? I'm tearing my hair about it:
The Session is an old-fashioned lager, based on German lagers. The Session Black, which is less than a year old, is a Czech-style dark lager. "The Session Black is the perfect ying to Session's yang," Emmerson said.
Emmerson said people should not be confused about the name "session." In beer geek language, session usually refers to a low-alcohol beer, usually less than 4 percent alcohol by volume. Both of these session beers are over 5 percent.
The Session actually refers to windsurfing sessions on the Columbia River, although Emmerson said, compared to other West Coast beers, the Session and Session Black are low alcohol.
"In the Northwest, that is a session beer," he said.

Right. Sure it is.

That's from an article in the Brockton, Mass. Enterprise News by Norman Miller ("The Beer Nut"), who, I can tell you, definitely knows his ass from his elbow about beer. And I don't envy him trying to explain this one. It's kind of like how Widmer's Hefeweizen...isn't a hefeweizen. Dear me.

Monday, October 25, 2010

More Session beer coverage!

Thanks to Steven Herberger (who is also the designer of our nifty logo!) for sending this link to a story in last Friday's Chicago Tribune on "Session Beers: Easy drinking beers, yet still flavorful." The story mentions Revolution Brewing's Workingman's Mild, Metropolitan Krankshaft, and Two Brothers Long Haul Session Ale (great name for a session beer!), and here's the money quote:
"I'm a fan of less is more and balance," said Doug Hurst, Metropolitan brewer. "It's about subtlety rather than being hammered over the head."
Right on, brother Doug!

Steven and I were kind of curious, do you do a story on session beers in Chicago and not mention Goose Island Honkers Ale? It's 4.2%, it's a good drinker, it's everywhere, it's Chicago-brewed... (I forgot to mention Goose Island's equally good Green Line; not just session-strength, but ecologically sustainable, too!) Is it the "not a craft brewer" artificial stigma? Is it "too big"? Is it too well-known? Dunno, but here's my suggestion to folks in Chicagoland: go get some of all of these beers, and let us know what you think?!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Diamond ups the ante

David Pollack started The Diamond in Brooklyn a couple years back with the idea of doing a wine and beer-only bar/restaurant that featured session beers. We talked, it was good, until...he went to try to execute the SBP idea of 4.5% and under, and found that there were nowhere near enough of such beers available -- tasty, interesting session beers -- to pull it off. Grudgingly, he upped his limit to 5%, and still had add stronger beers to round things out.

Well, okay. You do what you can, and I loved the idea, and put him on the SBP "At The Table" list over to the right. He's got an SBP sticker on the door, too!

Last Monday, Dave was in Philly on a scouting mission, and we met up at Memphis for an early dinner and a couple pints (session-strength, natch). He told me that he'd managed to bring together enough beers for a "Session Obsession" event tomorrow: beautiful!

He just sent me the event announcement:
10/23, Saturday, 3pm, Session Obsession
  • 10 killer beers all under 4.5% abv
  • Many beers making their NYC debut
  • Stuffed cabbage, spaetzle, and pretzels
  • Real Pennsylvania ring toss tourney for free bar tab (yeah!)
We’re obsessed and possessed to find fantastic beers with relatively moderate alcoholic content.  It seems an ironic thing to promote in a craft brewing world that often equates quality with strength.  But, look closely at these Diamond featured brews and you will find some of the most challenging, exciting, and rewarding beer being made.  As a matter of fact, if you are in for the long haul playing quoits in our yard all day, they might be just the ticket to keep you going!
All this, and quoits too? Damn me, why am I going to Boston?! Oh, right, to see my son. See you next time, Dave!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Uncle Jack Asks A Question

What is "a session"? What's a "session beer"? How are the two related, if they are?

Jack Curtin, a fellow beer scribbler and a good friend, poses "A Question" that is getting some discussion. We love discussion about session beers! Have a look, join in.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Virtual Session Beer Summit

Sean Ludford creates a "virtual summit" on session beer at his BevX site by quoting "James Murphy, proprietor of the famous Murphy’s Bleachers in Chicago, Aaron Zacharias, proprietor of The Bar on Buena and the Fountainhead in Chicago, and Lew Bryson, a great Beer & Whiskey writer, when Lew has something to say about Beer – you listen." Sean says quite a bit as well, and it's more proof that session beers are getting more attention.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Still More Session Beer Notice

One of the first session beer posts I made, back in February of 2007 (I was so prescient...), was a re-post of action steps for session beer suggested by Stan Hieronymus. Take a look.

Now take a look at this: "When You're Having More Than One", in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, by Tim Redmond. I'll cut to the somewhat buried lede:

I've taken quite an interest in session beers — craft brews with an ABV (alcohol by volume) level of less than 4.5 percent. You can drink a session beer at lunch and still go back to work. You can drink a couple-three after work and not be too blotto to make dinner and put the kids to bed.

Ah... I'm well-pleased. More and more folks are picking up on the 4.5% and under number, and that's good. It's kind of like the speed limit: you know where you're supposed to be, and you're going to push a few mph over, so it's good to have it a little under where people should actually be driving. If we had given in and said 5%, sooner or later we'd have 6% beers people were calling session beers...kind of like you still see people doing on BeerAdvocate and west coast beer blogs. I'll stick with the 4.5%, thanks.

Is this victory, triumph, success? No. It's another step, another notch along the way. We're getting there; time to celebrate with a few rounds...and then get back to work!

Friday, September 24, 2010

It's not just beer

Camper English writes about cocktails in San Francisco, and has a blog called Alcademics that at times is pure booze porn: check it out. Nice guy; I met him through WhiskyFest, and we shared a pleasant lunch at Tales of the Cocktail back in June in New Orleans. He wrote this piece on low-alcohol cocktails for the San Francisco Chronicle this past Sunday. Hey, session cocktails! We used to call them "long drinks." No, those are just the same old highballs with more mixer; these are true lower-alcohol drinks, using new ingredients and a wider range of flavors than SWEEEEEET and fruit and bitter.

Hey, again, it's all about choice, right? Right, and again...well, just read the comments. Haters, man. Did Camper say, "We're going to take away all the wonderful, delicious classic cocktails and replace them with these lower-alcohol drinks"? No, just that they make a nice choice to have, an alternative. You'd have thought he said "No more liquor, forever, not for you."

Come on, people! Why do you give a damn what other people drink? It's going to kill you to watch me drink a lower-alcohol drink...that you won't really be able to tell is lower in alcohol in the first place?


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Notch: Success!

The Notch, a brand/project that has kind of become the poster child/test-case for the Session Beer Project, has apparently succeeded! Owner-creator Chris Lohring has posted the following at his blog:
Back in April I launched a limited Summer roll-out of Notch Session Ale with the hope of proving out a theory that session beer had a rightful, more visible place in the US craft beer scene. The goal was small – bring session beer back into the conversation – but success was uncertain. Was a session beer brand viable? Where it went beyond this summer was truly anyone’s guess.
Four months later, with Summer now in the review mirror, I am happy to announce that Notch is real. We passed the test.
What does this all mean? Wider availability of Notch in draft this October, and Notch bottles following this January. I’ll also have a few surprises along the way, and the one-off small batches will continue.
Availability will be spotty until mid-October, but hang in there, it will be worth the wait. Exciting times!
 "The goal was small -- bring session beer back into the conversation." Yup. That's all we're trying to do here, too. And this has succeeded -- like The Notch -- beyond anything I'd hoped for. Check out what my colleague in beer-writing Jay Brooks has to say here, for instance.
Cheers to The Notch: up Session!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Session Beer? That's G*y, Re*arded, Pointless, Hipster, Stupid...

Came across this thread on a skiing forum that started off a post I made here. Wow. Lots of hostility, lots of not getting it, and lots of dissing of the term "session beer." I've made it no secret that I'm not in love with the term, and will happily switch to another if I hear (or think up) a better one, but these guys really hate it. And think it's new, and faux-hipster, and just marketing, and "flavor of the month." Wow, no, guys. It's not schwag lager, either.

This is why I'm pushing so hard to define session beer, and encourage people to go with that definition, and why I'm so pleased to see that definition being quoted -- and debated! -- in newspapers, magazines, and on-line forums. Not only does it advance the cause and the image, it gets people talking...which is what this whole damned thing is about. Away we go...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Session Beer Boosted in Asheville

Asheville, North Carolina, has quickly developed a well-deserved reputation as a beer town of note; it has sprouted cluster of top-notch breweries, beer bars, and beer stores. But as Mountain Xpress blogger Justin Farrar points out here, they still have a ways to go on session beer (as most American beer towns do). Well-done piece that quotes both Notch brewer Chris Lohring and yours truly (they've got the SBP definition in there, and Justin's behind it; great to see).

Check it out, and then take a look at his list of session beers in Asheville. This is where Justin took the SBP definition and put it in the face of big-beer geeks:
I employed the guidelines recently established by longtime beer journalist Lew Bryson.
1) 4.5 percent alcohol by volume or less.
2) Flavorful enough to be interesting.
3) Balanced enough for multiple pints.
4) Conducive to conversation.
5) Reasonably priced.
There are more than a few beer fanatics, as well as industry-types, who are right now reading this and bristling at guideline no. 1. Way too low, they firmly believe; the ceiling for alcohol by volume (ABV) should be 5.0 percent, not 4.5. That is, in fact, the more popular number when defining session beer. However, at a time when inflated ABV-levels are all the rage in the craft-beer industry, I’ve noticed that ceiling has become taller and taller. Over the last month I’ve had two beers with ABV-levels of 5.4 and 5.5, respectively; both times my servers described them as session. So yeah, it’s best if we err on the side of caution these days.
Well-put, Justin. Time to get more militant about this.

DSSM IV: Session Beer in Southern Oregon

K.M. Weaver continues his posts on session beers at The HopPress with the latest Desperately Seeking Session Beers post: Southern Oregon. Believe it or not, he found some session beers, deep in this double IPA territory. Have a look.

K.M. also notes Imbibe magazine's recent article on lower-alcohol wines, and sharply tags them for how not-so-low their lower-alcohol wines are:
The author picks a number of different varietals and styles that offer a lighter alternative to those hefty, New-World-y renditions that tend to push 15%+. These can be hard to pair with food or imbibe appropriately on a warm summer weekend. And many of the lighter suggestions were spot-on: German Rieslings at ~11%, Portuguese Vinho Verde similarly sized, Moscato D’Asti at 5.5%. But beyond that… The lowest ABV listing beyond those above is an 11.5% Syrah. The rest of the list is occupied by 13.5% Pinot Noir, Chenin Blancs, Gamays, etc. 

Well, hell. Vinho Verde, yeah. But 13.5% as "light" wine? I had a 12%er Thursday night (a slightly astringent but still pleasant Dolcetto d'Alba), but it's really only light in comparison to the 16% head-thumpers that seem to be taking over the shelves.

I guess we're not alone in not being able to pass up the big and the boozy. Allow me to quote myself:

Good God, MUST we be hit over the head by a beer to like it? Are we cartoon cavewomen??

That said, Imbibe also ran a list of 'best low alcohol beers' in the same issue (compiled by the knowledgeable and personable Adem Tepedelen), and you should check it out. He cheated and used a 5% top limit, but if that's what it takes to introduce more people to BridgePort's excellent Blue Heron Pale Ale, well, I can be flexible.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Notch: my experiences

I've mentioned Chris Lohring's session beer concept here before: Notch is a planned brand of all session-strength beers. He's currently brewing test batches at Kennebunkport Brewing (where he brewed back in the 1990s before opening Tremont) and selling them in the Boston area. As some of you may son's started at Boston University, so I've had a couple trips to Boston this summer, and got to try two of Chris's beers.

The first occasion, which led to the picture at right (that's Slowfest* co-founder Jim Stanton, Chris, me, and Slowfest founder Jeff Lawrence) at the Lower Depths, right on Commonwealth Ave after the first day of BU Orientation (Thomas was off getting acquainted, Cathy was off to the right, having some well-deserved quiet time with her beer). We were sampling the Notch Summer Session. It was light, just a bit hoppy, refreshing, and three-pint drinkable. Really, I know! (Afterwards, we rolled out and grabbed a Sazerac up the street at Eastern Standard, where we ran into about four BU deans...getting drinks and dinner. I like this school.)

The next time was when we dropped Thomas off this past weekend. After moving him in (fourth-floor walk-up...oy), it was time for lunch. Where to, I asked him. "How about Deep Ellum?" he said, making me feel so good about all the money we'd spent on his education! Not only did they have Notch Hoppy Session, they had it on cask! Man, that was excellent, and the way session ales should be: zippy bitterness and puffy hop aroma, with a great depth of character you can only taste in a low-alc beer when it's on cask: malt, esters, and bitterness rolling around and loving your tongue. I had another.

Notch works, and it's selling, too. As I would urge you with any session beer, please support them whenever you can -- assuming you find you like it. This is all about good session beer, after all; this is not like the early days of craft brewing where we bought it because we were supporting them, not supporting them because we liked it. But...I'm pretty sure you'll like Notch!

*Is this awesome, or what: Slowfest was(and will be again) a festival of local food and session beers.about killed me that I couldn't make it up there to attend. What a fantastic idea, and why can't we have this in Philly? Steve Mash, I'm looking at you, brother. You're the man to make this happen! Need help?

**Despite Chris wearing the shirt, and pimping SBP at every given opportunity, there is no financial link between The Notch and me. I may well end up doing some events with him at some time, but other than that? I just love promoting any kind of session beer, and Chris happens to agree with just about every tenet of SBP. It works.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

DSSB III: Interview with Dan Carey of New Glarus

Ken Weaver departs from the standard in Desperately Seeking Session Beer this time around, with excellent results: he interviews New Glarus founder/brewmaster Dan Carey. Ken maybe bores in with the "session beer" angle too much -- particularly since Dan steadfastly resists the bait...mostly. But good points are made, and that's more than I've seen Dan talk in quite a while. Nice!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Good press: Session Beer getting more respect

Today's Google Alerts bring me news that interest in session beer is growing. A Web article on session beer at The Website Formerly Known as Chowhound showed up; I was interviewed for this one. Jordan Mackay (who is apparently one of the three Californians who don't like hops hops and MORE FREAKIN' HOPS RIGHT NOW) writes:
The problem is, drinking lots of beer isn’t as easy as it once was. In recent years, beer has gotten both stronger (higher in alcohol) and more flavorful. You can only drink one or two intense, hoppy beers such as IPAs before suffering from both tipsiness and palate fatigue. They also don’t really pair well with food. One antidote to this problem is Kölsch, which I wrote about recently. Another is session beer. In fact, the support for session beer is so enthusiastic that it’s at the point of transcending being just a brew and turning into a movement.
Oh, dear. A movement? That's going to piss off the big beer huggers even more. I did hear an interesting argument from Uncle Jack Curtin yesterday. "Session beer" is unnecessary, he said, explaining (I think...) that there's always some lower alcohol beer on tap. Keep in mind, Jack lives in southeastern PA, where thanks to Yards (Brawler) and Philadelphia Brewing (Kenzinger, Walt Wit) there is almost always something under 4.5% available on tap. And there's always Guinness. So Jack sez, you're crying about nothing, it's already there. And he doesn't like the term "session beer," either.

My response to his second point? Honestly, I'm not really nuts about it myself. But I don't care for the terms "gastropub" or "beer geek," either, and I'll be happy to switch to a new term if one that's better comes along...still waiting for that. His main point? I say, what's 'already there' isn't enough, even here in Philly (where we do pretty well, to be honest). I want a kaleidoscope of choices. I'm not talking about forcing it down people's throats, that's not how it works. I'm just talking about getting more people aware of it, and fostering some respect for it.

Which appears to be working, because in this piece about this weekend's World Beer Festival in Richmond, All About Beer editor Julie Johnson picks "Session beers" as one of five trends going on in beer right now (the others were more predictable: extreme/imperial, inventing a new style, soured beer, and barrel/bourbon-aging). Here's what she said:
"We've been infatuated with really strong beers, hoppy beers, beers aged in whiskey barrels, but a certain group of beer fans will say, 'What do I drink if I want more than one?' The term is a 'session beer.' That's the backbone of pub life: a good beer that you sit down with and that doesn't dominate the conversation. Craft brewers are trying something that was not in their nature: which is to dial it back, but to keep all the flavor and character that is part of the craft brew revolution.
"[Full Sail Session [Black] Lager is more full-flavored. It's a black lager that is lovely, full-flavored but not so heavy that you can't have a couple through the evening and enjoy the conversation."
Yes indeed. It's sweet to see this catching on. Makes me want to spend the afternoon on the deck drinking beer.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Shirts and stickers available, too!

By the way...I've put some shirts up on CafePress with the SBP logo. I wear mine, and one of these days, I want to do an event centered on them. For now, though...they just let people know you like to drink great-tasting beer in large quantities.

I also have a sticker available there for bars and brewers that want to display that they support session beers. It ain't the Good Housekeeping seal, but if you get one and put it up, let me know (and let me know why you got it!), and I'll put your link up here on the blog.

The Session #40: Session Beers

I haven't participated in our monthly 'blog carnival,' The Session, since November; a couple of them I wasn't interested in, I was really busy finishing up PAB4, and, well, once or twice I just dropped the ball. But this month, The Session is about just that: Session Beers. As our host, Top Fermented blogger Erik Myers, put it, "There are a thousand ways to approach this." Indeed.

Turns out that I've got a pretty acute sense of hearing.

Back in February of 2009, not long after I started this blog (itself an outgrowth of a two-year series of session beer-related posts on my main blog, Seen Through A Glass, that started here), I wrote a piece for Ale Street News in which I suggested that the faint, first rumblings of the collapse of extreme beers could be heard. Earlier, I did a piece titled "Extremely Annoying" for BeerAdvocate magazine (which you can find here, and thanks to Teri Fahrendorf for that!), a single contrarian voice in an entire issue devoted to -- pardon the expression -- ball-washing extreme beers in which I suggested that making extreme beers wasn't that big a deal: throw more stuff in, get a bigger monkey. That, in turn, was an expansion of my "it's just a bigger burrito" argument, originally made here in October of 2006. In short, and in a nod to Barbara Mandrell, I was session when session wasn't cool (that's assuming, of course, that it is now...but we'll get to that).

At the time, I was excoriated for this. Sam "Mr. Extreme" Calagione wrote a response to the Ale Street piece, crying that I'd dissed extreme beers, that I was wrong, that I was portraying an opinion as a trend (one thing I definitely did not do, Sam), and that I was saying imperial beers must die so that session beers could thrive (Oh, please. I bent over backwards to avoid that impression: "I’m not saying the imperial beer is dead, and I hope it never dies." Direct quote, dude). There were angry responses to the BeerAdvocate piece before it even saw print. And The Brothers Alström penned an editorial in which they accused unnamed people of dismissing extreme beers (“their target enemy”) to call for more session beers: unnamed, but when you’re the guy behind The Session Beer Project, quoted and cited in every recent major piece on session beers, it’s hard not to feel targeted yourself.

I wrote a really, really long response that I never posted. Here's some of it:
At no time did I ever intend or say that this [increased] attention [to session beers] should come at the expense of extreme beers, I didn’t even wish for it. In fact, two years ago, when that was obviously unclear, and I felt uncomfortable with the people who were allying themselves with me on that basis, I made this statement on my Seen Through A Glass blog:
I guess I'd better clear this up now. Just because I'm starting this blog partly as a platform for this loosely defined Session Beer Project, it does not mean that I do not like big beers, do not like experimental beers, do not like (deep breath here) extreme beers. I do like them – to a point.

The main point of the Session Beer Project is to give session beers a little tiny bit of equality of attention, attention that's mainly going to the so-called extreme beers right now. Because, really: most of the world, every day, drinks beers that are under 5% ABV. Really.
Note that I did not saytake away attention from the so-called extreme beers to give session beers a little tiny bit of equality of attention.” Nor did I say I intended to stop talking about extreme beers, and I have not; just put ‘tasting notes’ in the Search box [on STAG, not here], and you can see how many big beers, beers with unusual ingredients, sour beers I’ve reviewed, and liked (or not liked; I never said I’d give them a free ride, either). I have occasionally drawn direct comparisons between the two categories, because they represent two poles of craft beer, but I’ve presented them simply as two choices, not Good Choice, Bad Choice.

I always planned, intended, and promoted The Session Beer Project as something that would add to the excitement and acceptance of beer in general, that would bring to the fore an under-represented, under-appreciated meta-category of beers. If I ever wanted it to come at the expense of another category, fear not, true believers, I was with you: let it come at the expense of macro-brewed light lagers (if only because they have so much to give!).

There’s plenty of room for both session beers and extreme beers to thrive, because they are so entirely different – they do not compete! That is the beauty and main raison d’etre of the Craft Beer Revolution: difference, variety, choice. It always has been, and I have been saying that for years, while other voices talked about quality, and smallness, and artisanal craftsmanship. Those things are great, but they are part of the variety that is the overarching theme.

To sum up, I wasn’t talking about crushing imperial beers to make way for session beers; I never have. I was only speculating about whether they might be coming to the end of their fifteen minutes of fame…which would only mean that it was some other beer’s turn, and I’ve observed that session beers have been doing well in my local market lately. No beer stays on top forever, whether in sales or hype. That’s been true since way before the Craft Beer Revolution.

Can we stop the rabble-rousing? This is not about “Session Vs. Extreme Beers,” there’s no “versus” involved. I want to see craft brewers do well. I want to see the variety of beer choices increased, everywhere. I don’t want whole categories of craft beers slammed. (Okay, maybe American hefeweizen. And pumpkin beers. Maybe.) What I really want is for session beers to get some more attention – and that’s working, and I do see a few more session beers on taps – and maybe for the brewers and promoters of extreme beers to be a bit less defensive. Is that too much to ask?
Told you it was really long: that was about a third of it. But writing it was cathartic: I got over it, and moved on.

That's when things started to percolate. I started getting e-mails, and seeing results on my Google Alert on "session beer" that were more than yet another blogger saying something like "at 8.5%, it's no session beer" ( say that way too often), and hearing from brewers who were making session beers. Philadelphia Brewing has two great year-round beers that are session-strength (Kenzinger and Walt Wit), as does rival Yards (Brawler and Philly Pale), right here in America's Best Beer-Drinking City™. Chris Lohring, who's boomeranging back into brewing, has started Notch, an all-session brand that's currently in joyously experimental test marketing in the Boston area.

I heard the first faint trickles back in 2007, more of them last year. It's still no flood, or even a stream. But session beer is catching on in the American market.

So...I should maybe stop there, but I won't. Instead, a bit of a manifesto. I'll start by reiterating the session beer definitions I've been working with here:
For our purposes, 'session beer' is defined as a beer that is:

► 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
► flavorful enough to be interesting
► balanced enough for multiple pints
► conducive to conversation
► reasonably priced

If that seems is. Here's another definition: low-alcohol, but not low-taste. It's subjective.
I think any definition should stick closely to that 4.5% ABV figure. I'll admit, it's my figure, but I reached it after much consideration. Simply, it's like speed limits. No one goes 55 mph in a 55 mph zone; you'd get run off the road. By saying 4.5%, we're letting you know that your 5.4% pale ale simply is not a session beer, quaffable and delightful though it is...which a 5% definition would make harder to sustain. I'd like to see American brewers working to get good flavor under 4.5%. It can certainly be done -- I've had them -- and you can do it without tart/souring or hopping to the bejayzus, although that works too (Lambrucha and Stone Levitation being excellent examples). Work with malts and yeast, and you can achieve amazing things; I've had them, too.

But don't get completely caught up in the number game. Zythophile blogger Martyn Cornell told me that defining “session beer” was not about alcohol percentages.  “What makes a good session beer,” he said, “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.”

That's what this is all about. Session beer is about enjoying the totality of beer, the entire beer experience and culture. I have a dream about a session beer festival. It's not a bunch of brewers and sales reps standing behind a bunch of tables hawking 3 oz. samples of 4.5% beers to standing crowds who dawdle in front of the tables, pissing off everyone in line behind them. It's a hall, where a variety of bars serve a wide variety of session beers...but the real focus is on the people drinking the beer, and what you're talking to them about, or the next hand of pinochle, or a quiet contemplative smoke of a nice pipeful of good tobacco (yeah, really; they can have their own room), or a round of pool. We'll stay all afternoon and into the evening, have four or five pints each, and it will never get out of hand, just loud and happy with the sound of chatting and laughter, the clink of glasses.

The Year of Session Beer is not here yet. It's coming. When it gets here, we're going to drink to it. Cheers!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Blowing 0.01: gotta love the sessions

I just went out for dinner in Philly; I'm on my own tonight. Went to Old Eagle Tavern; had an O'Reilly's Stout but didn't like the vibe in the place, too many Flyers fans carpet-f-bombing. Drove down the hill to Dawson Street, had two Victory Uncle Teddy's with a bowl of their always excellent vegetarian chili and a quesadilla. Felt fine: three beers in 90 minutes. Drove home, and got out the breathalyzer: I blew a 0.01.

I love drinking session beer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Notch-ing up a Month

Chris Lohring's Notch Session beer brand has hit a month, and the initial supply of the first two beers in the experiment is running low. He's going to have two new beers out in mid/late-June, and more coming every five weeks. I think the idea is to do market research...but maybe he'll just keep messing around. In any case...I kinda wish I were drinking in Boston!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

DSSB II: Valley Brew London Tavern Ale

Ken Weaver's next Desperately Seeking session Beer installment is up.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Collaborative Session Beer effort

Brewers are getting together to brew beers all over the country (just read about another one on Facebook this morning); why not beer bloggers? With that lame intro (coffee's just not doing it this morning...), let me introduce Desperately Seeking Session Beer, a project that's been started by blogger Ken Weaver (of The HopPress) who, you'll recall, wrote the piece I discussed here. Here's how Ken explained it to me (edited from an e-mail):
I'm planning to introduce some shorter, recurrent (and biweekly) themes into the column that will allow me to get a bit of breathing room from the larger-scope topical pieces I tend to focus on. One of these added elements will be a "Session Beer Spotlight" column, with a focus on West Coast beers. This is a topic about which we both feel pretty strongly about, and it seems like there might be some way to coordinate the effort on my end. I'm not sure what exact form this would take, but I could imagine something along the lines of a clarifying statement at the top of each column stating something like, "The Session Beer Spotlight is an auxiliary project to Lew Bryson's The Session Beer Project, serving to highlight session beer offerings from the West Coast and beyond" 
Which sounded great to me, and I told Ken so. He and I did a little bit of detail discussion, and I'll be posting each one of them here, as long as he maintains his interest. Might even prod me to do more. Yay.

Here's the first one, on a session beer from what might seem an unlikely source: Russian River Aud Blonde. It's a great post, too: not just tasting notes, he talks to Vinnie Cilurzo about how and why he's doing lower-ABV beers, and the reasons and techniques are quite interesting.

Cheers, Ken! Thanks, and welcome aboard!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Brilliant! Celebrate New Beer's Eve with 3.2 beer!

The Brotherhood of Appreciating Repeal Day, an absolutely fantastic group in Sharon, PA that celebrates the anniversaries of Repeal -- God bless 'em -- has had a brilliant idea that ties right into session beer enjoyment. On April 7, they're having a New Beer's Eve party (in Sharon) to celebrate the first step of Repeal: the 1933 amendment of the Volstead Act that allowed "3.2 beer" -- beer at 4.0% ABV and below -- to be sold (on the grounds that it was 'non-intoxicating'). They are serving 4.0% -- and less -- beer at the event, which is a membership drive for the group.

This is genius! If there is a natural day to serve session beer to Americans, this is it!

Friday, April 2, 2010

More beers: Fratellos in Oshkosh has an English Mild

Just heard from Joe Walts at the Fratellos brewpub in Oshkosh, Wisconsin; he's brewed an English Mild that's selling well.It's even innovative:
I rejected the conventional wisdom of U.S. craft brewers in a couple of ways:
-I mashed at a low temperature to avoid the syrupy viscosity that kills sessionability.
-I used Belgian dark candi syrup to prevent the beer from being too thin (Shut up about Barclay Perkins deserves credit for highlighting sugar usage in British breweries).
The beer selling well and customers are enjoying it!
And that's more than being innovative by just throwing in more malt and hops. Nice job, Joe. Keep 'em coming, folks!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Foggy Noggin: Bit o' Beaver Bitter

Got an e-mail from Jim Jamison, the brewmaster at the new Foggy Noggin Brewing, located north of Seattle in a little town called Bothell. It's tiny -- 1/2 bbl. brewery! -- and it's new -- opened March 20! -- and their flagship is Bit O'Beaver Bitter, which weighs in at a non-hefty 3.4% ABV. Welcome aboard, Jim!

NOTCH: an all-session beer brewing project

I've been talking to Chris Lohring -- some of you may remember him as the guy behind Tremont Ale, the all-too-short lived brewery in Boston in the 1990s -- about a session beer brewery project he's been working on, and it's time to mention it here. It's called Notch, Chris is having two ales brewed at Shipyard in Portland as trial batches, and will be debuting them at the Slowfest in Boston later this month -- which is a session beer and slow food festival! If I weren't already committed to WhiskyFest Chicago that weekend, I'd be there, that's for sure. All brewers at the fest will be bringing at least one beer under 5% (they had originally called for beers using our definition, but too many brewers didn't offer anything under 4.5%...which kind of proves my point that there aren't enough of these beers out there), which is GREAT.And this is NOT any kind of April Fool's joke!

Check out the Notch blog/site here.  Welcome back Chris!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Oh, hi there! While you're here, look at this...

Sorry for the long silence. Truly. I've just been wicked busy. That's going to ease up this week.

In the meantime, great piece here on how American brewers ARE leaving session beers behind and pumping up the ABV, with some numbers to back it up, not just anecdotes. There are some holes to poke, but overall it's pretty sound. do we reverse this?