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.