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...


  1. If morons don't want to understand, let them carry on pounding imperial stout and having to go home at 8pm because they can't stand up any more. Fine by me.

  2. While I share Barm's disdain for those who are clearly uninformed, I think you're right, Lew, that part of the greater battle may be a marketing issue on our part. "Session Beer" just doesn't have the ring to it as a term to be embraced. We need something that sounds a little less Victorian and a little better.

    Maybe this isn't the venue for this brainstorm, but I've been thinking about something that glorifies the challenge of making a beer with lots of flavor in less than 4.5%. Anyone can brew a flavorful beer at 9.7 (indeed, the challenge becomes smoothness there), but it's a much greater accomplishment to do it at low abv levels. We need to think like the guys who try to get really far on one gallon of gas and call it "hypermiling". That's a term even skiing morons would embrace.

  3. More power to your elbow. Viewed from Britain, the ultra-strong hop-bomb movement seems a very American thing (although we have got BrewDog!). I read recently about an IPA festival in New York state where everything was 7% or stronger - that's unimaginable over here. It reminds me a bit of a time I got some American foodie friends on to the subject of tea (something I'm quite well versed in, being British!) - only for the conversation to veer within minutes onto specialist blends of green tea, white tea and Lord knows what.

    But we have got something similar on a smaller scale - there has been a general drift towards brewing in the 5-6% range and away from 3-4% beers, and there is a (very welcome) pushback starting to develop. Recently I've had a very big and flavourful dark mild (Hobson's) weighing in at 3.2%, and a very successful IPA (St Austell's) which was 3.4%(!) - a session IPA, who'da thunk it.

  4. To add perspective, only a few of the commenters were rude, and I'd bet dollars to donuts that they're like that in all their posts regadless of subject.

    The comments on the term "session beer" do give one pause. Your goal is to have more low alcohol brews available in stores, bars, and restaurants. If you have to spend time educating folks on what "session beer" is, that's not time devoted to actually achieving the goal of the project. And outside of a small percentage of beer drinkers, "session beer" has no resonance in the US.

    Really, it is sad that craft brewers are afraid of the term "light." More than half the beer sold in the US is light beer. People know it's beer with less calories and alcohol. Sam Adams proves you can do a quality version that sells. If Sierra Nevada did a Pale AleLight, it would sell like gangbusters. If New Belgium did a Skinny Tire (ok, groan), it would sell. DFH, Victory, Bell's, Stone -- they all could brew great low-alcohol pale ales/IPAs/wits/lagers/what have you. If they used the word light, that would make it easy for the wider beer-drinking world to consider trying it.

    They'd have to put up with folks on beer forums exploding like those few folks on the skiing forum. But they'd make quality brew. They'd use a term that has much more resonance in the U.S. than "session beer." They'd make more people craft beer drinkers. And you'd have achieved the goal of the project.

  5. Bill, it's not necessarily the "rude" part that bugs me, it's that so many of them are clearly against the idea. As for "session beer" vs. "light beer," they're both pushing a rock uphill. Taking the stigma off "light" is going to be tough, and ultimately not worth it, IMO. Besides, there are a wide range of lower alcohol beers, and not all of them fit into the FDA/ATTTB's definition of "light," and so couldn't use it. Problematic. Not a simple solution.

  6. I don't think the alphabet agencies have a problem with it -- Miller came out with an amber light, a wheat light, and one other type. I think you wrote about it? I've talked with brewers and asked about whether they could call something a light ale -- they said they could.

    The stigma you're talking about is one created by the craft beer community. Sam Adams proved it could be overcome. The most vocal folks make noise exponentially greater than their numbers. The actual beer drinking numbers show that the majority of folks pick beers that (save for your disliking the taste of said beers) meet your definition. To these folks, "light" isn't a dirty word.

  7. It's not that they have a problem with an "amber light" per se, Bill, it's a number thing. To have "light" on a label, the beer has to be a certain percentage lower in calories than the company's flagship. As I said, not sure all of them would fit into that definition.

    As for the "stigma," well, no, "light" isn't a dirty word to the people who are already drinking light. But they've already proven a number of times that they aren't really interested in a "light" beer unless it's pretty much like the "light beer" they're already drinking. Bud Light Golden Wheat's getting plenty of promotional support, but it's not really doing that well, and that was one that should have worked if any of them would. Miller's Lites didn't work any better; they died pretty quickly. And folks who drink a craft beer usually aren't interested in light beer.

    Far as that goes, I'm not sure that light beer's light isn't fading. The big gainers in the mainstream lager horserace last year were Pabst, Yuengling Lager, and Stella Artois, NOT light beers. Bud Light and Miller Lite were both down, Coors Light was up a measly 0.6%. Not sure it's a trend, but it's interesting.

    Meantime...I'm going to continue to push the session rock, instead of the light rock. My call, sure, but it's my blog, my hobby. That's all. And it does seem to be having some effect.


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