Thursday, September 15, 2011

"...the very basic function of a Bitter"

Fantastic post by Chris Lohring of The Notch today, about brewing a batch of cask bitter. It's long, and detailed, but it's a great look into why "contract brewing" shouldn't be a bad word. This guy busted his hump to get a batch of beer brewed, fought problems both under and out of his control, and won through to a batch of German-malt, German-hopped bitter, under 4% and subtly dry...and there are some great bits of insight here.
  • "’s the hard reality of brewing in too many places with too many variables and not enough time, resources or money."
  • "Bitter is a subtle but beautiful beer style, and the subtlety is the key. The beer’s elements must line up in a way that is balanced, yet interesting enough to draw you in for another sip." 
  • "The subtle complexity of Burton Bitter is something which is certainly out of favor in modern US craft brewing. And this subtle complexity is regularly bashed by beer snobs who like the opposite. As if it’s a binary option, and one can not exist with the other"
  • "...with session beer, there is not a lot of time to set the bed, as the malt mill runs dry pretty quick."
  • "Plan B Bitter would have been a good name for the beer, but I don’t really give Notch beers fanciful names. It seems silly for session beers, which are modest by definition."
  • "The whereabouts of my Firkins are still unknown, and this is part of the cask game I loathe. Some brewers use other brewers casks without guilt. Maybe they think they are lost? Surrendered? Cast off? Who knows, but if a Notch cask is filled with another beer, that cask has been stolen. It’s that simple."
  • "Two ounces of hops per cask, just for a bit of subtlety. More would have been fun, but a little predictable and it would have masked some of the delicate malt characteristics."
  • " was at this point I knew Notch Bitter was the beer of the damned."
  • "Notch Bitter fits the very basic function of a Bitter, which is to not get in the way of the conversation, or be the conversation. It’s simply a delicious session beer that can be the backbone for a fun afternoon or evening at your local. If you can’t get your head around that, you’ll never get your head around session beer."
Go read it. Thanks for all the hard work, Chris.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Drinking it up: I drink an afternoon of session and publicly post my BAC

As posted below, I was involved in a session beer event at Farmer's Cabinet in Philly. Matt Scheller invited me to take part in what amounted to a session beer tap takeover: they have about 24 taps there, and Matt planned to have all but about four of them at 4.5% or lower (including some of Terry Hawbaker's new house-brewed beers), and those four would be 5.0% or less. And I was going to talk about session beers.

That was the plan...but it kinda fell apart, to some extent. Matt's suppliers let him down on some of the beers (including Coniston Bluebird Bitter, which was a -- urk! -- bitter disappointment for me), including some of the surprisingly low-ABV Mikellers. Bummer. Then, well, I'll be honest: not that many people showed up. At one point we had about ten, and that was the high for the day. So we just kind of sat around and chatted about session beers...and drank 'em.

I did do one other thing. I took along a piece of foamcore and a broad Sharpie, and put the whitesheet up on a shelf in the bar. I wrote "LEW'S BAC -- 1:15 -- 0.00" on it; my blood alcohol concentration at 1:15 was 0.00, according to my AlcoHawk Pro. I then publicly posted what I was drinking, with ABV. I thought I should put my money where my mouth was and, well, if my BAC was too high, I'd stay in the city till I was legal.

It wasn't even close. After five beers in about two and a half hours (I stopped drinking the proscribed 20 minutes before blowing), the AlcoHawk pegged me at 0.02 BAC, completely legal in Pennsylvania; I think I could probably have bought a bottle at a "wine kiosk."

And the beers? Pretty good! The House Bitter (Terry's) was tasty, but lacking in body. The Meantime Pale was chewy with British malt, a nice drop. Terry's House Grisette was delicious -- herbal, floral, dry on the end -- and had it not been for wanting to keep varietal, I'd have drunk much more of it. The Bells Oarsman was tasty without going overboard on the sour clench; quite refreshing. And the Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted was a nice solid glass to wind up the day with.

What did I learn? Well, maybe the format is not the best for promoting session beer. In fact, I'm starting to think that focusing on session beer doesn't work, because of session beer's character; it's a type of beer that's not about taste, taste, taste; it's more about drink/talk/drink/cards/drink/pool/drink/eat/drink/pool...Not what you do at a "Beer Festival." Need to think more about this.

But check this out. This was a two-day/all-day event, and the beers were simply on offer for regular customers, no entry fee needed. The bartender told us that Friday night the beers had been selling fine, and the place was packed, and they were all drinking, but...they never turned stupid or started acting like drunk jerks. Hmmm...another reason for bars to include more session-strength craft beer on their menu?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Session Beer Event at the Farmer's Cabinet

You know, it's crazy that I haven't been to the Farmer's Cabinet yet; the beers are jaw-dropping, my buddy Terry Hawbaker is brewing for them (in Virginia, but that's another story), and the cocktails are supposed to be phenomenal...but Matt Scheller finally figured out how to get me to visit: >>>>>>>>>>>>>

That's right, he's throwing a bunch of session beers on and giving me a chance to talk about this passion of mine for great-tasting 'little beers.' Now, I do have to say: there are a few beers in the bunch that are over 4.5%. It ain't a perfect world. But it's a PAYG event, with pints and half pints, so if you don't want the 4.5+ beers, don't buy them. Or do, suit yourself. They'll also have specialty hot dogs, made by chef Jason Goodman, and I'm looking forward to that, too.

So, the deets: The fest will be at Farmer's Cabinet (1113 Walnut St., Philly) all day, on both Sept 9 and 10, Friday and Saturday. I'll be speaking about session beers at 1:30 on Saturday (I have an all-day meeting Friday, or I'd hike my butt in for that one, too); it's going to be a bit of a pep rally for session beers, but I'll talk about the hows and whys, like how they're made to taste so good, and why I set my limit at 4.5%. But mostly? We'll be drinking 26 tap beers and 2 gravity pours (one German, one English). Four of those 26 will be Terry's beers, some of the first brewed at the former Shenandoah brewery in Arlington, VA; if you know Terry's beers from the Bullfrog, you'll know why I'm excited about those.

Now, as Matt said: "Prices will vary, but European craft beer is not cheap - even when the ABV is low. I will try to keep them as low as possible, but the price point will not be $3 or $4 a pint, but probably around 6 or 7. Unfortunately,  just because a beer is lighter in color and lower in alcohol, doesn't mean it costs any less to buy. I certainly wish that was the case!"

I liked something else he told me:
To be frank, Lew, I am rarely in the mood these days for a boozy or remotely heavy beer.  I'd rather be able to have a "session" without feeling loaded or tired. Furthermore, there is something very special and sophisticated about a well made session beer, which is not an easy task for a brewer! I'm on a mini-mission to expose to people the beauty of a low abv, drinkable ale or lager. Bigger is not always better. I hope the american craft beer scene understands this in years to come and the philosophy of 'whiskey barrel aged 10% triple hopped continuously for 6 weeks and then aged in another barrel and wet hopped' is better" soon comes to a close and there is more emphasis put on balance and refinement! Hence good session beers. 
Yup. Sounds right to me. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Session Beer Fest in Portland...I missed it, sorry!

I really do need to get this thing updated more often: I had news of a session beer fest in Portland, Oregon -- yeah, really! -- last weekend, and didn't get it posted in time. I blame vacation and a busy schedule, but I let you down. Jeff Alworth of Beervana put it on with Coalition Brewing; they called it Mighty Mites, a great name. If anyone made it to the fest, please post a comment on how it went!

Here's a review, and thanks to Jeff for providing the link!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Session Beer Symposium in Michigan

Just got this; more proof that session is catching on. Copper Canyon is a brewpub in Southfield, Michigan.

Copper Canyon Brewery Presents
Beerposium #25, Aug. 6, 5:00 PM
Session Beers
Session Beer is a relatively new term (earliest ref appears to be in the 1980's), however, “session” is a term that dates back to WWI. During WWI, workers were allowed to go to the pub in two different 4 hr “sessions” and at the time beer strength was mandated by law and high tariffs. So, effectively, it was a time where one could go to the pub, have several beers in a “session” and not stagger home. Here we are doing a tasting of beers under 4.5%. Remarkably, there are many beers out there that fulfill this standard and are still quite tasty. You will be surprised by the variability of beers and styles that will be represented. These are the perfect beers of summer, where you want a couple to quench your thirst, yet allow you to finish the work at hand.
Reservations will be taken as seating is limited. $20 in advance $25 day of event. You will get at least 12 different beverages.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Wasatch Evolution Amber Ale

Stephen Beaumont and I do beer reviews for All About Beer, and it engenders frequent emails. Like this one, that he sent a couple months ago:
BTW, Lew, if you haven’t, you need to get a hold of some Squatters beer from Salt Lake City. They sent me a bunch for the World Atlas and I am very impressed with their 4% brews, especially the Provo Girl Pilsner.
I rarely ignore advice from Doctor Beaumont, so I fired off a request for samples to the good people at the Utah Brewers Cooperative, and they very nicely responded...and then I got busy as hell. The beers went into the fridge and stayed dark and cold till today, when I grabbed an Evolution Amber
You may chuckle at the idea of 4% beers from Utah. I don't. I remember a year when Utah brewers swept the schwarzbier category at GABF with low-alcohol lagers that were just awesome. See, when you have tough rules, you get really good at working within them. Kind of like the 4.5% ABV guideline I've proposed for session beer...

I was ready for something good, and I got it. This is a nice malty amber, and the nose proclaims that: bread, cookie, and a pleasing fresh grassiness. It follows through just fine with a light-but-not-lite body, good malt flavor, and just enough sweet to get the juices flowing, and just enough hop to clean it up. Very nice post-ride beer, and one you could easily session. More of these to come...

Battlefield in Fred-burg goes session in a Scots way

Got a message from an old friend, Lyle Brown, who -- after years as a very accomplished homebrewer (won silver in the GABF Pro-Am in 2008 with a rauch; more on that shortly) -- has made the jump to commercial brewer at the new Battlefield Brewing Company at The Pub in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I will reluctantly, sadly, admit that I haven't had a chance to stop in yet (gonna happen, it's on the way to the brother-in-law's and Blue & Gray Brewing and A. Smith Bowman Distillery (home of Virginia Gentleman bourbon), where my good friend Truman Cox is about to take over as master distiller).

However! Lyle knows I like a good session beer, so he sent news: We now have Spotsylvania Scottish 70 on tap at 4.0% ABV. This beer is a malty sweet beer, with a mild balancing Styrian Goldings bitterness, yet light in body and ultimately drinkable. There's also Chancellor Pale Ale (4.6% ABV) an American style Pale Ale with Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe and Amarillo hops.

I'm not going to quibble about 0.1%, I'd dive in on that Chancellor. Besides...Lyle said he's also got a Rauch Marzen tapping in a few days, and I don't give a damn what ABV that is; if I get half a chance, I'm getting some!

The Pub is at 4187 Plank Rd, Fredericksburg, VA 22407, 540-785-2164.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Session gets more good -- smart -- press

Financial news site has a piece on session beers and canned crafts this week -- "Cans? Low Buzz? What's up with Craft Beer?" -- that really does get it. One of the things they get is how session beer is fighting a real headwind: low-alcohol = low flavor/quality.
As craft brewers embrace beers with less than 5% alcohol by volume and can packaging long held to ridicule after being stacked in "beeramids" and smashed against one too many frat boy foreheads, they're battling both for market share in an increasingly crowded segment and against longstanding beer stigmas passed down through generations of drinkers. 
True. But craft session beer also addresses a problem, as ratebeer's Joe Tucker (a strong ally of session beer) points out: 
"We have a 'usability' problem -- average alcohol by volume is way too high to be sipping multiple beers down at the river, cutting the lawn or at the game," says Joseph Tucker, owner and operator of RateBeer, who sees session beer as a solution to craft beer's summer quandary. "High-alcohol beer is more filling, it has more calories and it's dehydrating, and this makes the average craft beer a problem in the summertime."
Can you drink big beer in the summer? Sure: that's what air-conditioning is for. I had an Otto's Double D during Philly Beer Week in the coolly chilled Grey Lodge Pub, and it tasted great. But when I was sweating it at a packed event later in the week, doors and windows open wide to try to get a breath of air into the place? Nice cold Kenzinger, baby.

One problem I continually struggle with is the folks who want to up the definition of session to include 5% and even 5.5% beers. I don't want to get to be an ABV Nazi, but the fact is, if most world beers, if average beers home in around 5%...that makes "session beers" no big deal, and once again stuffs 3.5% beers down into the "not enough" category we've seen expanding in beer judging, and in the pale ale, IPA, and even double IPA categories, a real "go big or go home" mentality that I've pegged as the "get a bigger monkey" syndrome. Keep "session beer" defined as 4.5% and less -- or 4% or less -- and you'll get a more level playing field for these beers, and you will see more creativity and more flavor at that level. We're seeing it already.

Chris Lohring, at The Notch, doing all session beer, naturally thinks a lot about the subject, and offers this:
"If it's fine to call something 'extreme,' and the craft beer community has really embraced that term, then what's so bad about embracing a term that's the opposite of that in 'session'?" 
Indeed. What's so bad about it? What is everyone so scared of? Summer of 2011, baby: the Summer of Session? Finally? 

Steve Body's Still Not Getting It

Steve Body writes a blog for the Seattle P-I called "The Pour Fool." He doesn't get -- or like -- session beers, and he's made that clear. He made it so clear that when he got a bunch of angry responses to his misunderstanding and dismissal of session beers as the choice of drunks, he felt compelled to not only delete the comments, but to spend his entire next blog post in a weenie-like defense of himself -- without mentioning "session beer" -- and his actions.

Just to show he's not scared of us -- and that he hasn't learned a damned thing -- his latest post (a paean of praise to Pike Place Brewing, which I didn't mind at all: I like Auld Acquaintance a lot, among others) goes there again, even though he didn't really have to. At the end of his description of Naughty Nellie Golden Artisan Ale, he sticks this sharp stick in session beer's eye:
Pike describes this as a “session beer” and, despite my stated aversion to the idea of sessioning (which I refer to as “drinking too much”), it’s just a glorious beer for anyone who wants more than one of the same.
I'd leave a comment on his blog, but he'd probably feel compelled to delete it. So here's my comment. First, "more than one of the same" is a key component to "sessioning." I just want to be able to have four "of the same" compared to your two of the same, because I like my beer to refresh my thirst, and I like to hang out with my friends for longer than you, apparently. That's so reprehensible? Second, firing up my trusty Session Beer Equivelator®, I see that if he has the 22 oz. bottle of Old Bawdy he talks about, I can have five shaker glasses (the roughly standard "pint" glasses (that aren't really pints) of beer bars) of 4% session beer and take in the same amount of alcohol. Hey, maybe I just like drinking beer more, I dunno.

Of course, we'd have to do this later in the day, because Steve's got all kinds of rules about drinking. "I NEVER drink anything with alcohol in it before 3-4 p.m," he says later in the post. Must be tough to get all the tasting in. Me, I generally don't do any serious tasting after 4 PM, but I'd hardly call it a rule. This guy's wound a little too tight. Maybe he does need those high-proof beers after all.

Look, I'll be honest. I don't know Steve Body, and I'm only beating up on him because he seems to personify a lot of the misunderstanding about session beers. We'd probably agree on some things, though I'm not sure about people in 2011 who loudly proclaim that they're a "beer snob" and describe pilsner as Bud injected with flavor. But to be this assertively wrong about something, and deliberately try to get in someone's face about it...well, I can't let that go. I don't disrespect his choice of having a couple big beers; that's a choice. What's so wrong about choosing session beers?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Big piece on session beer (it's good; I wrote it)

I did get to write a lengthy piece on session beer -- local session beer -- and it came out yesterday in Massachusetts Beverage Business, a trade journal I've been writing regularly for since about 1998 (sad to say that this is their last issue as an independent magazine). Check it out; I think I hit most of the bells on this one. Love the bit about the line out the door at the Lower Depths: people lined up to get openly-declared session beer. That's pretty damned extreme...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hold on there, Pilgrim...

Joe Stange's got a major piece on session beer coming out in DRAFT magazine this summer; can't wait to see it...especially in light of this new post on his blog, Thirsty Pilgrim. He throws cold water on the whole idea that session beer is trending upward in the U.S., citing data on new beer introductions over the past ten years.
However...I'd suggest that you don't look at session beer the same way you look at extreme beer. Session sells by volume, extreme sells by margin. As I commented at his post, Yards sells over 50% of their total output at 4.5% or below...but that's only two brands doing all that volume. Perspective. We'll see; in the meantime, good to have a reality check.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Klark Kent: a SUPER mild at Earth Bread + Brewery

Speaking of more session beers...May is Mild Month for CAMRA, so I celebrated last Friday (on my way home from a whiskey trip to Ireland, where much fresh Murphy's was consumed) with a Klark Kent dark mild at Earth Bread + Brewery in Philly, where Tom tries to keep at least one low-alcohol beer (he doesn't like "session beer" so I won't use the term...wait, I just did...never mind) on all the time. It was delish, tasty, malty but not too fat, and tasted exactly like...another 20 oz. glass. Which is what I had. Mighty nice, and when the woman at the table next to me ordered one, I toasted her with my glass and we both grinned big. She clearly got it. 

More press, more session beers

Just saw this piece on the Boston Globe blogsite, and while there are a few things off the cam (like tagging Coors Light as "a lousy 5 percent beer" -- it's 4.2% -- and his claim that he's been "predicting -- and hoping -- that the new trend in craft beer will be session beers" while the blogposts tagged in his read-more pile are all about imperial stouts and "heavy-duty ales"), hey, he's pinning it. I still say 5% is too high, but we're on the right track when he makes much of Narragansett's new Summer Ale (4.2%, and I'm getting a Citra-hopped sample this weekend) and our friends at The Notch.

But wait, there's more! That's right, Advertising Age had a piece on session beers today! Just the title tells you what's going on:
The New Drinking Session: How Craft Brewers Are Drawing in More Consumers -- Lower-Alcohol Varieties Pump Volume by Allowing Beer Fans to Have More Brew

See, brewers: session beers make business sense. Okay, I don't really think their lead example makes sense -- 5.3% Redhook Pilsner vs. 5.8% Redhook ESB -- in fact, it's a walking example of why I think the top limit should be 4.5% rather than 5%. This is more about another great idea, though: craft CAN get big numbers if they make some great interpretations of beers that are quite drinkable and craft-respectable: helles, bitter, dunkel, kölsch, English summer ale, mild, brown ale, just to name a few. You'll notice that there's cross-over with session there, and if you can put out a great-tasting sub-4.5% beer, you'll have a beer that people will have more of, and more people will have. What's more, the Miller Lite guy in this story will learn how badly he muffed it.

Session's getting its due! Which means, of course, the backlash is coming in about six months. Be prepared...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

About that 4.5% number...

A lot of discussion around the blogosphere lately about what the top "limit" on ABV should be for a session beer. There are some militant Brits who loudly proclaim that it's 4.0, and anything above that just isn't session; there are militant Americans who say beers as high as 6% are session beers "for them." Plenty of people say I have no authority to set a limit (they're absolutely right, too).

And then there's this brilliant bit from Martyn Cornell.

Martyn doesn't consider the ABV as important as the "quaffability." When I started this thing, I agreed with that, mostly, but "quaffability" doesn't lend itself to consensus, at least not among U.S. beer blog-readers and BeerAdvocate/ratebeerians. So I used a number.

I still like a 'definition' I came up with almost 20 years ago, when Malt Advocate was still a beer magazine. I was at John Hansell's house, tasting some aged Belgians with him and a couple other friends. They were great beers: fruit lambics slowly giving up their character, some nose-opening lambics (Boon just ain't what it used to be), a vertical of Chimay Blue. But I said (something like, can't remember the exact words), "These are great, but sometimes I like a beer that doesn't stop conversation, a beer that you can all simply enjoy without constantly interrupting your friends' stories to say, 'Yeah, that's great, but do you taste those coffee notes? That's awesome!' There's a lot to be said for Sierra Nevada Pale Ale." Even then, I was groping toward this idea.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Drink Session on April 7th!

Thursday, April 7th, marks the 78th anniversary of "Repeal Lite," the enactment of the Cullen-Harrison Act, which made 3.2% ABW beer legal once more in the United States. Full Repeal, the ratification of the 21st Amendment, would not occur until December of that year, but starting at 12:01 AM on April 7th, 1933, Americans could drink beer that wasn't just "near beer." They drank it with gusto, too, consuming huge amounts as bands played "Happy Days Are Here Again" over and over and over, and no one seemed to mind at all. If it had been written yet, they probably could have played "It's a Small World After All," and everyone would have sung along...

3.2% ABW, of course, is 4.0% ABV, so I intend to celebrate the anniversary with a good healthy helping of ≤4.0% session beer. Please feel free to join me.

Hell, today's date is 4.5! Next year: this is Session Beer Project Day! Wish I'd thought of that sooner...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Another "session IPA"

Just got a press release from North Peak Brewing in Traverse City, Michigan about their new "Session India Pale Ale" they call Wanderer. It's...well, I'll let them describe it:
"...a wonderfully-refreshing Session IPA, brewed with locally-grown hops on Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City. Session IPA is an exciting new style, balanced with malt and hop characters with a clean finish. Hopped with Perle, Willamette, Centennial and Citra that give it a citrus and pine finish, Wanderer is rounded out with a generous amount of dry-hopping with Citra hops to fill the nose to give it a light, clean and stimulating body. This combination of full-hop flavor and lower alcohol gives Wanderer a wonderful drinkability, allowing the craft beer drinker to have multiple beers, within a reasonable time period or “session.”"

Hmmm...not sure about that "reasonable" time period! But otherwise? These guys seem to get it, even though I'm guessing it's probably over-hopped for my tastes. I'm seeing more of these hoppy session beers; smart brewers trying to give the people what they want. 

Wonder what they charge for it...?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Great Discussion at NERAX!

The folks at NERAX asked me to come speak to their industry session last Friday afternoon. I'd never been to the New England Real Ale eXhibition, and it was a chance to see Thomas (and they offered to throw me a room), so I jumped on it.

NERAX is a 15 year thing, a unique event that takes place in a VFW hall about the size of two double-bay garages. It's determinedly low-tech (as befits a cask festival), but the beer's tremendous -- they pour about 90 British and American cask beers (and a few ciders), all in beautiful condition -- and the food is barbecue sammiches from Redbones. You pay to get in, and you pay for your beer, but you can get 1/4, 1/2 or full imperial pints; your choice. Awesome. You know how good it is? Paul Pendyck from the Bulls Head in Lititz was there Friday afternoon...and he had his own cask event the next day back home. He flew up and back on Friday because he wasn't going to miss NERAX.

Deep Ellum's Max Toste and Chris "The Notch" Lohring at NERAX
Naturally I said I'd speak on session beer, and how cask is a natural expression for it. After getting in Thursday (and not making it to that night's NERAX session because I, well, got to drinking at Cambridge Brewing and just didn't feel like leaving; more about that at my other blog soon), I got in a bunch of work in my room Friday morning, and headed over to Davis Square to make the 1:00 opening. What a prime crew! Tons of New England brewers (I'd already run into Paul Davis at my hotel), and the NERAX folks (very friendly), Paul Pendyck (we ran out for lunch at a nearby diner), Chris Lohring (The Notch), my colleague Andy Crouch, and the BeerAdvocate Brothers, Jason and Todd Alström.

And all those casks. I chatted politely for as long as I could stand it, then excused myself to get a beer. I had -- that I can recall -- Portsmouth Whipper Snapper, Wachusett Black Shack Porter, Brains SA, Breconshire Cribyn, Meantime Yakima Red, Bray's Old Church Pale, and Gritty's Blue Porter...I think that was it. Half-pints, over three hours, and most under 4.5%. All very nice, though the Whipper Snapper and the Blue Porter stick out. I got a few in, filled up with the Yakima Red, and hung out in the foyer as I was introduced. Chris Lohring was there, and I asked him if he was available for tagging when I got into the cage match with the Alströms: he said he'd be on the turnbuckle waiting -- then grinned and noted that it was the first time he'd said the word "turnbuckle" in years.

The idea was to do what the Session Beer Project is all about: stimulate discussion. I got up there, talked about what session beer was and wasn't, and why I set my ABV number at 4.5% -- and why I was reluctant to set a limit -- and what session beer was and wasn't in the U.S., and how I'd be happy with another, better name for it, and ways to make session beer interesting (cask being a big one, of course)...and it was all stuff they pretty much knew, although the parts about how well session-strength beers are selling around Philly seemed to make them pretty happy.

Then things went off: I brought up the price issue. In a nutshell: session-strength beers cost less to make than "normal" strength craft beers -- say, 6% ABV beers -- but only a little: every cost is the same except for a small amount of materials costs, and maybe shorter aging time. The brewers nodded in agreement when I asked them if it was fair to say it was about a nickel a pint less, or about six bucks a half-keg. Now, you're talking about a keg of craft beer that's up in the neighborhood of $130 to $170, retail, less than that to the bar...six bucks cheaper? Even if it's ten bucks cheaper: the bar's going to charge the same for both beers, because "pint" prices generally increase in 50 cent increments...if you're lucky, and they don't jump by a buck. I'm running that, and the brewers are all nodding.

But the punters and the pundits weren't buying it. Andy and The Brothers were saying that it should be less anyway. (One brewer texted me later: funny how after all the brewers said the beers don't really cost less to make, the drinkers all said they should cost less anyway.) (Or maybe not: see the comments below, and my apologies to Andy: it was a bit fevered and multi-threaded!) Why, I asked, what are you getting less of if it's a good, flavorful session beer? Alcohol? In which case...why are you drinking, again?

The English folks in attendance (and those who have experience with English beer prices) know that the alcohol level has a clear link to increased price: that's how their taxes are set. But that's not the case in the U.S., and it's not even the case in mainstream beer pricing: Bud Select 55 is 2.4% ABV, and it sells for the same price at the bar as Miller Lite -- 4.2%.

Every time the discussion would flag, I'd toss something in. "How much do you pay for Taras Boulba?", the session-strength Belgian beauty from De La Senne, that goes for around $10. And they were off again.

Some interesting points did come up. I suggested that bars should charge a premium for cask, which upset some: it's hard enough to sell already, was the general tenor, don't make it harder (to which I'd reply, you have to give the publican something for all the extra work!). Andy made a good point: if you're charging "normal" prices for a beer you can and want to drink more of over a longer time, well, that adds up fast.

And both he and the Alströms were citing high prices in the area already; they wanted relief. I felt their pain: I'm still wincing about paying $10 for a pint of Cain's bitter at Dandelion last month. But that made me think of something smart people say about the "underage drinking problem," both here and elsewhere in the world: we don't have an underage drinking problem, we have a drinking problem. You don't have a session beer pricing problem; you have a beer pricing problem. Which is what they've been saying for quite a while; the session beer cost issue is, like I said, just a hope for some kind of relief.

I don't see that coming, and it's got nothing to do with session beer. When demand continues to be high -- and everyone knows that craft beer sales are still up, and growing -- and price increases seem to have no effect on it, let alone any effect from the worst economy in 70 years...I don't see anyone dropping prices. And piss you off or not, higher prices reassure the craft novice that this stuff really is good. After all, like I said: you don't think a case of Corona costs $28 because of cost of materials, do you? Price is part of the marketing equation, and it works. It's not lucky for those of us who already know the stuff is good, but there you are.

As Chris Lohring tweeted later that evening: "After a heated debate @ on price, taste and ABV, selling the hell out of Notch at 8.99 a six pack at an in-store tasting." The people have spoken. For the record, I was drinking the new Notch Pilsner at Deep Ellum the day before. And it was delicious.

It was a great afternoon, and a great talk. Afterwards I went to The Burren with Andy, The Brothers, Dann and Martha Paquette, Jaime Schier from Harpoon, Max Toste, and some other people (whose names I've clearly forgotten, and I apologize), and we all had some superlative Guinness. We talked some more trash, but mostly just talked. I think the Goose Island thing came up, and the Bourdain/Brew Masters thing, but mostly? Just breezin'. Perfect session stuff.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

More new session beers...

Not only are The Notch Session Pils and Session Ale now out in bottles, I just got news from Ale Industries (in Concord, California) that they're celebrating their second anniversary -- congrats! -- with the release of two new beers, one of them a session beer! Check it out:
The first is simply named “2012 Table Beer, the Beer of the Future”. This beer is what we call a Light Belgian Dark Ale, and has a very sessionable 3.0% abv. The beer was brewed with a blend of yeasts which were borrowed from the newly formed Oakland Brewing Company. Go co-operation! 2012 Table beer, the Beer of the Future was brewed in the same vein as many Ale Industries beers, to achieve layers of depth in the simple but under-rated form of session beer.
Gotta love the name, gotta love the love.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Session Beer Poll?

Yes, "Drink Craft Beer" has put up a TwtPoll asking "What is your abv% cut-off for a 'session beer?'" Choices are 4%, 4.5%, 5%, and "Over 5%."

Well, you know where I stand. And I think it's blazingly typical of American craft beer that currently "Over 5%" has a commanding lead. Go vote, folks, go vote. I'm perfectly happy to drive traffic to this poll, because it does fuel the discussion!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Interesting trends on the west coast

Just got the following note from's Joe Tucker about a San Francisco Beer Week event he attended Sunday night, and of course found it intensely interesting. Read on...
I just wanted to drop you a brief note on something Ken Weaver and I took note of at last night's Nanobrewers mini festival at Social Kitchen in SF last night. More than several of the brewers:
  • were brewing session beers under 4.5% abv
  • presented beers of English and non-English tradition (cask and non-cask, traditional hops and recipes and not)
Additionally, several brewers articulated:
  • a market demand-related reason for brewing lower abv beer
  • a business/cost-related reason
  • a business/sales reason (sell two or three pints of session instead of one burly beer)
  • a health and safety reason
While these weren't the dominant styles of beers offered at the event, the number of low abv offerings were grossly over-represented relative to their numbers in the existing market.
 So...trend? Interesting question, considering that Social Kitchen had named the event "Breweries of Tomorrow." If you haven't hit the link, do so, and read how the breweries described their output. "Subtle yet complex session ales intended for the social drinking style of a traditional pub," and "session beers with character – the kind of brews you can enjoy more than one of, and won’t get bored with."

The Session Beer Project, bearing fruit? I suspect it's more a case of being sensitive to the first small stirrings of a new direction in brewing. Whatever, we'll take it. Cheers to the choices!

Friday, February 11, 2011


Scott Smith is making it work in Pittsburgh. His incredible Session Beer Series just keeps knocking out really interesting session strength beers. Witness the latest:
Session Ale #52 "Drayman's Heather Ale" is a long-boil Scottish ale that's been cool fermented, and has 3 separate heather additions. One for flavor, one for aroma, and another "dry-heathering" done in the fermenter. This beer is 4.2% abv, fitting nicely into our "Under 4.5%" Session Ale guidelines, that we follow... most of the time.
Some history: You may already know that hops don't grow well in the Scottish climate, so rather than pay the high prices for the hops imported from their "friends" in England, the Scottish crafted their beers to have very low hopping rates... certainly very little hops were used for such frivolities as flavor and aroma hop additions. At those prices, hops were just used for bitterness, and even then as few as possible. (Don't let Ron hear you say that...) Local plants were often used as a substitute bitterness source, and since Heather was in abundance, it seemed the likely choice. So we thought we'd give it a try here.
The long boil used to brew these beers develops more carmelization in the kettle which carries through to the glass.  And the cool fermentation temps give them a bright clear malt profile without all the esters you'll find in an English Ale.
The Scottish hopping theory aside (and I'll admit, I used to repeat it), this sounds like a truly interesting beer. Again. Cheers, Scott!

Some Consistently Interesting Session Beer Commentary

Joe Stange's blog Thirsty Pilgrim has featured some interesting posts on session beers, and I've been neglecting reposting them here. So...

From October, a post about "session" as both adjective and verb, something that's gotten a few knickers twisted -- relax, it's just beer.

And from November and January, Joe notes the Public House Brewing Company in Rolla, Missouri is opening as an all-session beer brewery, and then visits and tells us about their "toasted-bready, dryish, full-flavored mild weighing in at 2.5% strength."

Keeping it up, he posted this week about the trumped-up "Session vs. Extreme CAGE MATCH!!!"...and suggests we should trump it up even more. And you know? Might be a good idea!

Check out Joe's blog; it's a good one.

(And thanks for reading the Session Beer Project! It's actually passed my 'main' blog in the Wikio ratings, which is kinda cool.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Nicely done reaction to Jason Wilson's session beer piece here. It truly does my heart good to see this kind of discussion taking place; this is what the SBP is all about.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Extreme Session Beer, Part II

After that last post about the Alström's Extreme Session Beer Project, it was interesting to see this post on The Notch blog. Chris Lohring is brewing a grodziskie, a mostly extinct Polish style of beer he described as "a beer made from 100% smoked wheat malt, very low ABV, very high hop character, fermented with an ale yeast, and served unfiltered yet with out yeast turbidity...True Grodziskie involves oak smoking green wheat (steeped and germinated wheat) while being dried and kilned."

I've had a shot at a (I guess non-traditional) grodziskie made at Yards, and it was really interesting and bold -- bacony, really, but refreshing.When I read that Chris was brewing one for The Notch, well, that's kind of exciting.

I was let down to read this, though:

"...the email came regarding Extreme Beer Fest. I was not on the invite list for participating brewers, as invites go to “brewers known for brewing extreme beers.” And it didn’t surprise me, as I understand I am the new kid on the block (at the same time being from the old school). We built our reputation at the Tremont Brewery on well balanced beers and were quick to call out extreme beers as gimmicks. So I had this coming to me.
Quite phlegmatic, Chris; tip of the hat to you for being mature about it. Why invites wouldn't go to both brewers known for extreme beers and session beers, I'm not so sure, but it is the Extreme Beer Festival, and the "Extreme Session Beer Project" is a subset within that, so... Anyway, the cool thing is Chris's reaction to suddenly not having an automatically appreciative audience for this quirky beer:
"I was too far down the path to Grodziskie to turn back."
Atta boy! He got the smoked green wheat malt (at Valley Malt, in Hadley, Mass., a very small husband-and-wife-run custom maltings) and went ahead and brewed a pilot batch. And now he's waiting on, as he put it, maybe the most important question:

how does Grodziskie taste? Is it in the dustbin of history for a reason? Well, it’s been one week in the fermenter, and I should have some sense of what this beer tastes like in another week. And then I can make the decision if this beer can scale to a commercial brewery, with commercial potential. With no captive audience to rely on at EBF, this beer will need to be sold to bars, and willingly purchased by craft beer fans. Something to ponder while I  gear up for the bottle release of Session Ale and Pils later this month. Sleepless nights are becoming common.
That's ballsy. Session beers are not for the faint of heart when it comes to brewing and selling them; at least, not yet. Tom Baker tells me that the session beers are a tough sell at Earth + Bread and Brewery (and they don't have one on, currently), only Victory seems to have no problem selling bitter at their pub (or maybe they just always have Uncle Teddy's on because Ron likes it, I dunno). All I ask: if you see a session-strength beer on at your local brewpub or bar, try it. And if it's good, tell me -- and I'll help get the word out, here, on Twitter, and on Facebook -- and most importantly, have another. 


Saturday, February 5, 2011

This is: Getting It.

Jason Wilson wrote a piece on session beers for the San Francisco Chronicle (which is just now starting a beer column? WTF?!) that definitely gets it. And not just because he quoted me extensively. Really. No, he clearly gets the whole thing, to the point where he recognizes that he has to up his session beer ABV ceiling to BeerAdvocate's 5% ceiling to come up with some beers to talk about...because there just aren't that many sub-4.5% beers out there.

Using BeerAdvocate's 5% is no real surprise: he quoted Todd Alström (and Sam Calagione, too) about the Extreme Session Beer Project. Which, by the way, is fine by me, great idea...except for the 5% top end and the totally misplaced anger. (And it's not new anger, either.) Check this out!
As you might imagine, the editors of Beer Advocate, Todd and Jason Allstrom [sic] - who run the annual Extreme Beer Fest in Boston - take the opposing view. In December, Todd Allstrom announced the launch of an Extreme Session Beer Project. "For too many years the mainstream press and haters have attempted to pigeonhole extreme beer as being just about high-alcohol and unbalanced beers," Todd Allstrom says. "Let's be honest, they're f- clueless."
Todd Allstrom's project co-creator is Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head in Milton, Del., a renowned extreme beer producer. Calagione sought a more evenhanded tone. "I totally agree and find it really destructive when beer folk say session beer needs to supersede extreme beer. Or vice versa. Like they're mutually exclusive."
Who the hell's saying that?! I know damned well I never have. I've made fun of some extreme beers; hell, why not, some of them deserve it. I've poked at people who only want extreme beers, who only want brewers to make extreme beers, but it's because this whole thing is about variety, dammit. If all the brewers made session beers, I'd be bitching about that. I have not heard anyone say extreme beers have to go away so session beers can thrive. Period.

But you know, extreme beers, big beers? They don't need a lot of help right now. They don't need me saying "Come on, people, open up your minds a little and try this stuff, it's frickin' awesome!!" Which I would be, if they were being ignored. However, they ain't, and the extreme defensiveness of some people about them puzzles me. In fact, as Wilson quoted me:
Bryson remains perplexed by the defensiveness. "It's like session beer is a threat of some kind to the extreme beer guys," he says. "Well, bite me. I want my choice, too."
And I do! Happily, articles like

Thursday, February 3, 2011

This is: not getting it

First: 21st Amendment's Bitter American is a delish session beer, and I can't wait till it shows up in Philly, and I will drink it.

Second, this guy got that...but that's the only thing he got. There is so much wrong with this, it makes me want to cry, vomit, and commit mayhem.

Monday, January 31, 2011

RateBeer Top 100 reactions

The Rate Beer Best Beers in the World list is out -- which is nothing more than an aggregate of the 100 beers with the highest rating on the site -- and yes, no surprise, it is heavily weighted towards big beers, and heavily weighted towards a relatively small group of pants-wettingly hyped breweries (over half of the 100 "best beers in the world" come from only nine breweries?). I have no real problem with the second issue -- things like that happen in this kind of rating/voting -- but the first one? As Stephen Beaumont said,
"In the style listing of the top 50 beers, the word “Imperial” appears 39 times! The word pilsner? Zero times, in the entire 100."
Beaumont titles that post "Why Brewers Make So Many Strong Beers." Martyn Cornell, a strong voice for session beers and traditional British beers, takes it a step further, titling his post on the subject "Why extremophiles are a danger to us all," a post that has set off a tiny bit of a firestorm. Both posts point out that this kind of widely-reported excitement -- in what is essentially a niche within a niche -- has an effect on what beers are available for the average craft beer drinker.

It is not my intention to set off a firestorm today. Not my nature, you know. What I do want to say is that this is exactly the reason this blog is here: to draw more attention to session beers, beers "to the left of the dial," that are under the big ABV radar but still have deliciously full flavor. It's working, but maybe we need to deliver a louder statement. You know...set off a firestorm. 

Accordingly, I am reading manifestos this week, learning from the masters.
A specter is haunting American craft breweries -- the specter of Session Beer.
All the Powers of extreme craft brewing have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this specter. Where is the beer under 6% that has not been decried as "weak session beer" by its opponents in extremism? Where the extreme brewer who has not charged that session beers take attention from the extreme beers that fire the public imagination?*
Two things result from this fact:
I. Session Beer is already acknowledged by all extreme craft brewers and drinkers to be itself a Movement.
II. It is high time that Session Beer brewers and drinkers should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Session Beer with a Manifesto of the movement itself.
When, in the course of enjoying beer, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of drinkers to assume among the beer drinkers of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all good beer drinkers are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are beer, variety, and the pursuit of hoppiness; that to supply these rights breweries are instituted, deriving their just powers from the purchases of the drinker. Whenever any form of beer hype becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new movement, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its definition in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their drinking pleasure and happiness.
Hmmm...who would have thought Elizabeth Cady Stanton's writing would serve as a model for a drinking platform? Will wonders never cease? I am liking the manifesto idea. But I think I'll keep it shorter. Much shorter, it's got to fit on a t-shirt!

*Guys...absolutely all in fun. I know that all involved have made or enjoyed session beers. I'm just riffing on Karl Marx here, and his Manifesto is the most famous...and required a bogeyman. The manifesto I write for the SBP will not. Promise you that.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mustang Brewing: gotta call you out, folks

Mustang Brewing has been out about two years now, but they've just come to my attention. They're Oklahoma-based contract brewers, and...well, here's their mission statement-ish manifesto from their website (emphasis added):
We created Mustang Brewing Company to make great, easy-drinking, session beers the people of Oklahoma can be proud to call their own. All our recipes are developed in our pilot facility in Oklahoma. We brew through partnerships with some of the country’s finest breweries. The end results are consistent, quality, craft beers that are full of flavor but light enough to enjoy
Sounds good, right? Our kinda place? Check the beers.
  • Mustang Harvest Lager: 5.6% ABV.
  • Mustang Amber Lager: 4.5% ABV.
  • Mustang Washita Wheat: 5.3% ABV.
  • Mustang Golden Ale: 5.3% ABV.
And the latest, Pawnee Pale Ale? Read what Mustang president Tim Schoelen said (at The Thirsty Beagle blog):
“Bringing the best of Old World East and New World West together is what makes Pawnee Pale a truly American-style pale ale. A tantalizing blend of German Perle and U.S. Pacific Northwest hops give this beer a moderate, citrus, hop quality. American, British, and caramel malts provide a rich maltiness not found in most pale ales. At 6% ABV and 42 IBU’s, Pawnee Pale is distinctly hopped, yet still carries that session beer quality you have come to expect from Mustang.”
Schoelen said Mustang has received many requests for an IPA, but struggled with how they could make one in the session beer range. Thus an American pale ale was the answer.
Actually, turns out that it isn't. When I see "6% ABV," I'm not thinking "session beer range." I'm thinking IPA, or bock, but not session. If 6% is a session beer, then 7.5% isn't strong beer? It's The whole brewery seems to have this messed up: they want to be a session beer brewery, but four out of five beers are over 5%?

I'm not doing this to be a prick. Really. The last thing I want to see happen here is have it become all about a couple tenth-percentage points of ABV. Is your beer 4.7%, and you really want to call it a session? I'm not going to jump on you. I'm happy to encourage people who want to make session beers.

But. I see that the Session Beer Project is working, that people are talking more and more about session beers, that people are hating on session beers (sad, but at least we're talking!), that session beers are getting press...and that people are jumping on what they see as a bandwagon without really getting what it's all about. Not cool.

So I am going to say something, like I did about Full Sail's Session Lager. We're going to carve out an area here, an area where there's a real difference: lower alcohol beers with flavor. If the beer's over's not lower alcohol. (Yeah, I know it's "lower alcohol" than a double IPA, but that's hardly the point.) I wanted to avoid this, but...I think it's time for a manifesto. Time to get militant.

Oh, and...enjoyed the hell out of the return of Milltown Mild at Victory last week -- took a growler home, and Cathy liked it, too; plenty of roasty malt in there -- and had a snappy Notch Hoppy Session at Redbones (great with the Arkansas ribs). And I got me a SBP hoody from CafePress (using that link up in the right-hand corner), and wore it all over Boston/Cambridge on Saturday: that baby is warm. Represent the Session Beer Project!

Friday, January 14, 2011


The new Style guidelines for the 2011 Great American Beer Festival's competition are out, and once again, there's a clear disconnect on what Session Beer is, isn't, and can be. Or at least...that's what it seems like at first. Lemme 'splain. No, that would take too long. Lemme sum up.

Here's the style guideline for "Session Beer," under Hybrid/Mixed Beer Styles.
Session Beer
Any style of beer can be made lower in strength than described in the classic style guidelines. The goal should be to reach a balance between the style's character and the lower alcohol content. Drinkability is a character in the overall balance of these beers. Beers in this category must not exceed 4.1% alcohol by weight (5.1% alcohol by volume). Original Gravity (ºPlato) 1.034-1.040 (8.5-10 ºPlato) ● Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (ºPlato) 1.004-1.010 (1-2.5 ºPlato) ●Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 3.2-4.1% (4.0-5.1%) ● Bitterness (IBU) 10-30 ● Color SRM (EBC) 2+ (4+ EBC)
So when I first saw this (thanks to Chris Lohring at The Notch, who brought it to my attention), I about went ballistic. The description sounds like a category for 'dialed-down' versions of other beers -- like a 'session bock' -- a low-alc counterweight to the "Other Strong Ale or Lager" category. Except that, unlike Other Strong (and wouldn't that make a great beer name?), Session Beer not only has an upper limit on ABV -- a way too strong 5.1%! -- it has an even more WTF-inducing lower limit on ABV: 4.0%!

Like I said, "when I first saw this." Then I poked around some more -- and it's a huge document, with even more incredibly sub-divided categories (meaning many more medals...) -- and found some other stuff. Like Ordinary Bitter (3.0-4.1% ABV), English-Style Summer Ale (3.6-5%), Scottish-style Light Ale (2.8-3.5%!), English-style Pale Mild and Dark Mild (both 3.2-4.0%), Classic Irish-style Dry Stout (3.8-5%), Berliner Weisse (2.8-3.4%), Leichtes Weizen (2.5-3.5%), Belgian-style Table Beer (0.5%-3.5%!), and German Leicht(bier) (2.5-3.6%). (I'm skipping the American Light categories on purpose, yeah.)

The upshot? There are actually more categories than ever for lower-alcohol, tasty beers (I guess we'll have to wait for next year for the Lichtenhainer and Grodziskie), which should mean that brewers will be encouraged to brew to those styles in hopes of scoring medals (the good side of category/medal multiplication). That's a good thing.

But the catch-all Session Beer category just baffles me. If it is intended to catch any beer that doesn't fall into the 'normal' low-ABV categories listed above...why have that lower limit? And if it's really about session -- and they have the courage to put low ABV ranges on those other categories -- why an upper limit of 5.1%?

Look, I don't pretend to have the last word on session beer. Plenty of Brits believe -- and tell me! -- that 4.5% is too high for session. Plenty of Americans believe it's too low for an upper limit. But 5.1%? I'm sorry, I see this as kowtowing to the west coast, where they seem to think that 5.5% is session-strength. It's not. That's too strong for session. Period.

If we're going to have a "Session Beer" category at the GABF in addition to all these traditional session/worker/table beer categories, why not borrow the language from other catch-all categories: "varies with style," and give it an upper limit of 4.5%. How's that sound?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New brewery to start out working the session angle

I've been corresponding with Jeffery Stuffings at Jester King Craft Brewery in Austin, Texas, a new and ambitious craft brewery that's just opened. JK is starting up with barrel-aging, bottle-conditioned 750 ml bottles, and...two year-round session beers in their line-up. Here's what he had to say about that:
I just wanted to e-mail you to say thanks and offer our support for The Session Beer Project.  We wholeheartedly support the mission.  One of our frustrations is that our bigger beers tend to be rated higher and sell better simply because they are more "extreme". We've actually made two session beers part of our year-round lineup: a 3.3% ABV English-style dark mild and a soon to be released ~4% ABV farmhouse table beer
What Stuffings didn't tell me -- I found it on the brewery blog -- is pretty interesting, too.
Dickel barrels full of aging mild at Jester King.
  • The farmhouse table beer -- "Das Wunderkind" -- sounds like a smaller version of another farmhouse beer they're making, Boxer's Revenge, an idea I wholeheartedly applaud.
  • Some of the dark mild is being barrel-aged for blending with the regular mild to create more depth of flavor; brilliant, innovative -- dare I say...extreme? -- way of adding flavor to a session beer without overwhelming it.
  • And they clearly have a sense of humor: the dark mild is named "Commercial Suicide Dark Mild."
So I'd like to take this opportunity to invite those of you in the Austin area to go out for Jester King's grand opening on Saturday the 29th of January, 1-9:00, for food, live music (in their large beer hall, and what would an Austin opening be without live music?), and lots of session-strength beer. Mind you, they've got their 10% Black Metal imperial stout, too!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Just a statement

I went to Boston to get my son home for break. We were figuring to leave the following day, so I took him to dinner at the Sunset Grill, an old fave, just off campus. The Sunset has a ton of taps, but it's a big place; they go through them. So...I've gotta drive five miles to my hotel after, and I figure, go easy. Happy thing: the draft menu lists ABV! Sad thing: very few choices under 5%. Like 8 out of 100+ taps. That's it. Okay, I'll take what I can get. Waiter comes. He's out of every single sub-5% beer. HELLO! What's that tell you?! 

The lack of session-strength beers at beer bars reminds me terribly of the situation I used to run into all the time back in the early 1990s. "Those microbrews? Nah, we don't carry them: they don't sell." Hey, Einstein: if you don't carry them, they can't sell!

This year, I'm talking to bar owners/managers, and I'm encouraging you to do the same. And when you do, tell 'em you'll be there to drink the stuff! We're getting some momentum here...let's push.

Cheers! Happy New Year!