Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Sessionable"? Not here

I know, I know, I promised you a post about why session beer pisses off beer geeks -- and you'll get it -- but right now, another example of why beer geeks piss off The Session Beer Project. Take a look at this. Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland, Oregon, has released a new beer for the start of Major League Soccer in town: Yellow Card Premier Ale. Allow me to quote (emphasis is all mine):
Just in time for the kickoff of the MLS season here in town, we made a sessionable English ale that will help you keep your eye on the ball and cheering for the Green!
Yellow Card is light-bodied, dry with subtle bread character featuring a crisp, mild and spicy hop bitterness. You can get it on tap and in growlers to-go at Hopworks Urban Brewery and Hopworks BikeBar.
This beer is made for the ultimate soccer fan. This one’s for you TA!
30 IBU and 5.2% ABV.
Yeah, that's 5.2% ABV. Let me reiterate: if your "session" beer is over 5%, what's the point? It's not "session beer" just because it's lower in alcohol than your double IPA. This is the flip-side of the growing acceptance of the idea that a flavorful lower-alcohol beer can be very enjoyable: "session" becomes a tag that reaches a market, rather than an idea that encompasses great beer at lower strength (for all-day drinking).

But maybe the sneakiest thing here is that the words "session beer" aren't even used. The beer is described as "sessionable." This is pure geek-speak, the snarly rebellion that "if I can drink four of them, that's sessionable!" This is sneaking into the session beer conversation, and yet...what does it mean? That a particular person will drink more than four of them? That doesn't mean much, and neither does this word.

No, really, it doesn't: you know how when you put a word followed by "definition" into Google, and fourteen competing "dictionaries" offer their definition? The only one that offers a definition for "sessionable" is the Urban Dictionary (and it's a reasonable one (!), and there's a very good definition at "session beer" too; the first one, that is). Merriam-Webster, my go-to for definitions? "The word you've entered isn't in the dictionary."

Therefore, I've made a decision: I'm not going to use the word "sessionable" anymore. It's become a weasel word, a dodge. I used it three times in past blog posts, and I've gone back and clarified those occasions, changing it to "session-strength." A small thing, but if this word's going to be misused, it's not going to be with my help.

Brewers? Step up. There are honest arguments over what ABV limits a session beer has -- 4.0%, my own 4.5%, BeerAdvocate's 5.0% -- but if you're over 5% and calling your beer "sessionable," sorry, you're just trying to latch onto the latest trend. And God help me, we worked too hard to make this a trend to let it be used...especially by craft brewers who should know better.


  1. Heh. And here I'm remembering two weeks ago, when a local brewery had a cask "English dark ale" (yep, a mild) on, at a spiffy 3.7% ABV. So good I had two. Session-strength indeed.

    The crew at HUB are good folk, but far too many Yank beer geeks simply can't grok the concept of "session strength." I think it scares them, TBH.

  2. One might note that the word "session" used as an adjective does not appear in any of those dictionaries either were one who someone who felt the word had been bastardized already (to be totally accurate, there is something called a "session cookie" used by computer techs).

  3. You can note it, but it's hardly relevant: the word "mountain" is not defined as an adjective in Merriam-Webster, and yet even an oldster such as you surely has heard of a "mountain bike." Anyway, Merriam-Webster does note "session" as an adjective in the context of a "session musician." If you consider the M-W 6th definition of "session" as "a meeting or period devoted to a particular activity (a recording session)" to include a particular activity such as drinking beer, then it's very, very small step to "session beer."

    Sorry to get pedantic, but as they always say: you started it.

  4. You have a point there, but still...

    I went to Merriam-Webster online. Typed in "sessionable." Got this response: "The word you've entered isn't in the dictionary. Click on a spelling suggestion below or try again using the search bar above." Typed in "session." Got only usages as a noun.

    It seems that they are using "session musician" as a specific term unto itself, a combination of nouns that does not impact on the base meaning of either word.

    I don't even begin to understand how "recording session" to "session beer" is a small step; "recording session" to "beer session" would be the appropriate argument if argue you must...and I would agree.

  5. Jack...when you type "session" into Merriam-Webster, you get this, and I'm copying and pasting right from the website:

    1) session (noun)
    2) session (adjective)
    session laws (noun plural)

    Note that it has "session" as a noun AND as an adjective. Click on the adjective entry, and you see this:

    2 session adj
    Definition of SESSION
    : employed to perform at recording sessions [a session drummer]

    Note: not a definition of "session drummer" or "session musician." It's a definition of "session" as an adjective, and then gives "a session drummer" as an example. It is not a "combination of nouns," anymore than "mountain bike" is, it is an example of a noun used as an adjective, a common practice in our wonderful language of English. On the other hand, if it IS a "combination of nouns," as you so quaintly put it (or, as the rest of us say, a "compound noun"), then "session beer" is clearly the same thing. And I wasn't stepping from "recording session" to "session beer", I was stepping from "session musician" to "session beer."

    Would you like to tell us all exactly what it is about the term "session beer" that annoys you so much? I mean, feel free to vent, Jack: what is it?

  6. Historically, the term was used to describe an event and it became one of the linchpins of pub culture. Your decision to employ it to promote a personal agenda (granted one which worked because it touched a nerve in the beer community) bothered me. The argument for low alcohol beers could have been made without turning "session" in a brand or style, as could have the arguments for strong and unusual beers been made without making "extreme" a brand/style in exactly the same fashion. Granted this is the way the world works and both were very cleverly introduced, promoted and made part of beer world terminology. Both bother me and though I know the battle has been lost, I choose to rail against the dying of the light.

    It also doesn't hurt that it pushes your buttons when I raise the issue. A man needs his amusements in this sad world.

    Meanwhile, t would seem that you and I are using a different Merriam-Webster.

    This is the URL I go to: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/session

    The only mention of the word as an adjective is this: — ses·sion·al adjective

  7. Jack, when I click that URL, I get the same thing I posted in up above. I don't get anything on sessional at all. If I could take a screen shot of it, I would.

    As for your description of "session" as a term for an event...I think you'd better do some more research. There is a lot said in American beer writing (and even British beer writing) that ain't necessarily so. But I still don't understand why you'd prefer to call these "low alcohol" beers. It's so...clinical, and more to the point, it includes beers like Miller Lite, which is not my intent. It's not a brand or a style, it's simply shorthand. Besides, "promote a personal agenda" sounds rather sinister applied to what I'm doing, which is nothing more or less than what I did when I encouraged Tom Baker to brew a Baltic Porter, and look how that turned out.

    As for pushing my buttons...some days it seems like that's the major thrust of the whole thing.

  8. Interesting. I entered "session" with the quotes and go the "no such word response" again, went back and removed them and got what you get. The ways of the internets are very strange, but I suppose I should apologize. I will see if I can bring myself to do that.

  9. No need. No worries. We should meet up at Victory sometime soon and drink some Teddy's.

  10. I'll be having a Storm King, bourbon-barrel aged if possible. I'd say "you're driving" but I've ridden with you when you were cold sober and that was such a frightening experience, I figure if you just take me for a spin or two around the parking lot I will be, as they say, scared straight. Then again, I may be forced to go back to the bar again to work up the nerve to get into the car.

  11. @Jack do you have a reference that I can refer to for this quote from your post, "Historically, the term was used to describe an event and it became one of the linchpins of pub culture." ?

    I'm interested to see when where historically the term was first raised.

    Thanks Twitter: @Stuart_Arnold

  12. I can't give you a specific reference that I had in mind, but the term goes back to pre-Shakespeare days in Britain and was actually more about music in the pubs than about beer; it was understood that drinking was going to happen, no doubt, but the event (the occasion) centered around the making of music. Do an internet search for "pub sessions" and you will find a myriad citations.

    Of course, in modern times, "going down to the pub for a session" is a common phrase which, again, refers to the pub visit and time spent there (the occasion) with the understanding that beer, often in excess, would be consumed.

    I hope this helps.

  13. I've referred a few people to Martyn Cornell today: here's what I was thinking of.


  14. Just for the record, "low alcohol" is a prohibited term by the TTB on labels and advertising unless the beer's ABV is < 2.5%.

  15. Thanks for the data point, Chris!

  16. Meh. I feel the same way about the near-total bastardization of the term "brewmaster," whose abject misuse has now pretty much ruined whatever meaning "master distiller" used to have. I feel your pain, man, but beyond your Quixotic personal efforts at salvation, "sessionable" will continue to be used in relative comparison to those 9% malt/hop bombs.

    And you tell me, over and over and over again, my friend, that you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction?

  17. Nice to know we can use "Low Alcohol" on a label at all! We do have a couple in the stable we revisit that sneak down that low.

  18. I hate to go all Ding on you Lew, but if you aren't going to use the British definition of Session, i.e. 4% or below, why do you decide to cut it off at 5%? (Note: I do know why I'm just trying to see what you're reasoning is.)

    Also, you really think beer geeks coined the terms sessionable and not marketing departments? I rarely see people clamoring for "sessionable" beers and generally only when arguing with someone about session beers specifically. Hmm, maybe I just answered my own question.

  19. I just saw this entry after reading the item about Russ Klisch. I tend to agree that "sessionable" is vague and can sometimes be an attempt to "latch onto the latest trend," much in the same way as attaching the name IPA to a standard APA is weasel-wording for trendy marketing. But as for dictionary definitions, Oxford online does have a drinking-related definition of "session," not excluding, but not necessarily conveying the meaning you were hoping to find (certainly not in the example of usage).


    informal. a period of heavy or sustained drinking: it was one hell of a session— we must have drunk about 12 cocktails each

  20. Bob? What did you not get about my whole point? "Sessionable" is the word we're talking about, not "session."

  21. Bob "Now go have a beer" PaolinoSeptember 3, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    Sorry, I was referring to the second part of that sentence (in the initial post) in which you mentioned that urbandictionary.com also listed "session beer" and I read your reference to M-W which followed. Well, that combined with your exchange with Jack in which you cited an online dictionary definition that didn't make any reference to the word "session" with respect to beer.

    So, yes, I did get your point about why "sessionable" is vague and slippery, but I was also responding to what you said about not finding a drinking-related traditional dictionary definition of "session" either.

    Now go have a mild :-)

  22. HA! I'd forgotten all about that exchange with Uncle Jack!


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