Tuesday, October 22, 2013

North Coast XXV Anniversary beer...is a 4% session beer

Sorry for the long silence; I was finishing a book, starting a new job, and getting through two massive events (WhiskyFest San Francisco and New York). I've been tweeting about the session beers I've had (@lewbryson), but haven't been able to post for a while. But this news brought me out of the hole:

North Coast Brewing, noted for big beers like Rasputin, Pranqster, and Stock Ale, has decided to celebrate their landmark 25th anniversary with a session beer! Here's the release, from BrewBound:

Fort Bragg, CA – In anticipation of long nights of celebration with the many friends we’ve made over the last 25 years, the brewers of North Coast have created a Belgian inspired session beer designed to promote a festive mood while minimizing the consequences of overindulgence.
Brewed with pale malts and fermented with the same yeast strain used to make Le Merle, our Twenty-fifth Anniversary Ale is sharp and spritzy with a delicious flowery, spicy dry-hop aroma. This limited offering (4% ABV) is available on tap at fine restaurants and drinking establishments. 750 ml bottles will be available at the Brewery Taproom and the Brewery Shop in Fort Bragg, California.

Add this to session beers being noted as one of three trends at the Great American Beer Festival this year,and the fact that I'm out tonight at a Pilsner Urquell event that celebrates and declares its session-strength nature (and drinkability), and you get more and more evidence of the acceptance of the session beer idea.

Once again: brewers, drinkers, marketers, please keep the meaning in "session beer" by using it only for beers at 4.5% and under. We got something going here, and it would be too bad to see it ruined by the same leveling as has hit "IPA," which these days apparently means nothing more than "with hops."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Meanwhile, over in BudMillerCoorsville...

You know how I know session beer is the smart new trend for craft brewers?

Because the big brewers are making higher ABV beers.

Check out this story in Ad Age. ABInBev and Miller Coors are betting big on boozier beers.
That appears to be part of the playbook for MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev, which have turned to pricier, higher-alcohol line extensions to recapture share from growing liquor brands. The latest entry: Miller Fortune, which will debut next year at 6.9% alcohol by volume with a marketing strategy aimed at luring millennial males during nighttime drinking occasions.

The brew, in the works for months, follows A-B InBev's recent launches of Bud Light Platinum and Budweiser Black Crown, which both check in at 6% ABV, compared with 4.2% for most light beers. The goal for brewers is to reach variety-seeking drinkers whose habits lead them to the liquor shelf and away from beers their fathers drank. 
(Can anyone tell me what the latest sales curves are like on Platinum? Thought I heard they sucked. Oh, here it is: "Not Even Justin Timberlake Can Save Bud Light Platinum")

Guys, guys, guys...People don't want beer with more alcohol. They want beer with more flavor. And Bud Light Platinum doesn't have beer flavor, it has added flavor, artificial flavor. Session beers have real flavor, and that's what people want. Good luck with the big beers; you're only about eight years behind the curve.

And the Beat Goes On...

Heard from a regular SBP reader recently (and not just any reader: Steven Herberger, the guy who designed our logo!) about something he heard at an industry celebration. I'll let him tell it.
Russ Klisch is a bit excited about this.
Was at a 25th Anniversary tasting for the Milwaukee micro Lakefront recently, and a question was asked of founder/owner Russ Klisch: What do you see as the next big thing in craft brewing?
"I think more sessionable, lower alcohol, but highly flavorful beers are what you'll see next.  We're planning a highly hopped beer with a low ABV." (Not verbatim, but the gist of his answer.)

To which I replied, "That's great to hear."

Yeah, I know: he said "sessionable," and that's verbo non grata around here, but it's the gist of what he said -- as Steven put it -- that's important! That's another solid craft brewing figure who's of the opinion that session beer is the hot trend. Of course, Lakefront's summer seasonal, Wisconsite, is already at 4.4%, so he's putting his malt where his mouth is.

And let me just tell you...there's a LOT more people going to drink (and buy, brewers...buy) session beers than there are ever going to be drinking sour beers, the beer that most alpha beer geeks would note as the hot trend.  Sours have their place, and they're trending, and I love 'em (especially now as the weather's heating up again), but it's a niche. Session beer could blow things wide open.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Return of the Mighty Mites Session Festival!

The West Coast is most definitely getting session beer, despite what you might think, given their predilection for big fat IPAs and DIPAs and such. Last year there was a big session fest in Portland called Mighty Mites, for instance...and this year, they're doing it again.

A week from tomorrow, August 18, it's the return of the Mighty Mites. You can get all the details here, at BrewBound, but here's a teaser:

PORTLAND, Ore. — In a world full of Double IPA’s and Imperial Stouts a hero will rise to stand up for the small, lighter, sessionable beers of equal flavor and tastiness.
Faster and tastier than a can of Silver Bullet, The Mighty Mites session beer fest is back for a sequel on Sunday August 18th as part of the Hawthorne Street Fair in front of famed bier bar Bazi Bierbrasserie.

Featuring beers that fall under the “Session” style category as defined by being 5% abv or below [I'll take what I can get...and check the ABVs below; most of the brewers get it.] The Mighty Mites presents a selection as varied as they are flavorful from single hopped IPA’s to tart refreshing Berliner-Weisse’s and Lagers and even a session Cider; our taplist has multiple Great American Beer Fest medal winning beers. These types of beers are perfect for quaffing multiple pints without filling yourself up or over indulging in alcohol and the Mighty Mites street party will make for a perfect summer respite as part of the Hawthorne Street Fair. As part of the annual fair The Mighty Mites will be the only beer garden on the street and the only full street closure on 32nd place just off Hawthorne marking the west side of where the street fair begins.

Partial Beer List:
Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider: “Session-Style Ciderkin”  Under 4% ABV.
Burnside Brewing: lowercase IPA - At 4.8% ABV and 50 IBU.
Green Flash: Citra Session IPA 4.5% ABV, 45 IBU
Eel River: Cali Pale Aromatic dry hopping with Simcoe and Citra hops, 4.8% and 38 IBUs.
Lompoc: Lompeizer  Brewed with Pilsner malt and 30% flaked rice.  4.5% ABV
10 Barrel: Swill  [Been hearing a LOT about this beer.] Grapefruit infused Berliner-Weisse with soda added. More beer and less soda than the traditional radler makes for a great summer beer. 4.5%.
10 Barrel: German Sparkle Party [Straight Berliner, an increasingly popular session style] 4%
Fort George: Devil’s Advocate  Made with 50 lbs of beets, 4 lbs of Blood orange puree, and just enough Citra hops to make this beer pleasantly layered; pours a deep rose color almost magenta with a bright pink head. 4.35%
Widmer: Portlander Weisse  3.4% ABV. Peach ginger and blackberry coriander syrups available.
Hop Valley: 541 Lager A crisp and refreshing American lager. 4.8%
Breakside: Session Brown A rich and full bodied English-style brown ale. SILVER MEDAL, 2012 GABF, ENGLISH-STYLE MILD, 4.0% ABV  14 IBU

Monday, August 5, 2013

Annnnnd....More good Session Beer Press, this time from Houston

Nice piece about session beer from Houston Press Food Blog, all about drinking session beers in the summer heat. There's a plug for the Session Beer Project, too, and while the writer (Nicholas L. Hall) says he tends to "edge toward lenience, keeping things under 5 percent," he then interrupts his hymn of praise to Founders All Day IPA -- at 4.7%, as noted below -- to drop this in: "If they could sneak the alcohol down a half percent or so, this beer would be nothing short of miraculous." So I think he's really with us in spirit!

More press, more beers...I'm starting to think that my work here is done.

More Good News About Notch

The deal means more of this stuff, too!
The first American beer company dedicated to brewing only session beers (to my knowledge, anyway), Notch Brewing, has signed a contract with Two Roads Brewing (a new brewery built to offer capacity to the new generation of contract/gypsy/whatever brewers) to ensure expanded, steady brewing capacity and canning capability. The story is here, on BrewBound.

Notch, which embraces the SBP's 4.5%-and-under definition of "session beer," has survived as a one-person contract brewer, and grown to 1200 bbls. in sales in its second year; owner Chris Lohring projects 2,000 barrels in 2013. He's hired his first full-time employee, former Narragansett marketing manager Zac Antczak. Zac did a fantastic job at Narragansett, and is already spreading Notch sales outside of the "beer geek" zone.

Well, you know? What can I say? This is fantastic news. Small, but fantastic. Add it to the news from Boulevard, Odell, Deschutes, Stone, and all the other brewers adding session beers, and we're looking definitely trending.

Drink small, drink good, drink session.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Be Nice

That, roughly, is me, adorning the "new beer window" at Tired Hands Brewing in Ardmore, PA. Jean Broillet IV, the owner/brewer, inspired by...something, named his latest beer, a session IPA (Jean makes a lot of hoppy beers (really wonderfully aromatically hoppy beers), a lot of session beers, and a lot of funky beers), Be Nice. It clocks in at 4.2%, and he describes it as a reddish session IPA. When someone -- rightly -- asked if that wasn't the same thing as a pale ale, he responded that it drinks like a DIPA, and he didn't think anyone would guess that it was as low in ABV as it is.

I guess I'm going to have to make the trip out to Ardmore and try this one. Only...not today, as I'm without a car. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe Friday. I mean, I don't see any way I can not have one (or four) of these, right?! Thanks, Jean, pretty cool!

Another session beer piece, this time from Atlanta

Session beer continues to get good press. There's been a rush of it lately -- mostly good, some not so -- and this one's the latest. I was interviewed by Austin Ray, of the Creative Loafing 'alternative weekly,' a good, rambling interview which got condensed down to a couple solid quotes (about normal!) in the piece. Ray does a good job here; covers the 4.5/4.0% disagreement (he should; 4.0% partisan "D_I_N_G" lives in the area and has a bitter named for him!) and moves on, notes the locals, notes that it's more than local, and lets the brewers speak. One mistake: as most regular readers of the SBP know, Notch is all 4.5% and under beers. Still, one of the better session pieces.

Remember: to make this work, we have to keep talking, keep asking, and keep drinking. Support your session beer brewers!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Let the Competition Begin!

Yeah, that post just below? Where I said I encouraged lower ABV competition to Founder's All Day IPA?

It's here! Regional powerhouse craft brewer Boulevard just announced their new Pop-Up Session IPA, and yes, it's at 4.2% ABV.

Haven't had this yet -- never been able to get on Boulevard's press samples list -- but it sounds good:

A blend of our base pale, Marris Otter, and amber malts creates a simple, yet adequate malt backbone that allows Mosaic, Cascade, Amarillo, Citra, and Centennial hops to shine with bright, fruity, citrus notes. 

Here we go! This is officially a hot category!

A Landmark...and an Issue: how hard-line do we need to be?

Session Beer? Or not?
On Friday, Brewbound reported that Michigan brewer Founders had acknowledged that the relatively new All Day IPA (one of the exploding number of so-called "session IPAs," well-noted here by Notch Brewing's Chris Lohring) introduced as a seasonal in March, had achieved year-round status and, by a solid margin, established itself as the brewery's best-selling beer. The Brewbound story said that:
Through the end of June, Founders had sold over 130,000 case equivalents (CE’S) of All Day IPA since March 1. Sales of its next best-selling beer, the year-round Centennial IPA, have only barely eclipsed 102,000 CE’s.
Well, boom! Founders CEO Mike Stevens expanded on that, saying that he expects All Day IPA to account for nearly 40% of the brewery's total production in 2014, that the folks at Founders "are looking at this brand as a category leader in the session ale category,” and, significantly, "even though it’s called ‘All Day,’ the most important words on that label are ‘session ale.’...It’s an underserved category and All Day isn’t taking away from what is really great about well-made craft beer.” The All Day label illo is now the opening illo on the Founders website, even.

Which is causing me some seriously mixed emotions. Because while I'm thoroughly excited that a brewery celebrated for its big beers -- Devil Dancer, Breakfast Stout, Dirty Bastard, Double Trouble -- brewed a lower-strength beer and found that it sold like mad... That beer is 4.7% ABV, just over the 4.5% ABV upper limit the Session Beer Project recognizes as "session beer." ARGH!
So do we celebrate? Or do we tear out our hair and weep and moan, because "session beer" is tagged on a 4.7%er? Do I say, "Oh, hell, it was just an arbitrary limit anyway...yeah, it's session beer, and WE WIN!" Is this the end of the session beer universe?

Well, no, it's not the end of the world, and no, I'm not going to tear out my hair. I already said that, here. And I'm going to celebrate a little bit, because of that "the most important words on that label are ‘session ale.’" quote. But yeah, I'm gonna hold the line on this. I'd rather see All Day IPA at 4.5% or less; sure, I would, if they're going to put "session ale" on the label. 

And I'm pretty sure we will see very successful beers at 4.5% and less, and fairly soon. If this IS as hot a category as Stevens seems to think it is -- and I think he's right, been thinking that for a while now -- other brewers are going to be jumping in -- and they are; as Lohring says, it's easier hop on a train than it is to build one -- and some of them are going to differentiate themselves by getting great flavor out of beers that are under 4.5%. And they're going to serve them in larger glasses, and they're going to price them lower (not because they're significantly cheaper to make, but they may see that as a marketing cost), and they're going to change craft beer. Really, I think there's a real chance of that.

So I'm not going to celebrate All Day IPA as a session beer -- though I'm happy to drink it -- but I'm going to take its success as a harbinger. And I'm going to encourage other brewers to kick its ass by making a beer that's just as good, just as interesting...and under 4.6%. I know they can do it; they
already are.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Drake's Alpha Session: Seasonal? WTF?!

Hey, I screwed up. Drake's sent me samples of their delicious Alpha Session, and I didn't realize that it was a May seasonal! First, my apologies to Drake's for not getting the review up while the beer was actually available (and a plea: what would it take to get this on the year-round rota?). And second, my apologies to you, the readers, for not getting the review up while the beer was actually available!

Here's what they have to say about it:
Drake’s Alpha Session – 3.8% ABV, 50 IBUs — Our hoppy session ale. Light and refreshing with 2-row barley, Maris Otter, and a touch of C-45 malts, but hopped up with classic West Coast hops and an ample dry-hop of Simcoe, Citra, and CTZ for intense flavors and aromas of pine, citrus, and grapefruit. We call it a NorCal Bitter. — Available in May on draft and in 4-packs of 12 oz bottles.
And here's what I have to say about it: yeah, all that. This is what I think some folks expected from Stone Levitation: light, crisp body; intensely pine/citrus PNW hop aroma; serious but not tongue-crushing bitterness. It is a "bitter," but it really delivers on the bitter. Still...I found it very easy to drink two of these, boom-boom, right in a row, without tongue fatigue: nicely done.

Now...about that year-round thing. If we commit to drinking it, will you commit to brewing it?!


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Carton Digger: a salute to session beer innovation

One of the common complaints I hear about session beers is that they're all the same. 'I don't want another bitter/mild/golden!' people tell me (ignoring the fact that there still aren't a lot of milds out there on the American beer market...). On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes I think that myself when I see all the "session IPA" labels out there; everyone wants to take a 450 hp V8 and stuff it into the back of a VW.

Well...there's all that, and then there's the new Digger, from Carton Brewing in Atlantic Highlands, NJ. I'll let them tell you about it. I wanna try this!

Gose with Clams and Lemongrass
ABV: 4% | IBU: 20 | SRM: 2
"Sure, there are oyster stouts, but we are a clam town. Are there any clam beers?"
"Not that I've ever heard of."
"Stout wouldn't make sense. Let's make it super pale. We can lean on the stoniness of our water to show the clams."
"We could make it a Gose, the salt would help push the clam idea even further."
"Nice. How should we hop it?"
"Something very simple but pretty, like Green Bullet."
"Let's add something to the boil to make it more like a pot of steamed clams, something like lemongrass."
"Okay. So a simple Gose dressed up with Cherrystone clams with a touch of Green Bullet hops, tied together with lemongrass."
"It should be cool when it gets nice and hot in July, like a day at a clam shack in a shaker pint."
Drink Digger because that happened.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

More Established Brewers Join the Session Wave: Odell Brewing creates Loose Leaf American Session Ale

That's right: Sam Adams, Bells, Deschutes, Stone, Goose Island, Boulevard, Victory...they've all got session beers. And now Odell has joined the movement with their new Loose Leaf American Session Ale.

"Loose Leaf was developed on the brewery’s five barrel pilot system. The Odell brewers wanted to create a beer that was lighter in color, lower in alcohol content, but also flavorful and distinct. The final recipe is crisp and balanced with lower IBU's and a bright hop aroma. At 4.5% ABV, it’s delicate and refreshingly drinkable with a clean finish."

It's available in bottles as part of their Montage 12-pack, and on draft in Old Chicago restaurants in Colorado. Go get some! 

(So...Sierra Nevada...feeling the urge yet? New Belgium? (sorry, Shift doesn't count at 5.0%) Redhook? Widmer?)

Session Beer Month in California!

Hats off to Drake's Brewing, Magnolia Pub, Mavericks, and the California Brewers Guild -- and Jay Brooks -- for ramming through Session Beer Month: this month, in California. It's loose, it's not overly organized, and it's mostly just brewers and drinkers saying that it is, without a big organized push behind it...perfect for session beer.

They've even come up with an interesting compromise on the ABV limit: 4.5% please...but up to 5% is being tagged as "extreme/imperial session beer." Well, look...that's okay, but I reserve the right to make fun of any brewer who isn't good enough to make a great-tasting beer that's 4.5% and under. Try harder next year!

I'm happy to repost the Manifesto for The Month, as writ by Kelsey Williams at Drake's (you know me, I'm manifesto-mad):
A Manifesto:
Beer lovers, we are in the midst of a revolution. We have thrown off the fetters of the fizzy yellows and clamored for change. To supplant the sameness, we sought and found the EXTREME. We now have Triple IPAs and World Wide Stouts, Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperials, Belgian Quads, and all manner of High Gravity beers stuffed with fruits, spices, malts, hops. We’ve reached for the outermost precipices of beer, and succeeded.

Yet, in our noble quest for more innovation and more experimentation we have flown past many classic, well-loved, craft beer styles that may have seemed, due to their modest alcohol contents, a little too close to the weak, yellow, fizz water we’d escaped.
We have left behind these beers of import, beers perfectly suited to a long conversation at the pub, a picnic at the park, a post-hike refreshment, or a mid-summer beach trip, and beers that one can happily imbibe over the course of a few hours and leave satisfied and still standing.
We call to you beer lovers. Do not disregard a well-made, flavorful Bitter, Mild, Scottish Ale, Dry Stout, or any other Session beer because you perceive a lower alcohol content as a sign of the weak and bland. Allow us to prove that these beers are worthy of consideration. They, just like the extreme beers, have their place in our fridges and on our local taps.
We declare the month of May for Session beers. Beers that need not be analyzed, dissected, sipped, or sniffed in abundance. Delicious beers that not only enhance a good conversation but can extend it through multiple rounds.
Raise a Pint. Raise a Few. Spread the word in May; Less is most certainly more.
Yes indeed. There's a Facebook page, and Kelsey is Tweeting at @SessionBeerMay (and you can always use the #sessionbeer hashtag).

Now get out there and have some fun!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Interview with Jeremy Raub of Eagle Rock Brewery in LA

Picked up this interview from my Google Alert on session beer. Jeremy Raub is making some session beers at the new Eagle Rock Brewery (other stuff, too, but Solidarity is a year-round at 3.8%). The interview is on the occasion of a session beer festival they're doing. It's 5.0% and under, which is too high for my definition, but I'll give them points for it...in southern California, it ain't that easy. Next year, maybe, they can ratchet that down some. Meantime, good interview, good ideas, and good press for session beer!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Notch Issues Session Beer Day Manifesto

Okay...is this thing on? Check, check, one two...Hey! 

Good to see everyone, good to see everyone. Everyone got a beer? Yeah?! Well, me too, so CHEERS!

So hey, this Session Beer Day, April 7, is a pretty big thing, all right? And Chris, you know, at Notch? Chris decided we needed a manifesto. Yeah, to tell everyone what this is all about. I got it here, hang on... [pats pockets, finds and unfolds piece of cardboard with crayon scribblings] Yeah! Here it is. Check this out... 

The 2013 Session Beer Day Manifesto

This Session Beer Day, founded by the father of American Session Beer, Lew Bryson, Notch shall celebrate Session Beer as follows:

Beers of  4.5% ABV or less, flavorful, and built for multiple rounds. No negotiation, no interpretation.

Larger vessels, such as the Willi, Nonic and Glaskrug shall display your allegiance!

Stemmed glassware and all its variants shall be shunned!

Vessel sizes of 1/2 liters, imperial pints and full liters shall be celebrated!

Vessels sizes of less than 16 oz shall warrant a surcharge (said surcharge all ready applied in most locations)!

Toasts must be boisterous and plentiful, and begin with a rousing "hear, hear"!

Speak no ill will of beer, but speak not of beer! Speak of politics, religion, sport, art, love and friendship. But never bore your comrades with beer geekery!

Evaluating beer through swirling, excessive sniffing or discussion (see above) shall bring a swift boot!

Non-verbal actions, such as nodding one's head in approval of beer being consumed is allowable.

Note-taking or mobile app rating of any beer shall be cause for expulsion from any fun, forever!

Social media sharing of Session Beer Day shall be encouraged, especially during boisterous toasts of Glaskrugs and general session beer awesomeness! 

All right! Pretty cool! And look, that thing about mobile app rating...you guys want to get your Untappd badges, okay, but get it done and stop noodling. Drink and talk, drink and sing, drink and laugh, but here's my addition to the Manifesto: Session Beer Day isn't about the beer as much as it's about the drinking and the drinkers, and what we do while we're drinking. Have fun, enjoy the day, enjoy the company. Be German: talk to your tablemates. Be English: buy rounds. Be Czech: drink the same good beer at a steady pace all day. Be American: be loud!

Thanks to Chris Lohring of Notch Brewing for this very much tongue-in-cheek manifesto, and for all the great beer and great thinking he's done for session beer!

It's Always Sessiony in Philadelphia

And that's the only "Sunny" reference I'll make...but seriously?

Every day is Session Beer Day in Philly.

Shut up. As Walter Brennan said in "The Guns of Will Sonnett" (and I can't believe I remembered that in one take from a 1967 TV show), "No brag. Just facts." Let me back it up.

First, there are the great session beers we see from Victory (many of which don't make it far outside the area) -- Uncle Teddy's Bitter, Dark Lager, Milltown Mild, Donnybrook Stout, and the new seasonal Swing Session Saison -- and Sly Fox: O'Reilly's Stout and Chester County Bitter. Then here in town there are session beers in regular dispense from our two city brewers: Yards has the widely-available Brawler and Philadelphia Brewing the popular and sudsily-refreshing Kenzinger. And Nodding Head brewpub is almost always running two taps of session beer, and can barely keep their excellent Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse on tap during the warm weather -- no, really, people love it and drink the hell out of it.

We have these beers all the timeThey're part of the scene, and part of the reason a lot of people in Philly wonder just what the hell I'm doing with the Session Beer Project: why bother, we've got all that! Well, as the rest of you know, I do it because of love. You should all be so lucky.

That doesn't mean we don't do Session Beer Day! Yards is celebrating at their brewery taproom with specials on Brawler all day (noon to 4, and a great space) April 7; and Nodding Head will be running at least five taps of session beer, between 3.5 and 4.5% (plus their usual Sunday jazz brunch with Victor North's Jazz Trio, so, you know, can't lose, right?).

Just another wonderful day in America's Best Beer-Drinking City™...

Hey, you Session Beer Boy (and Girl) Scouts: Untappd has your merit badge!

Thanks to Untappd for granting Session Beer Day a badge again this year!
And once again, it's a twofer: drink a session beer (any beer listed as 4.5% ABV or less in Untappd's database o' beers), and you'll not only get the Session Beer Day 2013 badge, you'll automatically get the National Beer Day badge. Rather than fight over whose day April 7th was, we've agreed to share it. So raise a glass with whoever's drinking with you, check in and get your badge...and then put down your phone and enjoy the session!

SF, Come On IN! Session Beer Day at Magnolia w/Mavericks and 21st Amendment

Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery in San Francisco has been a friend of session beers for years, and I've enjoyed much less than my share (only because I don't get there anywhere near often enough, for which I blame the seductive call of the excellent beers at Toronado...) but always enjoyed the flavor and quality a lot. So it's no surprise that they're hosting a Session Beer Day event, a "half the taps takeover" with guest beers from 21st Amendment (whose Bitter American has done a lot to popularize the idea of session beer) and Mavericks, the new line of session beer fronted by Pete Slosberg, who -- with Pete's Wicked Ale -- did a lot to popularize the idea of craft beer back in the 90s. Here's the story from Pete:
Come celebrate with us at Magnolia Brewpub, at 1398 Haight St, San Francisco, this Sunday, and you can experience the true, wonderful, delicious world of Session Beers. Session Beers from Magnolia, Mavericks, and 21st Amendment will be taking over half the taps for the day, starting at 10am until they are gone. We look forward to seeing you there.
 There ARE other session beer events on the west coast (I'm pretty sure there are...), but this is going to be a good one, with solid supporters of the concept. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How About Session Beer Day...TO GO!!!

Scott Smith at East End Brewing in Pittsburgh -- a serious supporter of session beer with his Session Ale Series and year-round Fat Gary's Nut Brown -- just Tweeted excellent news for Session Beer Day: discount growlers of session beer at the brewery and their Growler Store location! 
Here's the full story from East End's website: 

Happy SESSION BEER DAY, April 7th!
A bit of history: the Repeal of Prohibition didn't happen all at once. There was a "Little Repeal Day" where lower alcohol beer was first made legal in late March of 1933. This was eventually followed by the Full Repeall of the 18th Amendment late that year, which made all forms of drink legal again. Apparently as a nation, we needed to ease back into the pool since no one in the country had consumed a drink for roughly 13 years. Sure, let's go with that.

To celebrate this pre-victory against such absurdity, and to further the cause of treating GOOD BEER like the excellent social lubricant that we all know it to be, we're doing our part for Session Beer Day here in the US. And since we happen to have 3 Session Ales in our lineup right now (and we pretty much ALWAYS have 3 Session Ales in our lineup), we're running the following Growler special at both our locations on Sunday, on fillups of these three beers:
Fat Gary Nut Brown Ale (3.8%), Honey Heather Ale (4.0%), and The Bitter End (4.2%)
  • A buck off the fill up of a single Growler of any of these beers.
  • Two bucks off of EACH Growler when you fill two of them. ($4 total)
  • Three bucks off of EACH Growler when you fill three of them ($9 total)
And yes, this still works if you want to double/triple up on one beer.  So stop in and see us on Sunday.  Between tipping back a couple lower gravity beers on a school night and the 60 degree temps, it's going to be a great finish to the weekend!
Cheers - Scott

How can he do it? He's KUH-RAAAAAAAZEEE!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Or is the place to be New Albanian Brewing's Session Head 2013?

On the other hand...in another state, Roger Baylor's New Albanian Brewing is throwing their "Session Head" celebration on Session Beer Day; it's a new tradition of winding down from their longer-running "Gravity Head" celebration of huge beers. I was lucky enough to help celebrate the first Session Head last year, and it was a good time, as Roger recalls here, along with more details about this year's event AND the SBP.

Anyway, you want to know about the beers. Here you go, straight from Roger:

Here are the beers being featured at NABC’s Session Head 2013. Kindly note that the full list will be available ONLY at our Pizzeria & Public House location (the original Rich O's -- Lew). Meanwhile, as many of the NABC house session beers as possible will be tapped at Bank Street Brewhouse on Session Beer Day (Sunday, April 7). (and if the weather's nice, that's a beautiful location for it! -- Lew again)

NABC Community Dark … English Mild, 3.7% abv
NABC Get Off My Lawn … Session IPA, 4.2% abv
NABC Gold … Blonde Ale, 4.2% abv
NABC Grätzilla … Grätzer/Grodziskie, 3.3% abv
NABC Houndmouth …. Hoppy American Wheat, 4.5% abv
NABC Tafel … Belgian Table/Session Ale, 4% abv

Against the Grain Ludicrously Terse … English Bitter, 4.5% abv
Apocalypse Brew Works Hop Project: Simcoe … American Pale Ale, circa 4.5% abv
Country Boy Nacho Bait … Jalapeňo Blonde, 4.5% abv
Flat12 12 Penny Scottish Ale … Scottish Export Ale, 3.4% abv
Founders All Day IPA … Session IPA, 4.7% abv*
Stone Levitation Ale … Amber Ale, 4.4% abv
* a nudge high, but we’ll live with it (I'm officially averting my eyes...--Lew, last time)

Still more events to come!

Is the Bulls Head The Place To Be? Their list for Session Beer Day

Got this from Paul at the Bulls Head Pub in Lititz, Pa., a strong supporter of session beer.

This is all day for Session Beer Day (this Sunday, just to remind you).

Terrapin Easy Rider pale ale 4.4%
Summit Organic IPA 4.5%
Sly Fox O'Reillys nitro stout 3.6%
Round Guys Berliner weisse 3.7%
Free Will 10W porter 4.5%
Abita Purple Haze 4.2%
Yards Brawler 4.2%
Goose Island Honkers Ale 4.2%
Otter Creek Hop Session ale 4.25%
Goose Island 312 Wheat 4.2%
Coniston Bluebird 4.2%
Roy Pitz Old Jail ale 4.3%
Lindemans Framboise 4.0%
Kostritzer Dark 4.3%
Plus 2 backups!!
The casks will be Bullshead Mild (3.8%) and Sly Fox Chester County Bitter (4.5%)

And for those of you who are always complaining that session beer should be cheaper... All beers are $4.50 each!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Notch Lays It Down: Left of the Dial IPA

The first thing I'm going to say about Notch's new beer is this: you can, if you want, skip reading this post and just go straight to what Chris Lohring has to say about Left of The Dial IPA right here. Because he nails the whole "session IPA" discussion, and explains why he brewed this beer, and what it is and what it means, much better than I could.

But...I'd like to pile on a bit. I'm totally jazzed that he's done this beer, that it's clearly a statement, that it's coming out the week of Session Beer Day, and that he's doing it with such a great name, the sloganish phrase he's been using for great tasting session beer for over a year now. The only downside is that I probably won't get any, because Notch is still very much an eastern Massachusetts phenomenon, and I'm not getting up there anymore.

Why a session-strength IPA? Well, like I told a writer who was interviewing me yesterday (about beer selection strategies for beer bars' taps), IPA is not going away. Someone or other has been predicting the fade of IPA since the mid-1990s, and IPA just thumbs its nose and keeps growing. Betting against IPA, I told her, was like betting against vodka. Ain't happening. So roll with it. That's just what Chris is doing, because it's going to sell like mad.

Or maybe not: read this:
So, after all that, how does it taste? Like an IPA, but without any cloying sweetness and booze that fatigues and gets in the way of multiple pints and extended good times. Call it a Session IPA if you want, but to me it’s simply the IPA I’d like to drink, and I think Notch fans would like to drink. It may be the only time you see this beer, because it broke the bank, so I hope you enjoy!

Yo, up in Boston! Drink my share!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Session Beer Day at The Diamond!

One of the places that definitely gets it, The Diamond in Brooklyn, is all-in on Session Beer Day! They'll have seven taps of session beer on April 7, Session Beer Day. (Actually, there will be eight session beers, they managed to get another, but come on...seven!)

Here's what they've got lined up, with ABVs:

4.2 Otter Creek Hop Session:  hoppy american lean golden ale, VT
3.4 Newburgh English Bitter:  traditional english bitter, uniquely nutty, NY
4.2 East End Bitter:  small beer/traditional bitter, PA
3.7 East End Fat Gary:  brown ale, PA
4.2 Coniston Old Man Ale:  reddish/brown fruity english ale, UK
4.5 Thiriez Extra:  traditional french farmhouse ale, France
4.5 Barrier Le Pete:  smoked wheat beer, NY
2.7 Evil Twin Bikini Beer:  session IPA, Denmark

"That East End Bitter is the best bitter I've ever had, by the way," adds bar owner David Pollack.
The 8th beer will be something from either Elk Creek Cafe and Alewerks in Millheim, PA (one of my fave spots) or from Harviestoun in Scotland, and there may be additional surprises.

More fun on Session Beer Day, get over there and spend some hours buying rounds!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Notch Celebrates Session Beer Day!

Notch Brewing -- which I think was the first all-session beer brand in America -- is celebrating Session Beer Day in ye olde high style, with a 5K fun sponsored by Dig Boston's beer blogger, Heather Vandenengel (do like I do and read her posts here: The Honest Pint) that kicks off at 3:30, then the first "session" at Deep Ellum, an old friend of session beer and the SBP, starts at 4:00 with complimentary Notch liter mugs for your first round! Small beer, big glasses, as Notch-man Chris Lohring puts it. At 5:30, things shift to The Silhouette (take your mug along!), and run on till 7 PM.

Expect fun from this event (these events?), because Notch gets it. Check it out:
And we have a Session Beer Day Manifesto ready, with proclamations released periodically leading up to the big day. There is no cost, just pay as you go (hopefully in rounds) and keep your liter mug as a reminder beer can still be fun and not at all like homework!
That reminds me...I did talk about a Session Beer Manifesto. Back to work!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Is Joe Sixpack®™ kidding? Or is he right?

Don Russell, who writes the Joe Sixpack column in the Philadelphia Daily News, is not what you'd call a huge friend of session beer. While he did write a column for Session Beer Day last year, he ended the column with this strangely boozy bit of snark:
It's an admirable goal, even if it ignores the obvious (if distasteful) alternative: Drink fewer beers. Which points to session beer's more troublesome challenge. Craft beer's success is at least partly due to its potency. Small brewers differentiated themselves from macro-brew conglomerates by offering full-flavored ales and lagers whose higher prices were justified because you didn't have to drink as much to feel the buzz.
Consumers may rightly feel they're not getting their money's worth if the alcohol content is lower, especially since the new wave of session beers are not substantially cheaper than higher-alcohol varieties.
And that, friends, is why Jack Cade declared small beer a felony.
As I've said, I wasn't aware craft beers were more expensive because they were strong (especially since there is no graduated tax on ABV, and malt is well under half of the cost of a pint on the bar, usually under a quarter), I thought we'd been told it was because of smaller-scale operations and the hand-crafted care they were made with. Then we find out from Don that the price is about how much you have to drink to feel the buzz? Well. Enlightening. (Or not: check this explanation of the comparative cost of big beer and session beer by someone who actually pays the bills.)

Of course, this is the guy who showed up last year at a session beer panel discussion -- featuring some of the real stars of craft beer bar ownership and management on the East Coast --  as a semi-official representative of Philly Beer Week and stunned a previously happy crowd to silence by telling them that "session beers" were unnecessary, ridiculous, and somehow vaguely disrespectful of craft beer's heritage. It was a special moment.

So I wasn't surprised to see another sideways slap at session beer in his column yesterday, in a tongue-in-cheek look at styles the GABF had somehow "missed" in their 142 categories of beer styles. He listed such recognizable clumps as "Chick Beer," and "Cult Beer," and "Imported Beer."And then we have:
Session Beer. "Any style of beer . . . [whose] drinkability is a character in the overall balance." Wait a minute . . . I'm not making that up. That's an actual Brewers Association head-scratching definition of an invented style that can smell, taste or feel like anything, as long as it's weak enough to drink all night. Aroma, flavor and body are reminiscent of a far stronger and superior beer.
And you look at that, and you get a bit pissed about that last sentence, right? "...a far stronger and superior beer." Superior because it's stronger? Kind of revealing, maybe.

But I've decided to look at this in the light of the Brewers Association definition that Russell quotes, because I've got real problems with it myself. The BA came up with this category as an apparent direct mirror image of the Other Strong Ale Or Lager category, which is where you go when you've got an Imperial Bitter, or a Triple Altbier (both of which I've encountered in judging that category at the GABF...). So when you have a Half-IPA, or a Baby Barleywine, or a Session Saison, this is where you go. I guess.

And I'll agree with Russell in that case: generally, these beers are echoes of a superior beer. The "session IPAs" I've sampled are overbalanced; the small saisons are often over-spiced; and the occasional bourbon barrel-aged small beers I've had...well, I'd have much rather just had the bourbon, thank you. There is a whole class of lower-alcohol beers out there today that just don't get it. You can't make a beer session-strength by simply cutting back on the malt. You have to carefully balance things, maybe even amp the malt a bit and ease up on the attenuation.

My hat is off, for instance, to Stone's Levitation. It doesn't blow my mouth open with hops, it's been carefully tweaked till it's a hoppy session-strength ale, not a "session IPA," and they wisely didn't call it that. A grisette is a nicely-balanced beer in the general manner of a saison, but powered for all-afternoon drinking.

So I'm going to go along with this one, Don. You can't make a session beer by just simple dialing down. There's more to it than that, just like you can't make a high-mileage car by simply cutting two cylinders off a V6; you've got to make a different car, built and geared to the power you have (believe me, as a guy who owns an old 4-cylinder Saab that really REALLY needs a turbo, I understand this). This idea is a silly one.

"Session beer" is not a style, any more than "extreme beer" is. (Or was, I hear that term less every day, it seems.) It's a whole group of beers, made to a variety of styles. That's why I like it; I like variety with my variety.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Deschutes River Ale

The folks at Deschutes gave me a heads up on this project back in fall, and, well, I was excited. One of my favorite breweries, jumping right into the Session Beer Project with a solid entry? Fantastic. And after waiting, after twiddling my thumbs as my samples got held up by a Great Plains snowstorm...here it is. 

Beautiful white head over a red-tinged golden body. Bright, peppy nose of grass and flowers, and a zesty freshness. A good gulp -- because you don't sip a beer like this, you've got to get it into you -- is like a pale ale dialed back a bit, and true to the nose: bright, zesty, with that grass and flowers backed by malt, flowing down to a bitter finish as the beer drains down the back of my throat. There's a nice fresh lingering flavor memory in my mouth.

This rings it. Like a bell, not a fence. It takes me back to my very first post on session beer, which was one of my first blog posts on Seen Through A Glass, January 31, 2007. Have a look at what I thought session beer was...and still do.

1. Alcohol under 4.5%. Once you get above 5%, things change, in my long experience with beer. Below that, you can drink at a moderate pace and not get heavily flummoxed. I always say that session beer is beer you can drink while you're playing cards, without worrying about gambling away your house.

2. Flavor in balance. A session beer can't be insanely hopped, syrupy with residual sugar, or funkier than hell. The whole idea of a session beer is that you can drink them smoothly glass after glass without anything cramping your palate. Plenty of flavor is fine, but nothing overpowering.

3. The beer doesn't overpower the conversation. Session beers shouldn't make you interrupt the conversation and start geeking about how marvelous the beer is. Session beer is more about backup than topic, it's something you drink while you're talking, not something to talk about.
4. Reasonably priced. There are some very quaffable beers out there that are, for some reason, wicked expensive. If you can afford to do sessions with them, God bless you. The rest of us? Reasonable is the keyword.
Well...this rings it. Like a bell. At least, I think so: Deschutes does price their beer reasonably.

More importantly, this is, for me, as validating as the Samuel Adams Belgian Session beer was a year ago; validating for me, for the SBP, for the idea I had that the time had come, the time was right, for session-strength beers to bring more variety to craft beer. I gotta tell you; when Deschutes gets on it, you know you've got something. Now...if Sierra Nevada would get on this...bet they could do an awesome Bitter under 4.5%.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Naked Brewing Carpe Noctem Black IPA

Carpe Noctem

I'm not nuts about "black IPA." I did a round of "robust porter" judging at the GABF a couple years ago, and I don't see a lot of difference between the two: a lot of hops, a lot of black, burnt malt, and a fair amount of booze. After tasting 11 of them, my palate was shot, felt like it had been scrubbed with a wire grill brush. A recently-used wire grill brush.

So I wasn't eager to try Carpe Noctem from local Naked Brewing Co., since it was a black IPA and a "session" IPA, which drives me a little nuts...but you know, there it was, on tap at the Hulmeville Inn, and I was driving, and it's only 3.9%...

Glad I dove in. Carpe Noctem has a hoppy, dry cocoa-tinged nose, and a smooth mouthful of well-balanced malt and hops, without that wicked burnt character, and a bitter finish. Nothing's really spiky, or aggressive, which is probably why the IPA-crazies aren't going nuts for it, but I liked it. Had more of it, too. Keep an eye out: they're spreading all over Pennsylvania; how, I'm not sure, but I hope they do well.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Victory Swing Session Saison

Victory dropped a little beauty into the session beer file this month with their new Swing Session Saison. Here's how the brewery described it:
Swing. It's a lively jazz rhythm, a vigorous sway, a change of view or even a roll in the proverbial hay. Now, it also means the welcome jolt of joy you'll experience upon your first sip of the session saison. Bracing but benign, this Belgian-style ale enlivens any experience with a spicy aromatic start, citrus snap and fresh finish. Swing into Spring with taste!
BEER STYLE: saison
COMPOSITION: Malts: 2 row German malts, rye, oats and wheat. Hops: Whole flower German and American hops. Spices: peppercorns and lemon zest. ABV: 4.5%.
It's right under our admittedly arbitrary limit at 4.5%, and let me tell you, it definitely hits the "flavorful enough to be interesting" and "balanced enough for multiple pints" points as well. I had some Swing at Memphis Taproom (a proud supporter of SBP) on Friday, and after a nightmare drive down there in which our 1984 Saab boiled over twice...Swing revived me ASAP! The peppercorn and lemon was like a dose of smelling salts, a wake-up call for my dragging spirits. The beer was lively on the palate, flashing and light, yet with a creamy touch that was simultaneously soothing: hot and hopping, but cool in style. The finish brought in the hops, bitter and gripping, to clean it all up and ready me for the next sip. Nicely done indeed, though that's no surprise from the brewers of such tasty session beers as Uncle Teddy's Bitter and Victory Dark Lager.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Session Beer Day is Coming!

Much to the distress of the Big Beer Cabal (and to Uncle Jack), the Session Beer Project is not dead! I've just been dealing with other matters, and happily watching session beer cruise along on autopilot. But our newly christened annual Session Beer Day -- April 7 -- is coming up, and it's time to beat the drums.

Consider the drums beaten...

First, I have our first Session Beer Day event to announce: Bulls Head Pub in Lititz, PA, home pub of Paul Pendyck, who has brought cask beer engines to many bars and brewpubs in America, will be celebrating by putting 4.5% and under beers on all their taps (including the beer engines) for the whole day, and selling them for $4.50 a glass! (And Paul uses imperial pints for most of those beers!) What's more, with Paul's permission, I am challenging as many session beer-friendly pubs as possible to match this event! Plenty of time to promote it, plenty of time to get people fired up. Show your session beer love!

Lemon zest & peppercorns
What else? How about some great new session beers? Wachusett is releasing their new Light IPA in cans in March, to join their year-round line-up: 4% ABV with 37 IBUs (and only 121 calories, if you care). Victory has a new spring seasonal, Swing Session Saison, at 4.5%, that launches today in the Philadelphia market. The Lion has a new formulation of their Stegmaier Pale Ale at 4%, and it's crisp and zesty in the mouth and rushing with hop aroma (out soon, I got some samples). There's a whole LINE of session beers coming from Mavericks, under 4% and aimed at the active life (no reason Michelob Ultra should have that to themselves, right?). And of course, speaking of entire lines of session beers, I know Chris Lohring will have new beers from Notch Brewing's line of great, tasty, and traditional session beers of all types (Saison has gone year-round, BTW!).

What else? Well, if you use Untappd, we need to ask them politely to set up a Session Beer Day badge. You can email them here, or leave a note on their Facebook page. Something like: "Can you please repeat last year's Session Beer Day Badge for Session Beer Day on April 7? Thanks!"

Any journalists, bloggers, Tweeters, movers and shakers: please spread the word. April 7 is a day to celebrate beer in big glasses, all-day beers, great beer with great flavor and low alcohol. I'm available for interviews or quotes, but the day is about the beer!

And...I have realized that I will not be in the U.S. on Session Beer Day. I'll be in Scotland on a whisky research trip, but you can bet I'll find a few glasses of session cask that day: Cairngorms, or Deuchars, or something small and local, I hope. Run with it, we're going to do this!

I'll be posting more this month. Get excited, we're gonna drink lots of beer on April 7!