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.