Thursday, April 7, 2016

Apropos of Session Beer Day

For all you nimrods who ask me, "Hey, do you drink session whiskey, too? Uh huh, huh, session whiskey!"

There is session whiskey, you dopes: we call it "cocktails." And St. George Spirits has a new whiskey designed for making the kind of cocktail I particularly like: 'tall drinks,' or highballs. It's called Baller, and it was made for mixing with a tall glass of club soda and ice.

So yeah. There is "session whiskey." This is what it looks like. Uh huh, huh.

Today is Session Beer Day 2016

Hey bartender! Draw one, draw two, draw three more glasses of beer!

"They say there's twenty-seven pubs from here to Odsal Top
And tonight we'll have a pint in every one."

It's Session Beer Day. Go ye out and have some great session beers. 

Places to go: I'll be at the Bulls Head Pub in Lititz, PA (World Session Beer Day Headquarters!) from noon to 6:30, feel free to drop by for their total session tap takeover, all beers under 4.5%, all beers $4.50 a pint! Deep Ellum on the Boston border is hosting the Notch crew again for small beer in big glasses. The Olympic in Rockford, Illinois has a bunch of session beers plus a cask of Stone Go To. Akasha Brewing has a variety of local session beers, and you can hook up with OG Beer Guy Roger Baylor for a Session Beer Day Brewery Crawl that winds up there. There's always session beer at the Victory pubs in Downingtown and Parkesburg (Penn.), and of course there's Yards Brawler and Philly Brewing Kenzinger all over Philly (Yuengling Lager is a session beer, too!) In the Bay Area? Magnolia  and Drake are always rocking some good session ales, as is 21st Amendment! See more? Tell us here!

  • Keep it under 4.6% (look for lower!)
  • Tell us about it (post a comment here, or tweet with #sessionbeerday)
  • Tell stories, play cards, sing songs, talk to people.
  • Buy rounds!
  • Eat some food, spend some money, tip your servers.
  • Remember: It's low alcohol, not no alcohol. Cab, Uber, Lyft, transit, walk.
Have fun!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Session Beer Gets New Attention in the UK as Well

I've been meaning to put up a link to this article for months; it came out in November of 2015! Seems like a good time. It's about Tweed Brewing Company, in Hyde, England, outside the Manchester ring road. They're focusing on lower-ABV beers, "reinventing the pint", and although they have beers as "big" as 5.0%, most of them are 4.5% and under.

I just love what they have to say about session beer's perception as "samey." Here's the start of the interview with co-founder Sam Ward:
Well, the idea of Tweed all started over a pint. Myself, Dave [Ward, Sam's father] and Anthony [Lewis] were all sat around talking about how session beers were so boring and samey. We all pointed out that if you wanted something quirky and tasty you had to start moving into the 5% plus beers, which we weren’t really into.
Anthony, being a commercial brewer by trade, said that session beer doesn’t have to be that way and went on to say that it’s all usually bitter and dry is because the customer in the pub wanted that… usually male drinkers.
We sat around and said that beer should be for everyone, men and women and also appeal to a younger drinker. Anthony went on to say that it’s very easy to keep a beer sweet and tasty and eradicate the dryness and bitterness.
And that’s really where the foundations of Tweed were laid. A brewery that was hell bent on reinventing the session beer.
Sounds good to me, although I'd note that having sweet and dry and bitter as choices is even better. But I love the idea that English brewers felt a need to re-invent the session beer. Goes with this excellent Gustav Mahler quote a friend made me familiar with today (thanks, Tom):

Tradition is not the Worship of Ashes, 
but the Preservation of Fire. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Building the Session Beer Train: Chris Lohring

Chris Lohring. Notch Brewing. Session Beer.

Photo by Mass Bev Biz
Great interview.

I'm proud to note that we told you about Chris Lohring and his fantastic idea for Notch Brewing, an all session beer brewing project, first, right here on the Session Beer Project blog, six years ago this month. And ran an interview with him here, back in 2012. And I've talked about him a lot since then; naturally, it's a session beer blog, and Notch was the first American brewery to commit to brewing only beers at 4.5% and under. We've seen eye-to-eye since Day One, and that's why when Notch opens their Salem brewery this summer, the SBP — okay, me — will be there, live blogging, tweeting, and drinking their small beers in big glasses.

But this is about a GREAT interview done with Chris this month by Brandy Rand (in a magazine I've been writing for since 1998, Massachusetts Beverage Business, the trade book for the Massachusetts wholesale/retail alcohol beverage industry, and there are some GREAT articles on their website; you should check them out). Chris lays down some session beer basics here, and shows he's got a firm understanding of the new beer market. Check this stuff out (as always, the added emphasis is mine):
MBB: Session beer was a bit of an anomaly back then; what’s it like now to be a session brewer and do consumers finally “get it”?CL: Many do get it, and they are clearly driving our growth as more consumers step away from a “strength = good” perspective and become more knowledgeable. They understand and value beers of full flavor at a modest strength, they understand the benefit. But there is still the machismo consumer that drinks ABV as a badge.
MBB: What are you most excited about for 2016? 
CL: Brewing in my own brewery again [Chris opened Tremont Brewery back in the 1990s, and left brewing after it closed.] – it’s been a long time since I’ve done that. The creativity we will have here is unlimited. You’ll see a very large focus on German and Czech lagers brewed with  traditional methods, and as a brewer, this has me the most excited.
MBB: Explain your Single Series.CL: It’s a new beer brewed every month and draft only. You can’t ignore shifts in consumer preference, and “what’s new” has been influencing draft beer selection. In accounts that constantly rotate drafts, we always have something new to offer every month. Some are one and done, others come back each year with changes. The Single Series will also be available in cans later in 2O16 when our Salem brewery opens. And for a session-beer-only brewery, it’s allowed us to demonstrate the wide array of styles you can brew at under 4.5%.
MBB: You have over 18,000 Twitter followers; has social media been a big part of growing your brand? What has been the key to making it work for you?CL: Without question – it’s the great equalizer. Larger brands cannot compete with us being ourselves. We don’t program, we live our life in beer and share it with our fans. You can’t buy that, you need to live it. The consumer sees right through the larger brewer bull shit. The key? Being real. Having a point of view. Engaging in conversation. Not playing it safe. Not being contrived or obvious. Making fun of ourselves. Taking responsibility and ownership for everything we do.  Calling out BS. Defending our friends. Championing our supporters. Being a person, not a brand. 
MBB: What are the biggest challenges you face as a small craft brewer in trying to grow the brand?CL: The stranglehold larger brewers have on distribution channels. When I say larger brewers, I’m not only taking about Bud, Miller, Coors, but the largest craft brewers. Some are publicly traded, others owned by private equity, some owned by Bud or Heineken, and they have enormous power in the marketplace.
And that's only part of it. Go read the whole thing, and get fired up for Session Beer Day!

Monday, April 4, 2016


Session Beer Day is only three days away, this Thursday, April 7!

I'm breathless with anticipation (okay, I'm not, but if I didn't have so much other crap going on, I might be...). This happily silly event, a toast to the success and continued rediscovery of "small beer in big glasses," continues to be strong in some great places. We'd like to encourage you to encourage them by drinking session beer, particularly on April 7. Make your preference known!

If there's a place near you that supports Session Beer, please show them your support by going there and drinking at least two pints on Thursday! If there's not, go to your favorite spot and ask them if they could add some great-tasting lower-ABV beers to their regular rotation, just as an additional option. 

There's another event I just heard about, too, in Louisville (heads up, Roger Baylor). 

Rick Stidham at Akasha Brewing in Louisville tells me they're doing a Session Beer Day event at the taproom. "We'll be pouring our English Mild with Brett (3.1%), American Pale with Brett (4.5%), Belgian Blonde (4.5%), and neighboring brewery Monnik's Mild George English Mild (3.5%). Sounds great! And if anyone wants to hook up with Roger on his Session Beer Day Brewery Crawl in Louisville, check that out here: he's going to be winding up at Akasha. Roger's an OG (Original Geek), who's been preaching alternative beer for longer than I can remember; pre-1990, anyway, and he's great company, so think about joining him. If I weren't going to be at World Session Beer Day Headquarters, or at the Notch Deep Ellum Session Beer Day Celebration, or Thanks I'll Have Another at the Olympic Tavern...that's where I'd be!

So wherever you decide to go, whatever 4.5% and lower beers you decide to drink, remember what it's all about: spreading the word on session beer and having a good time with people, talking, buying rounds, small beers in big glasses! Go have fun. I'll be live-blogging and tweeting on Thursday. Post comments here (I'll put up a comment target first thing 4/7 just for you to tell us what you're doing), or on the Session Beer Project Facebook page (join us!), or just tweet with #sessionbeerday 

Start spreading the love!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Session Beer Day Arrives in Ireland

Just saw this piece in the Irish Times talking up Session Beer Day and the SBP! Kind of surprised not to see any mention of Guinness, or the new Guinness Dublin Porter in it, but hey, craft partisans will be craft partisans. Happy to see the word spreading; spread the word yourselves! 



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Once Again, American Mild Month is May

I ran this post about American Mild Month last year about this time (which unfortunately means that it's not really all THAT far below this post, but we're working on that!), and it is most definitely worth reposting. So feast your eyes, and get some ideas, and start talking to your local brewer about making some mild for May, American Mild Month. (Mild Month is gearing up, including a connection to the International Homebrew Project, where participants decided to do American Mild as this year's recipe.)

May has been Mild Month in the UK for years now, thanks to enthusiastic support from CAMRA, the vaunted English consumer group, the Campaign for Real Ale. This beautiful session-type ale is celebrated in May, brewers make special milds, regular milds, and of course, cask milds, and folks drink them up.

Now beer blogger Alistair Reese has created American Mild Month, and asked if I would help spread the word. Let's see...unsung delicious beer style; tasty and 'more-ish' at low alcohol levels; classic session beer; and the month after Session Beer Day? Of course!

Here's the scoop, direct from the Mild Month website.

The project is called American Mild Month because we want to encourage brewers and drinkers in the US to brew and drink mild ale, but it could also be read as a project to create a new beer style, the 'American Mild'.

It seems almost oxymoronic in this day of ever more extreme beers to advocate for a style as restrained as mild, but here goes anyway, what would an American Mild look like...?

Let's start with color. The SRM numbers for English milds range from 6 to 34, which is basically the entire spectrum of beer. The majority of milds though fall in the dark category, starting at 17 SRM, which is a deep orange to amber color. An American mild then would be deep amber, with red in the mix as well, veering up to brown at the upper limit.

Alcoholic restraint is a hallmark of the modern mild ale, and we believe that an American mild should follow that tradition, topping out at 4.5% abv. We imagine most American milds would fall between 3.5% and 4.5% abv.

Everyone knows that many modern American beers are very hop centric while mild ales tend to be very restrained when it comes to both IBUs and hop perception, remember the official description from GABF...
Hop aroma is very low...Hop flavor is very low. Hop bitterness is very low to low
Clearly then the American Mild is not a hop bomb, but neither need it be a hop free zone. 'Low' is not the same as 'none', it is all about restraint, and with the wide variety of American hops available the range of hop flavors is actually quite broad, whether its the spiciness of Cluster, the grapefruit of Amarillo, or the tropical fruit of El Dorado, there is room here for differentiation, and dry hopping is ok too. Remember though, before going crazy with the hops, an American Mild is not a Session IPA, or a Session Cascadian Dark Ale, it's still a mild. Traditional English milds top out at 25 IBUs, but for an American Mild we would suggest an upper limit of 30 IBUs.

One major departure from the English mild style in a theoretical American mild is the yeast. The classic American yeast strain used by many an American craft brewery is known for being very clean, allowing the other ingredients to shine through without contributing the fruity flavors of the British yeasts.

So there we go, a restrained, darkish ale, with gentle hopping and a clean finish so that the malt and what hops are present, shine through.

At the end of the day drinkability is the key feature of an American Mild.

There you have it. When do we celebrate it? May. How do we celebrate it? Brew and drink mild ales! Where do you find them? There's a list of participating Maryland, DC, and Virginia breweries at the American Mild Month website (that's where the founders are based). Also try ratebeer, BeerAdvocate (dark and pale!), and, well, tell your local brewer to make one, dammit! 

Actually, that should be repeated:

Tell your local brewer to make one! 

Get news on American Mild Month at their Twitter feed and Facebook page. And if your local brewer does make a mild, post it there! Or here! And drink Mild!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Session Beer on the Podcast Circuit

I was recently interviewed about session beer for the Experimental Brewing podcast, done by Denny Conn and Drew Beechum, the same fellas who put up all the session beer homebrewing recipes I just posted over the weekend. I thought you might like to hear what we had to say.

Here's the link to the page with the 'cast. The player's at the bottom of the page, and the session beer part starts at about 33:19. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Homebrew Session Beer in Time For Session Beer Day!

Denny Conn and Drew Beechum, well-known homebrew authors (Experimental Homebrewing and the upcoming Homebrew All-Stars), interviewed me on their podcast Experimental Brewing about Session Beer Day (and session beer in general, and the horrible Pennsylvania liquor code) recently. I'm going to get a link up to that shortly, but I wanted to get this up ASAP.

Homebrewer selfie: Dana Cordes mashing in a dark mild
Denny and Drew are long-time supporters of session beers (I remember drinking one of Drew's excellent milds years ago at a homebrew event, and loving it), so in celebration of Session Beer Day, they posted a Session Beer Day Recipe Bonanza at Experimental Brewing. It's FOURTEEN homebrewing recipes for beers like milds, bitters, table beers, Berliner Weisse, session IPA, even a session-strength lager. Most of them can still be brewed in time for consumption on Session Beer Day, April 7.

Are you a homebrewer? Get at it! And you'll be quaffing fresh-brewed session beer on Session Beer Day!

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Session Beer Day -- April 7 -- is only twenty days away!*

What's the deal? Pretty simple, really: it's a day to drink small beer in large glasses, a day to celebrate the diversity of tasty lower alcohol beers, a day to consider day drinking that won't ruin you. It's this. I like session beer anytime (and I like big, fat beers, and whiskeys, too!), but April 7th is a day to make a BIG deal out of LITTLE beer, to bring it to people's attention that a small beer can have plenty of flavor and be enjoyed with gusto. I love drinking beer, not just sipping it, and session beer is the thing. That's what we're suggesting for the beer drinker: try something new, try something session!

In support of that...if you run a bar, own a bar, order the beer for a bar...please consider supporting Session Beer Day! How? Well, put some session-strength beers on! Almost every market has some craft-type beers that are under 4.5% these days (see the SBP definition of "session beer" to the right), and there's always our old pal, Guinness Draught Stout. We do strongly encourage you to draw a bright line and stick to beers that are 4.5% and under, to make the point that a real difference makes a real difference. We don't need no creepers on Session Beer Day!

You can do a few, or you can go all in, like SBP supporter Paul Pendyck at the Bulls Head Public House in Lititz, Pennsylvania, which I'm naming: 


Paul the publican and the beautiful Bulls Head bar; I'll be here on April 7, 2016, come in and have a pint!
(photo: Lancaster News)
Paul is not only a great guy and a strong supporter of great cask ale (session beer's best friend), but he's a huge fan of session beer and has committed to a TOTAL SESSION BEER TAP TAKEOVER on Session Beer Day. Every one of the Bulls Head taps (including the beer engines) will be pouring session beers at 4.5% and under! This is where I'll be on Session Beer Day in 2016, and I invite you to come out and join me for a pint; get in on the Tweeting! The list so far: New Belgium Slow Ride, Ballast Point Mango Even Keel, Yards Brawler, Neshaminy Croydon Cream Ale, Sierra Nevada Otra Vez, Schlenkerla Helles, Victory Donnybrook Stout (Nitro), Steigl Radler,
Jacks Abby Calypstra (possibly).

Or how about Notch Brewing, which is going to be celebrating Session Beer Day at Deep Ellum in Allston (Boston) again, this year with FIVE SESSION LAGERS! Check that crazy cold-brewed shit out here. Special shout-out to Notch as they make daily progress toward opening their all-session beer brewery in Salem, Mass. later this Spring!

Also in Massachusetts, but not in a bar, the New England Real Ale eXhibition (NERAX) will be taking place that week, and Session Beer Day falls smack-dab in the middle of it! NERAX has always had plenty of session beer love -- comes with the casks, baby -- and in April of 2011 we had a kind of dress rehearsal for Session Beer Day there. Get a ticket, go drink great cask beer at session strength!

The Olympic Tavern in Rockford, Illinois has been a strong session beer supporter, and they're right there this year with an event titled (I'm blushing) Session Beer Day -- Thanks, I'll Have Another. Stop in, have a session beer, tell 'em I said hi!

Here in Philadelphia, which is a blithely unconcerned center of session beer (we have solid-selling year-round session beers from local brewers like Yards, Philadelphia, Victory, Sly Fox, Weyerbacher, and more, in a variety of styles!), I may be stopping in for an end of day session at the Grey Lodge Pub, where Scoats is cooking up one of his signature crazy events: some kind of session beer shoot-out is evolving, more details as I get them. 

Get on board, bar people! People want to drink session beer (sure, there are some grumblers, but they get their variety 364 days a year (okay, 365 this year...)), and they want to drink more than one or two. Get it on, get it out there, and leverage Session Beer Day as a way to make folks aware that you have a beer that tastes great and they can feel better about having two of with dinner. If you're doing a significant Session Beer Day offering, please leave a comment on this post!!

That also still leaves time for brewers to put together a great new session beer; as I said in January (January? My God, how time flies):
Take this opportunity to show off your skills and make a session-strength beer, 4.5% or less (you can do it; you can go lower!), that doesn't rely on shouting hops for all its character. We get it, brewers know how to make a light, wildly hoppy beer: EVERY brewer's doing it.
Be different! On April 7th, show us some real innovation, or some real skills to make a beautiful example of a classic session-strength beer that stands apart from the herd of 'monkey-see, monkey-do' dialed-down IPAs. Work with specialty malts or non-barley grains, a different yeast, light souring, smoke, herbs or spices, wood-aging, or sure, a light hand with the right hops, a pale ale, there's a thought. Make it tasty but not crushing, make it something "more-ish," as Michael Jackson used to say. Show the world you're not a monkey, thumb your nose at the "me too me too" crowd, and who knows...maybe find your next big seller.
Truly, folks: one of the great things about lighter session ales is that they're fast. So brewers, there's still time. Call a meeting, get serious, get thinking, make something really cool, and release it on April 7th! Tell us about it, and we'll blog it, Tweet it, Face-the-Book out of it. Really. We're serious. 

(I'd have been yelling sooner, but I've been sick like a dog; sorry!)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


As I've noted elsewhere, I'm back writing about beer and whiskey as a freelancer. That means more time to do Session Beer Project stuff, which means Session Beer Day 2016 is on!

Session beer has made a huge impact on American beer drinking in the past five years. We've made a difference, and people are drinking lower-alcohol beers, and loving them. Brewers are making them and succeeding financially; not all, but there are some notable successes, like all-session beer gypsy brewer Notch, which is going to be opening a real brick and mortar brewery this spring, shortly after Session Beer Day; congratulations! Yards continues to sell a LOT of their non-hoppy Brawler. Victory always has at least a dry stout and a delicious bitter at their taproom. Hell, Yuengling Lager is a session beer; that's pretty damned successful. (There's session elsewhere, of course: I just happen to be in Pennsylvania.)

So...has the Project succeeded? Do we take a victory lap and happily shut down, liter mugs in hand, well-done, thou good and faithful servant?

No, we do not!

The continued success of session beer in America — and yes, in the world, I'd argue — is threatened by two things. First, ABV creep, the same thing that got us here in the first place: a slow, persistent rise in the alcohol content of craft beers, leading to our call to offer some session beers as a real choice for beer drinkers faced with an increasingly 7+% tap array. We saw success there, but inevitably, ABV creep set in.

"Session beer" has become a trend and a desirable label, which makes it subject to overuse, much like "IPA." It is successfully being applied — as a marketing tool — to increasingly strong beers that are still under 6% but range as high as 5.5%, sometimes even more. Brewers may simply call these beers "session!" and move on, they may justify it with the lame (and somewhat worrisome) "that's 'session strength' for us!", but the fact is...yes, that seemingly small gap between 4.5% and 5.5% is significant. For one thing, well, this, Joe Stange's exposition on how drinking 5% beer will get you drunk significantly quicker than 4% beer. For another, 4.5% is supposed to be an upper limit, a ceiling, not a target! If brewers had some serious session skills, they could make deliciously drinkable beers at 4% and lower, not pussyfoot around at 4.8% and say, "Well, that's almost 4.5%, and it's really hoppy, so what's the difference?"

And that's the second thing: really hoppy. Like the rest of the non-mainstream beer category, session beer has been plowed under by the hop lovers: "session IPA" is an inexorable binding of two of the hottest brands that has crushed the possibilities for variety in this budding category, where the promise for variety was so sweet. American brewers have played it safe, gone with baby IPA as a sure thing, sticking with hops as the only tool in the box when it comes to customer enticement and ignoring the fact that the session beers of the rest of the world rely on all the ingredients of beer to make great lower-alcohol everyday drinking beers. It's a farce, nothing less, that American "craft brewing" continues to trumpet the self-congratulatory message of their vaunted innovation when their best idea for making a good, enjoyable lower alcohol beer was simply to make a lower alcohol version of the category best-seller, followed by a Cascading rush as everyone else then raced to imitate it. In case you didn't get it, let me note: that's about as innovative as the big brewers who made a lower calorie, lower ABV clone of their light lagers, called this even-lighter lager "light beer," and then raced to imitate each other. Is that what you've become?

Before "session beer" becomes a 5% IPA, I'm going to propose a challenge to the brewers who are innovative, who have the will and the skill to make something different and delicious for Session Beer Day 2016. This year:

Show Us Your Session Smarts!

If you're a brewer interested in participating, it's simple. The "session IPA" has taken over the American session beer category, when it was supposed to be a meta-category, a category that would include many different types of beer at 4.5% and less. Session beer awareness is supposed to be about increasing choices for the beer drinker...and we largely got one extra choice out of it.

Snap out of it! Take this opportunity to show off your skills and make a session-strength beer, 4.5% or less (you can do it; you can go lower!), that doesn't rely on shouting hops for all its character. We get it, brewers know how to make a light, wildly hoppy beer: EVERY brewer's doing it.

Be different! On April 7th, show us some real innovation, or some real skills to make a beautiful example of a classic session-strength beer that stands apart from the herd of 'monkey-see, monkey-do' dialed-down IPAs. Work with specialty malts or non-barley grains, a different yeast, light souring, smoke, herbs or spices, wood-aging, or sure, a light hand with the right hops, a pale ale, there's a thought. Make it tasty but not crushing, make it something "more-ish," as Michael Jackson used to say. Show the world you're not a monkey, thumb your nose at the "me too me too" crowd, and who knows...maybe find your next big seller.

Lots and lots and lots of great tasting beers!
If you accept the challenge, post a comment here, or send me an email (, and let us know who you are, and where you'll be representing that beer on Session Beer Day, April 7. We'll help get the word out.

Bar owners/managers, beer stores, and yes, beer drinkers: we've got ideas for you too. The brewers need more lead time. Your suggestions for a successful Session Beer Day are coming up.

And if you feel threatened by this, or think that beer must be hoppy or else, or that only big beers have flavor, or that "session beer" is a fad that's over...your opinions are always welcome. Just try to keep them civil. Thanks.