September 21, 2012

There seems to be an ongoing discussion—well, controversy for some—about whether there will ever be an increased demand for session beers in the U.S., what exactly constitutes a session beer, and what is the point of the whole matter anyway.

Part of the discussion seems to revolve around the simple issue of drinkability, since it has become apparent to most responsible craft beer drinkers that it might not always be a good idea to sit around all night imbibing high-powered hop bombs. Another part might be a reactionary response to a contemporary craft beer culture which insists on throwing everything including the kitchen sink into the brew kettle. That approach may, in the best cases, provide something worthy of note, and in the worst…well, we’ve all tasted that at one time or another.
I’ve said it before, these exotic recipes can definitely provide some level of individuality to a brew, but they can also serve to cover up a lot of mistakes. Don’t get me wrong; I was never a fan of Bauhaus architecture, either (Less is More) but I figure there was a good reason the Germans came up with the Purity Law. So, while the current crop of heavy, high-hopped, high ABV brews continues to hold sway, I can’t believe that over time, the pendulum will swing just slightly toward beers that maintain quality and flavor while allowing increased enjoyment in quantity.

Of course, any movement won’t be led by younger folks in their 20’s and 30’s. They’ll drink whatever they want anyway—because they can. But I’ve been enjoying beer for some 40 years now; good beer for about 35 years, and while I enjoy tasting today’s “big” beers, I just can’t slam them one after another without settling down on the end of the couch and nodding off. In other words, I’m like a lot of baby-boomers who made their way through the decades-long Rise of Craft Beer; there’s a time and a place for everything, and for me, now seems to be the time to find some good, reliable session beers.

The last beer I made was a simple brown English ale, about 4 or 4.5% ABV. I bottled most of it, but some of it went into 2-liter plastic bottles, and I found I could easily polish one of those off in an evening while listening to a baseball game on the radio. Easy to drink, enough flavor to keep me interested—it still remains my basic “go-to” beer style.  

Nowadays, if I’m in a bar and there’s nothing extraordinary available on tap, I will generally get a Newcastle Brown or lately, a Yuengling Lager—which is reliably good, reasonably priced, and clearly superior to the mass-market swill that a lot of people tolerate. Indeed, the general pattern for me now might be to try out a “big” beer first and then switch to something lower-octane (but still tasty) as the night moves on.  After all, I’m not concerned with trying to impress anyone—so if you scoff at my choices, drop dead.

Even when friends come over to visit, very rich, high-gravity/ABV beers may often be served after a meal, in a sampler-sized glass—almost like a dessert. This provides an easy, restful opportunity to focus on the product in question and discuss its merits.  If those friends want more, they can certainly have it; but eventually most will find their way back to something tasty, moderate, affordable and reliable—and that, perhaps, is the simplest definition of a session beer.


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