I was browsing my newsfeed today when I came across this little gem: Session Beer Is Dumb by Aaron Goldfarb. Since session beer is the new “it” brew, and because the subject is not as straightforward as it might seem, I thought I’d do a quick blog post about it. Also, I started writing this as a simple “share” on Facebook and realized I had more to say that the little box would take. So, here it is…
Equating less alcoholic beers with less flavor is fallacious. Yes, some session beers are major weaksauce, but that does not mean they all are. Let’s take Berlinerweiss as an example. This very tart, very dry beer packs a huge punch of flavor – but should only be 3-4% abv. Kolsch, while a delicate flavor, should have bunches of it. Throw a bunch of hops into a pilsner and you have some serious flavor in a light package.
This author seems to believe that only strong, overwhelming beers have merit. I disagree. While I think “session IPAs” are a misnomer and the ob”session” is silly, I see the point in trying to brew smaller beers to see how much flavor you can get with a smaller grain bill and/or shorter fermentation. It’s a fun experiment and, as many people who brew will tell you, more hops + more alcohol = more forgiveness. You lower the amount of hops and the alcohol content and there is very little left to hide behind. You are letting your brewing skills really all hang out.
However, I do like his point that session beers shouldn’t be something you drink because you want to drink 1000 of them in a single evening. They are something you should drink because you like the flavor. But this is true of all beers. If your sole goal is to get shithammered, can I interest you in this bottle of everclear?
I was out in Boulder at a bachelorette party a couple of months ago. After dinner, the mob of women decided to head to the Kitchen Upstairs bar. I was steeling myself for the usual three-tap setup of Coors, Guinness, and Fat Tire, which was definitely a feature. But they also had a fantastic bottle list. On it was a bottle of 2008 Thomas Hardy. I, admittedly, lost my head a bit. Of course, I purchased the bottle (which was poured into a snifter – bad me for assuming that this shiny place didn’t know how to treat beer), and settled in for the evening with it. Now, I could have purchased four pints of Fat Tire for my one Thomas Hardy or two overpriced, but I’m sure tasty, cocktails. But I would have been sacrificing the luxurious flavor, the delicious aromas, the feel of that snifter sitting in my hand. Some of the ladies I was with laughed at me for my euphoria, but I guarantee that their 4-ounces of martini did not come near the wonder of that beer. I’m sure they have already forgotten what they drank that night. I will remember what I had forever. Or, as I said that night: “my beer verse your cocktail? Guess what: I win.”
So there’s that: beer is an experience, not just a drink. Sure, when I’m painting the house I’m not looking for something to challenge my palate or to send me into a climactic state. But I’m also not looking for something that is going to make it dangerous for me to stand on a 2-rung ladder. Sometimes, you just have to go with the lower ABV – but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice flavor.
This author’s point is well taken: a session beer for a session beer’s sake is absurd. But if it exists for a reason besides being “hip”, than it’s a good thing.
But please, stop calling hoppy low-alcohol beers “session IPAs” or I will punch you. Punch you right in the mouth.