What’s next for session beers?

Are session beers getting stale? Is the session beer category going into overkill mode, similar to the tendency to imperialize or double every beer style a few years ago?

On one hand, Full Sail continues to increase its successful line of session beers with offerings such as their new American-style hefeweizen. On the other, Sierra Nevada has an imperial session IPA coming out this spring. That’s right. Perhaps its just their idea of a joke.

The session IPA style is not one that I have come to appreciate. Perhaps I simply have yet to find one that I truly enjoy. Or maybe I’m just old-fashioned. I like pale ale, and I like IPA. Maybe that’s just good enough for me.

For now, I will stick with classic sessionable beers and be happy. To each his own, which is one reason the beer world is so great: there’s always something for everybody and there’s no need to agree on everything.

Back in the swing

It’s been a while since my last post. So many excuses, so little time to bore people with them. But hey, it’s Spring again! Well, it is in most of the country. Looks like snow for the next few days from where I write, but it will melt into the ground soon enough.

What to drink during a spring snowstorm? I imagine people in Boston came up with some ideas this year, as they got continually pounded with unseasonably late spring snow. We’re used to it in the Rockies, though, so I’d say we mountain dwellers have a leg up when it comes to beer choices that both welcome in the warm weather and ward off the occasional spring-time chill.

Irish-style dry stout: low in alcohol, but rich in flavor. Good for a session any time, but certainly lends itself to quaffing during a blizzard. Why go out when you can watch the snow fall in the comfort of your own home with a four-pack of Guinness or Murphy’s in hand?

Vienna-style lager: dark enough to make you feel like you’re not drinking a light lager, but low enough in alcohol that you can actually get outside and shovel after a couple. Or not. Your choice. Dos Equis Amber & Negra Modelo are great choices, as is Elliot Ness from Great Lakes Brewing. It’s nice to see Vienna lagers making a comeback in the USA, as they have pretty much died out in Europe.

Pale Ale: works every time. Pale ales have lost a lot of shelf-space to IPAs over the years, but there are still plenty of good ones out there like 5 Barrel from Odell, Victory Headwaters Pale Ale, and of course the all-time classic, the one that set the standard for the US craft beer revolution, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Brown Porter: warms the soul without hammering the brain. Left Hand Blackjack Porter, Wasatch Polygamy Porter, and New Belgium’s new Portage Porter come to mind.


Springing forward with a session pale?

With winter’s chill finally dissipating, at least in most of the country, it’s time to look forward to the lighter beers of spring and summer. Wheat beers, refreshing lagers, flavored beers, etc, all jockey for position in coolers everywhere this time of year.

But what about something a little out of the norm, like a session pale ale or IPA? It’s nice to see more breweries embracing the idea of having a beer that is both sessionable AND hoppy in the line-up. Hail to the session pale!

Irish-style Session!

Numerous beers have strong associations with specific times of the year. Cold weather brings out the strong and malty brews meant to ward off the chill of winter. Fall bodes well for pumpkin beer aficionados, as well as fans of Marzen and Octoberfest-style lagers. Spring is the traditional time for the release of Maibock, while summer offers lighter fare, such as wheat beers, light lagers, and saison.

But one type of beer really stands out come March: Irish-style dry stout. Perfect for any St Patrick’s Day session, Irish-style stout is relatively low in calories, and weighs in at roughly 4% alcohol by volume. There’s a reason that people who love Irish stout can drink several pints before feeling tipsy – low alcohol!

Many people associate dark beer with full-bodied ales with a robust alcohol content, but Irish stout is inherently quaffable. Draft stout is normally served through a special tap via a nitrogen/carbon dioxide blend. This method of dispense forces the beer through a fitting called a “sparkler,” which creates a dense head of foam on the top of the beer as the nitrogen comes out of solution (the “cascade”), while enhancing mouthfeel (the perception of the beer’s body). The use of a mixed gas blend sparkler was originally devised to emulate the effect achieved when beer is poured through a traditional pub-style beer engine, or hand pump. The world wide popularity of draft Guinness, et al, speaks volumes regarding the efficacy of this technique.

Not only is Irish stout highly drinkable, but it offers a lesson in simplicity when it comes to ingredients. We’re talking hops, roasted barley, pale malted barley, and some flaked barley for body and head retention, and that’s it. Classic examples of the style include Guinness, Murphy’s, and Beamish. Many craft brewers in the USA brew this venerable style, as well.

Don’t be afraid of the dark!

Winter session?

When most craft beer drinkers think of winter beers, higher alcohol ales usually come to mind. These “winter warmers” are designed to help ward off winter’s chill by offering up a robust malt profile, normally coupled with a healthy amount of alcohol. What is a session beer fan to do in the face of such temptation?!

Fear not, session beer fan, for I bring you tidings of great joy: Noche Buena!

Okay, so we’re going to bend the rules a bit here, because Noche Buena is 5.4% abv.  But that’s pretty darn sessionable by winter beer standards.

Noche Buena is brewed by Cerveceria Cuautemoc Moctezuma, the same brewery that produces Dos Equis, and bills itself as a bock-style beer. I give the brewery credit for taking a classic German style and making it distinctly Mexican, as German bocks generally weigh in at a much higher alcohol content, making them decidedly un-sessionable (but delicious!). Look for a mahogany color, deep malt profile, and slightly warming finish without the dizzying effect of a standard bock. Noche buena, indeed.

Another winter beer that comes to mind is Magic Hat’s Wooly ESB, which comes in at a truly sessionable 4.5% abv.  It is brewed with a touch of spruce for a subtle dose of wintery pine (think about the feeling of chopping wood on a crisp fall day, then coming in for a brew by the fire).

So chin up, intrepid session beer seeker! The beers of winter need not make one weak in the knees!

Time to tailgate!

Well, summer’s almost gone. Kids are back in school, the days are slowly getting shorter, and football is in the air.

Yes! Football! And football means tailgating, and tailgating means beer!

And that usually means fizzy yellow beer: light American lager. But that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, er, I mean beer.

There are plenty of sessionable tailgating options beyond the classic varieties of light American lager.  How about a nice amber ale or lager to go with your short ribs? The caramel sweetness of a well-balanced malty amber beer is the perfect compliment to barbecue sauce.

Or what about an American-style wheat beer with that brat? You can even use it as a marinade; one for the brats and one for the chef, etc.

And for a slightly more adventurous pairing, try combining a hoppy pale ale with roast chicken. You’ll thank me later.

So whatever your beer tailgating food choice, pair it with a nice session beer. Go (insert team name here)!

Lawnmowing Beers!

It’s that time of year: the birds are singing, the sun is shining, the grill is fired up, and, oh yes, the grass is growing.  And we all know what that means: lawn mowing beer! (And gardening beer, too!)

While I don’t advocate having a session, per se, while operating lawn care equipment, everyone knows that mowing the lawn and enjoying a thirst-quenching session beer go hand in hand.  I love to reward myself with a cold adult beverage when I pull out my trusty reel mower (yes, I have a reel mower. I try to be green when I work in the yard, what can I say?).

The long-standing beer of choice for many people is mass-produced American-style lager. That’s fine if that’s your thing. We don’t judge here at Session Beers. The reemergence of venerable brands such as Old Style, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Hamm’s attests to the timelessness of light, easy-drinking American lagers. I have a six pack of the newly reissued pineapple grenade-shaped bottles of Genesee Cream Ale in my beer ‘fridge right now. So sue me. (Cream Ale is actually a hybrid lager/ale beer style indigenous to North America. More on that some other time).

There are plenty of other sessionable styles of beer out there that go great with yard work.  American-style wheat beers surge in popularity during the summer months for good reason. They’re easy to drink, they quench your thirst on a hot day, and they taste good. Many of them are flavored with fruit, spices, or herbs, but more than a few are not, which allows the delicious wheaty goodness to shine through.

Pilsener, and its variants, is another great companion when doing some weeding and tilling.  That’s what any self respecting Czech or German would do, so give it a try. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

For those of you who enjoy Belgian beer, many wit beers, and even some saisons, are session worthy due to their lower alcohol content. They’re “fancy” lawn mowing beers, if you will.

The advent of canned craft beer in the USA has made it even easier to enjoy a great beer while digging in the garden or edging the driveway, without worrying about breaking glass in the process. This appeals to my practical side, so I recommend seeking out craft beer in a can for any outdoor activity, be it yard work, BBQ, or throwing horseshoes.

So the next time you fire up the weed whacker and/or lawn mower, grab a worthy session beer while you’re at it. It’ll help cool you down without leading you into finger-losing territory.


FAQ, Glossary of terms, general info, etc, ad infinitum

Having been a professional brewer for 17 years now, I’ve seen the beer world change a bit over time. I’m finding that beer drinkers are becoming much better educated about beer in general, from styles to breweries to ingredients. But since not everyone who visits this site might understand every term we use here, let alone all the abbreviations, I thought it wise to include a bit of beer knowledge to empower people on their quest for the perfect pint.

Common abbreviations that will appear throughout many beer discussions include, but are not limited to, the following list:

ABV: alcohol by volume. The most common means of expressing alchol content.

ABW: alcohol by weight. You won’t find this one used much here, but a quick explanation is in order. The federal and many state governments employ this method to determine alcohol strength. It really doesn’t make much sense, since beer is a liquid and is therefore more commonly measure by volume, not weight, but that’s neither here nor there as far as the Feds are concerned. If you live in a state that sells 3.2% beer, then you’re seeing an example of ABW. To convert ABW to ABV, simply multiply by 1.25. Therefore 3.2% beer is actually 4% by volume, so it makes for an easily sessionable beer! Don’t rule it out just because you can buy it in a grocery store in Colorado or Utah.

O.G.: No, it doesn’t stand for “Original Gangster.” O.G. = original gravity, or the starting point for a beer before fermentation. Generally speaking, the specific gravity of a beer is the measure of all dissolved solids in a sample. Many breweries use the more accurate balling scale, which measures the percent unfermented sugar present in the beer,  to determine gravity.

F.G.: final gravity. The point at which fermentation is complete.

IBU: International Bitterness Units, which as the name implies, is a scale that determines the level of hop bitterness in beer. The higher the number, the more bitter the beer. Most session beers will have relatively low IBU, since lower alcohol beers would be overwhelmed by tons of hops.

SRM: Standard Reference Method, a determination of beer color. This method is used by the American Society of Brewing Chemists, or ASBC, for short. The higher the number, the darker the beer. Stout would come in around 40 SRM, for example, while a pilsner falls in the range of 2-5 SRM.

EBC: European Brewery Convention, another method for assessing beer color. EBC and SRM are measured in a lab using the same technique, but a different scaling method. EBC is approximately twice SRM.

Lovibond: Also referred to as “degrees Lovibond.” Another measure of color. The higher the number, the darker the beer. Still in use, but not as commonly as in the past.

I will add more terms as time goes, but that’s probably enough to absorb for now. Cheers and thanks for reading!