As I explain in the February Buzz on my website, for a variety of reasons, they're right. We do always talk about the big beers, the crazy beers, that beers that grab us. They're interesting, they stick out, and even the failures are fun to talk about. Session beers get forgotten. (Except when you drink them in Düsseldorf with Guy Hagner, Tom Baker, and Nick Bruels.)
Not to smack, but sites like ratebeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com are, if anything, even worse. Their "best of" lists of the beers that their thousands of members have rated as "Da Best!" reads like a beer geek's wet dream: 7+% ABV, 90+ IBU, 20+P OG, reeking and funky as a chili-shack outhouse. (If none of that jargon makes sense to you, sorry: it's alcohol, bitterness, and -- essentially -- heaviness.) Yeah, there are a couple exceptions, but you can't help thinking that if these guys had their way, they'd be lying around in a swollen-tongued stupor every weekend.
Time to right that balance: The Session Beer Project. I'm going to try to post notes on session beers at least four times a week: tasting notes, style notes, food pairings, critiques, rants, praise, despair, news, whatever. I'm just one voice among many, but it's time to start. I know there are people out there who feel the same way I do: feel free to piggy-back, copy, emulate, link, get inspired, or just comment.
What's a session Beer?
Fair question, especially since my definition doesn't necessarily jibe with the standard one of beers under 4.5% ABV (that's Alcohol By Volume; Budweiser is 5.0%, for comparison). For me, session beer has a number of subjective qualities.
1. Alcohol under 4.5%. Once you get above 5%, things change, in my long experience with beer. Below that, you can drink at a moderate pace and not get heavily flummoxed. Try knocking back 6% beers at a session pace, and you'll be making an ass of yourself in short order. Believe me: or just ask my brother-in-law about the night at his place with the sixtel of Stegmaier Brewhouse Bock. I always say that session beer is beer you can drink while you're playing cards, without worrying about gambling away your house. An update: upon reflection, and more research, and a lot of drinking, I revised this number downwards from the original 5.5%. For purposes of the Session Beer Project, I'm calling it session beer at 4.5% and under.
2. Flavor in balance. A session beer can't be insanely hopped, syrupy with residual sugar, or funkier than hell. The whole idea of a session beer is that you can drink them smoothly glass after glass without anything cramping your palate. Plenty of flavor is fine, but nothing overpowering.
3. The beer doesn't overpower the conversation. Session beers shouldn't make you interrupt the conversation and start geeking about how marvelous the beer is. Session beer is more about backup than topic, it's something you drink while you're talking, not something to talk about. Er...this blog is an obvious exception.
4. Reasonably priced. There are some very quaffable beers out there that are, for some reason, wicked expensive. If you can afford to do sessions with them, God bless you. The rest of us? Reasonable is the keyword.
Examples: dry stout (Guinness, O'Reilly's), porter (Geary's London Porter, Boulevard Bully Porter). helles (Augustiner Edelstoff (Damn. Stan tells me Edelstoff is 5.6%!), Victory Lager), Belgian pale ale (De Koninck), hefeweizen (Paulaner, Schneider, Penn), most pilsner (Stoudt's, Pilsner Urquell), brown ale (Newcastle, BridgePort Beertown Brown), cream ale, steam beer (Anchor Steam), dunkel (Sly Fox Dunkel, Victory Dark Lager, Warsteiner Dark), witbier (Allagash White, Blue Moon Belgian White), kölsch (Cap City Kölsch, Gaffel), and bitter, when you can find it here in America... Not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea.
That's what we're talking about. The first tasting note follows.