Tuesday, February 6, 2007

SBP: Heroes #1

From time to time, as it occurs to me, I'm going to put in breweries who do a great job on session beers. The first, an obvious one for me, is The Wharf Rat, in Baltimore. They regularly have 15+ of their own beers on, and many are under 5%, including their signature Best Bitter and SW1 ales. Very English, but not afraid to branch out, these are beers for sitting out on the sidewalk all afternoon with, as I have on a couple very happy occasions. The British ale yeast used makes for great flavor in a lower alcohol beer, and the cask ale is dead-on delish. Plan a trip, have a session. These guys get it.

13 comments:

Steven said...

It's good to hear that there are pubs out there unafraid to brew a good session beer.

A friend used to brew for a local pub (now since closed) and dead-on duplicated the Sam Smith dark mild we sampled in London one Spring -- both his and the Smith were wonderfully flavorful and around 3.5%

The bad news? His boss (a restrateur, not a brewer) learned of the low ABV and forbid him to make it again because he "knew" his customers and they'd never drink such a low alcohol beer.

The beer was made again, the record sheet was just fudged to appease overseers. And no, the beer never went old in the serving tank.

Lew Bryson said...

Bizarre. If it sells, he's making more money on it than on his "regular" beer. That's nuts.

Steven said...

Yeah, but by his theory, it only really sold once they stated telling everyone it was around 6% (which I heard from a bartender and had to give the sidelong glance).

The Beer Lover said...

Now this is a good example of a brewpub offering variety, something that beer geeks like. I personally love the session brews at the Warf Rat. That being said, I would be a liar if I didn't say I was interested in trying their bigger styles/seasonals/one offs. That is what keeps me interested, not the fact that I can get a good mild, or bitter. Again, I think it goes back to the fact, that craft beer drinkers are whores. They just can't stay faithful to a particular style or brand. And when you have been a beer geek for a while, and you have tasted thousands of different beers? Like you said once long ago Lew, your palate gets jaded. So where do you go from there? Most beer geeks, go for the extreme beers. Others like you and I, return to our roots, and go for the session brews. But we session brew lovers, are a small segment in the craft beer geek world.

Loren said...

"But we session brew lovers, are a small segment in the craft beer geek world."

Give it time...since there's been a HUGE influx of new geek blood of late. The learning and appreciation curve takes time to understand and digest. When that happens...all beer styles are loved, usually. Even...*gasp*...LAGERS!

:-)

Cheers!

Lew Bryson said...

Guys: you're missing the point. Ask any brewer, even brewpub brewers: the majority of their customers, the people who actually come in three or four times a week and keep the place humming along and profitable, are not beer geeks. The lightest beer available sells best, but it's not light beer, and they're buying it in a place where they're exposed to other people drinking a wide variety of beers, which often leads them to try that variety...and often leads to them finding -- to their surprise -- that they like some of the other ones.
Yeah, beer geeks are whores. That's why smart brewers don't cater to them more than they have to. They're catering to the person who will make their brewpub a regular weekly stop, or will buy their beer for take-home every week, instead of the person who will fit them into their rotation maybe once a month. Geeks talk, geeks enthuse (they also bitch and whine and denigrate): but they don't generally go to the same brewpub every week.
It's not about the geeks. It's about the regulars.

Loren said...

"Geeks talk, geeks enthuse (they also bitch and whine and denigrate): but they don't generally go to the same brewpub every week.
It's not about the geeks. It's about the regulars."

What about the regulars who ARE geeks? I hear what you're saying regarding the typical geek and the "must visit a new place..." syndrome...but...

I visit Capt. Lawrence every week!

Being away from BA has certainly changed my perspective on loyalty to a "brand".

Back to the point...why wouldn't brewers want to cater to both segments, while teaching the geeks session beers CAN be a daily :BOING:?

Scott Smith @ East End is doing this, no?

Cheers!

Lew Bryson said...

Loren,
I knew there would be exceptions; that's why I put that "generally" in there. Of course there are spot-loyal geeks. And they drink the brewer's big beers. But they also drink the sessions, if they're really drinking enough to be a regular. Would the brewer want to cater to both clienteles? Absolutely. Why not? And as geeks move out of the early stages of geekery...well, you're getting there, aren't you? It takes years. But getting the idea of roaring hops and alcohol being good, lambics and Flemish reds being good, phenolic wheats being good...that's just beer high school, as a friend of mine used to say about art. Developing your own tastes and preferences, taking up a particular interest (in a region, or a group of styles, or a local producer, or whatever), is graduating from beer high school. Geeks evolve, new geeks come along. Brewers -- and writers -- have to, and are used to, and enjoy, dealing with them at all stages in their evolution.
Where do session beers fit in? It's been my experience that a love of sessions almost always comes after graduation from beer high school. Patience is a virtue.

Steven said...

Great analogies Lew. Of course I'm gonna steal 'em.

The Beer Lover said...

Lew writes:

Guys: you're missing the point. Ask any brewer, even brewpub brewers: the majority of their customers, the people who actually come in three or four times a week and keep the place humming along and profitable, are not beer geeks.

I can't totally agree with that statment Lew, and I don't think the point is being missed here. I don't consider myself a beer geekm, but my friends do, and I'm one of those people who actually come into a place three of four times a week. I'm one of those guys, that makes the weekly run to the good beer store. The people who enjoy craft beer(geeks included), are the ones who are making the effort to go to brewpubs and beer bars. Beer geeks are the local too Lew. I might be hit and run when I am visiting another city, but I am the regular you are talking about that makes the rounds to the local places, and supports the local brewers. And I don't think I am alone in that. Ask most beer geeks if they support their local brewpubs/breweries and I think you will get a yes for an answer. Beer geeks are whores, but they have their favorites too, mine being Old Dominion.


The lightest beer available sells best, but it's not light beer, and they're buying it in a place where they're exposed to other people drinking a wide variety of beers, which often leads them to try that variety...and often leads to them finding -- to their surprise -- that they like some of the other ones.

Thus turning them into beer geeks, and once that happens? They want session beers?

Lew Bryson said...

TBL: See my reply to Loren. There are exceptions, but even if every beer geek was a regular, they would still not be a large part of a brewpub's clientele. The geek is by definition the one who knows the most, who is the most passionate, who wants to try more. "Most", "most", "more"...in comparison to everyone else at the brewpub...the regulars.
It's not any kind of insult: I'm not a regular anywhere, myself. It's just how things are. If a brewpub is open long enough, their regular clientele will almost inevitably trade up.
But the point is...big hairy beers don't pay the bills. They may draw the press attention that gets people in the doors and drinking the session-strength year-round stuff, and that's what I'm really talking about here with the SBP idea: sharing the love for the session beers. But neither geeks, nor big whopper beers, are what keep brewpubs open. Brewers would hate to lose them, truly, and most brewers love making big beers. But that's not what pays the bills in most cases, and the exceptions are usually in a beer market that is already fairly sophisticated, and can support an all-big beer brewer.

Anonymous said...

Lew, you are SO right on here. We sell more stout, helles, and pale than all our other beers combined, by far. And I'm pretty sure it's the regulars who are drinking the majority of it. Without them, we'd be hurting.

jakester

Lew Bryson said...

Thanks for the backup, jakester. Always good to learn I'm right about something...anything!