Monday, March 22, 2010

First new post in months on the Session Beer Project

Finally put something up on the Session Beer Project blog. I don't want you all clicking over there just to find out that it's essentially a link to another story, so I'll just link to that story: The Untimely Death of The American Session Beer. It's not just ranting and hand-wringing: Ken Weaver got some numbers to back it up. Good stuff, though some objections could be made.

22 comments:

Kelly said...

Thanks for posting this. Naturally it's a bit of preaching to the choir here, but it's interesting to see the data that was compiled.

It's getting harder to go out to a place that's serious about craft beer and find anything under 6.5% much less under 5%.

Lew Bryson said...

Agreed, Kelly. I had some similar data, large amounts, but it had some unfortunately large holes in it. The ratebeer guys are a lot more data-driven. This was good.

I am definitely seeing more interest in sub-5% beers here in Philly, but we'll see if that spreads.

Anonymous said...

My local bar has 48 taps and many, many people, especially after 10pm, drink beer under 5%. Unfortunately it is Miller lite (and they are usually under 30).

Farmer Dave said...

Not to be self-promoting (but I am...) but PA recently received a shipment of my "BrewFarm Select" golden all-malt lager in cans. It's a bit higher than the "threshold" session level at 5.5% but that .5% makes for a bit fuller body. Track down a BrewFarm Select today - it was conceived, brewed and consumed as a full-flavored lawn mower beer. And for whatever it's worth, it's sitting at an A- on BA with 25 reviews. Seems the geeks get it!

Lew Bryson said...

Actually, Dave, around here you're not even close: we want beers at 4.5% or under. See, thinking a beer at 5.5% is session-strength is exactly the kind of ABV-inflation we're talking about here. I'm sure it's a fine beer -- and congratulations! -- but I want something I can really tear into!

jp said...

As a good friend of mine commented recently American brewing is just going through a weird phase right now. Fads and crazes are nothing new in American brewing where “innovation” or, the perception there of, has always been American brewers’ #1 marketing tool. Tastes do deviate from the norm now and again only to eventually/gradually return to the tried and true. Once in a blue moon there is some kind of structural event (i.e. prohibition or WWII) that sets brewing on a new path, but I believe this current round of high ABV craft beers is not one of those events, and will fall out of favor when something "new" (read recycled) comes along. I guess time will tell

Lew Bryson said...

Maybe, jp, but that data shows a pretty consistent trend over ten years. I don't know how it can keep up -- it's got to flatten out at some point -- but I don't see the bottom falling out of it, like fruit beers did in about 1996.

jp said...

well your educated guess is as good as mine, if not better. One issue I would take on that data "New Beers" does not account for volume. I have hunch "new beers" as a % of volume sold of craft beer sold has decreased year or overover the same period as the market concentrates -Just a hunch mind you

Anonymous said...

Tends to be generational as well. Who knows, ultimately we may be considered the "craft generation" or "weird beer generation" by a group of kids drinking lightish pilsners snickering at the "old guys" drinking their dark/belgian/double hopped/barrel aged whatever.

Many a generation has rejected that which the one prior has taken to and failure to win the next generation is terminal in the brewing industry.

Not saying it will happen just saying it could.

Russ said...

While obviously the trend can't continue forever (unless future technology can produce beer over 100% ABV!), I'm not so sure that the data reflects a trend towards higher ABV overall so much as it reflects a trend of high-ABV seasonals and one-offs. Actually, I suspect it reflects a little bit of both, but consider this... A brewery opens with three flagship beers around 5% ABV. Since Weaver is looking at NEW beers, those flagships will only be reflected in the data once. However, this year it decides to offer a 7% winter warmer seasonal. Next year it offers a 9% barleywine. Seasonals, which tend to change far more often than year-round offerings, will be counted EVERY year. Certainly my experience has been that year-round beers tend to be lower in ABV while seasonals and limited releases are almost always high-gravity. As more breweries jump on the Dark Lord bandwagon and start producing limited releases, the average ABV for new releases skews upward even if year-round sessionable offerings stay the same (and continue to make up the vast majority of volume sold). Now obviously the popularity of limited-release extreme beers itself reflects increased interest in non-session beers, but that need not be at the expense of session beers. I'll pick up a bomber of imperial stout or barleywine from time to time, but those generally aren't my go-to styles when I order a beer with dinner or kick back to watch the game.

Lew Bryson said...

I think the article says something about that.

I'm not sure if the market's concentrating right now, though.

Lew Bryson said...

Russ,

Yes. As I said in the SBP post, there are holes in the assumptions he reaches.

Farmer Dave said...

Maybe I've created a new niche within the session beer realm: "extreme session beer" - I used distiller's yeast to gain that extra 1% abv!
I am curious (and without time to Google...) but how did 4.5% abv become the max of what is considered sessionable? Your session may not be my session? Do you not think the alcohol tolerance one builds as they progress from a regime of high abv beers back to lower abvs to be a factor as to what one would consider sessionable?

Lew Bryson said...

We generally figure "extreme" session beer to be one with LOWER alcohol, Dave! I've had a 1.9% dark mild that was tasty, and a couple of stouts in the sub-3% range that I'd be happy to have again.

As for definition...there is none. Except that the Brits, who are arguably the masters at this, feel that it should generally be under 4%. I've got a definition I've been using on the Session Beer Project blog: For our purposes, 'session beer' is defined as a beer that is:

► 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
► flavorful enough to be interesting
► balanced enough for multiple pints
► conducive to conversation
► reasonably priced
(followed by)
"If that seems vague...it is. Here's another definition: low-alcohol, but not low-taste. It's subjective. Live with it, and enjoy it. We're here to help make your night out more fun, more tasty, and more safe. Cheers!"

Alcohol tolerance is a factor, of course, and as a guy who drinks often, drinks whiskey often, and weighs...well, a lot, I'm familiar with it. But it's variable. 4.5% is not variable, it's safe.

The main point, I guess, is that there are plenty of beers over 5% if I want one. There aren't that many under 4.5% (that aren't light lagers), flavorful beers, and the whole purpose of the Project is to encourage brewers to brew more of them so we have that choice. There are people who want them.

Nothing wrong with a 5.5% beer, after all. But it's not what I'm looking for.

For more, check out this post on Martyn Cornell's excellent beer blog, The Zythophile:
http://zythophile.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/the-mystery-of-sessionability/

Kelly said...

Possibly of interest (or not); Of the 11 beers on offer at the most recent SPBW Spring Real Ale Festival a style/method of service that one normally thinks of as moderate in alcohol levels the abvs were as follows: 9.5, 9.0, 5.4, 5.9, 6.7, 7.5, 4.9, 7, 5.5, 7.3, 6.2.

Only one under 5% (not Session Beer project approved but my personal upper limit for sessionable).

Lew Bryson said...

Huh. We did pretty well at the Kennett Square session beer event last fall, only one beer above 5%, most were under 4.3. But there were some pissed people who hadn't heard it was a session-strength event!

sam k said...

Otto's has an impressive schwarzbier on right now at 4.4%, one of only two on their list at the moment under 5%. I think I'll have one soon.

Jeff Frane said...

Revolution Brewing in Chicago appears to have a mild at 3.5%. Maybe you can meet us there for a pint by tearing yourself away from massive amounts of whiskey.

Lew Bryson said...

God, man, what's the schedule on Chicago? E-mail me immediately!

Or I could e-mail you, I suppose.

Mario (Brewed for Thought) said...

Lew,

I love that you include "reasonably priced" in your definition. I was having a few beers with Weaver last night and as you might assume, the topic of session beers came up. As the conversation meandered we started talking about Sam Adams Noble Pils. One thing that was appreciated by all was that this near session strength beer (5.24%) also came with a sessionable price.

It's hard to really enjoy a session beer when you're having to split a 12 ounce bottle or paying through the nose for a 6-pack.

Anonymous said...

Farmer Dave? It sounds like what you have on your hands is an Imperial Session Beer. Word is now out. Next you'll see simple, quaffable, conversation-stimulating IPAs to be entered at the next GABF in that category to sneak a gold.

sambudvar said...

Hey Farmer Dave,

Is your beer sold in the Sheboygan area? I'll be there next week and am curious about your beer.