As an avid beer geek (and blogger) I tend to want to try every new beer that comes to market but at the same time I don’t necessarily want to cultivate a drinking problem. As such, now and then, I appreciate a lighter beer that manages to retain its’ craft character without the hefty ABV or flavour overkill.
Not too long ago I wrote a post on near beers or small beers but in this post I am not talking about a complete absence of flavour and taste like the dreaded ‘lite’ beers of the 1980’s and 1990’s instead I am referring to a class of beer called session beers.
The Beer you want to Marry
According to Mosher (2009) in Tasting Beer, session beer refers to a class of beer that is lighter in gravity and alcohol and designed to be consumed without overtaxing the drinker in either flavour or intensity. Typically these session beers are less than 4.5% ABV. Mosher cites British Bitter, Witbier and American Adjunct Pilsner as examples of the style.
When it comes right down to it what we are talking about is the somewhat intangible quality known as drinkability.
Mosher suggests, “There is something quite remarkable about a beer of ordinary strength with enough personality and depth to keep you interested but with enough subtlety to keep you charmed right to the bottom of the third pint”.
Our taste buds are not designed to handle a constant bombardment of harsh or strong flavours. Bold flavours are okay in small quantities but we can easily become flavour fatigued by too much of a good thing. We may flirt with the big beers but the session beers are the ones we take home.
Is Drinkability just another word for Compromise?
Some might argue that this very quest for drinkability is what led us down the slippery slope to mass produced and mass marketed lagers in the first place. I mean wasn’t it the quest for a neutral beer people could purchase in large quantities that resulted in beer stores where 24’s of Molson Canadian and Bud Light rolled out on conveyor belts and into the back of your pickup truck?
Initially the reassertion of craft beer could be seen as the antithesis to everything lacking in ‘big box’ beer including flavour and alcohol content. We got hop bombs and barley wines, barrel aging and double bocks but did we fill the niche for a go-to beer that can please almost everyone?
I do not think this is a hypocritical goal for craft brewers as drinkability (though once distorted to ugly levels) is an essential and, let’s face it, basic element. Perhaps most importantly drinkability is an element that has a direct impact on customer loyalty and patronage.
A Little Box of Treasure from Full Sail
Last time I was down in Mount Hood, OR I paid a visit to Full Sail brewery and picked up a mixed case of the three session lagers they are producing; the Fest, the Black and the Premium. Each of these lagers, housed in cute little stubby bottle, manages to find that balance between flavour, body and, wait for it, drinkability. Not too strong, not too hoppy and not too heavy this trio has found their way into my heart (and into my regular beer rotation).
If you haven’t found a place for session beer in your life you really need to give these little guys a try.
For more information on the session beer movement, check out the Seen Through a Glass blog for information on the The Session Beer Project and Session Beer Day (April 7th).