session beer

The State of Session Beer

It’s National Beer Day, which is a good time to look at the state of session beer. America’s biggest promoter of session beer is writer Lew Bryson, who has led the Session Beer Day initiative for the past five years.

Bryson says that session beer is making progress. Brewers are not only making more of them, but many of them are a financial success. He cites two examples in his home state of Pennsylvania: Yards Brewing Company, which offers a dry stout and a bitter at its taproom; and Yuengling Lager, which certainly qualifies as a session beer.

On the other hand, Bryson identifies two threats to session beer. One is “ABV creep”, a slow but persistent increase in the upper limit for what constitutes a session beer. The other threat is excessive hoppiness, the result of breweries jumping on the session IPA bandwagon.

Bryson hopes that brewmasters start looking beyond “5% IPA” and offer the kinds of lower-alcohol beers found in other beer-drinking countries.

The Friday Mash (Czech Republic Edition)

On this day in 1918, Czechoslovakia came into existence. Since 1993, after the “Velvet Divorce” from Slovakia, the country is known as the Czech Republic. Different name, but the same great beer.

And now….The Mash!

We begin in New Jersey, the only state that bars amusement games in bars. Lawmakers are considering the “Dave & Busters Bill,” which would repeal the 55-year-old law.

Bad news for microbreweries: beer drinkers in their 20s are gravitating toward craft beer. The number one reason is that this age group is bored with the taste of mass-market brews.

They’ve risen from the dead. Schlitz, Narragansett, and four other “zombie” beers are back from “Pabst purgatory”. Interestingly, three of the six are from Greater Cincinnati.

Not everybody loves session beer. Esquire magazine’s Aaron Goldfarb thinks the idea is dumb. He insists there’s a reason why you don’t see session bourbon or session wine in stores.

Skol’s new Beats Senses beer comes in a deep-blue-colored bottle, and a Brazilian agency decided the best way to advertise it was to film a commercial underwater–which wasn’t easy.

Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas features the first-ever sea-going gastropub. It will serve a variety of American craft beers, which are still hard to find aboard cruise ships.

Finally, Joe Maddon impressed sportswriters at his first press conference as the Chicago Cubs’ new manager. He held it the The CubbyBear, a ballpark bar, and treated the writers to a shot and a beer.

Top Ten Myths About Craft Beer

“Ding” is a middle-aged Englishman who lives somewhere in the South and provides often-tart commentary about beer on his blog. One of Ding’s classics, which appeared in December 2011, took aim at the top ten myths about American craft beer.

Heading the list of the myths is the belief that one can put any beer in a cask and get a good result. Casks, he contends, bring out the best of a malty, low-gravity beer, but won’t have the same effect with an imperial IPA. He goes on to say that “a huge amount of beer that is being presented in casks…is simply not beer that will showcase the presentation at all well.”

Other myths that Ding wants to debunk include these:

  • Beers from emerging beer countries, like Italy and New Zealand, must be great. Fawning over expensive, ordinary beer is a symptom of a lack of discrimination.
  • British beer is undergoing a massive revolution inspired by American brewers. Despite the publicity given to breweries like BrewDog, most beer poured in the UK is traditional British beer with relatively low alcoholic content.
  • More breweries, and more beers, are always a good thing. The current level of growth of craft beer is unsustainable, and is resulting in a flood of mediocre–or worse–products.
  • All local beer is good. See above.
  • Session beer is gaining popularity in America. Ding draws the session-beer line at 4% ABV, and finds few American beers with ABVs lower than that.
  • In Defense of Corn

    Chris Lohring, the brewer at Notch Brewing in Massachusetts, would like a few words with purists who have made corn “the most vilified grain in all of American brewing.” In defending corn, Lohring takes aim at two myths about it.

    The first myth is that corn–along with another hated adjunct, rice–was added to beer to make it bland. Actually, it was the other way around: big brewers made bland beer because they thought consumers wanted it; corn was “just along for the ride.” Lohring adds that 19th century German brewers used adjuncts out of necessity. North American six-row barley produced a hazier and more tannic beer than the two-row variety grown in Europe. Corn and rice allowed them to produce a smoother, brighter beer that also appealed to the American palate.

    The other myth with corn is that brewers use it to cut costs. That wasn’t the case for German brewers who first used it, and isn’t the case for his brewery–especially because it entails additional steps during brew day that drives up the overall labor cost.

    Lohring adds that many craft brewers use corn to “dry out” big, malty beers such as double IPAs and Belgian beers. Why, then, is corn unacceptable in brewing pale lagers? In his brewing career, he discovered that corn made “entry-level” lagers dryer and sweeter-tasting. Now he’s using high-quality corn to make The Mule, the latest in his brewery’s line of session-strength beers.

    April 7 is Session Beer Day

    Session beer–which one can drink all evening and not get falling-down drunk–is a staple in British pubs. In the U.S., however, it has been overshadowed by “imperial” and high-gravity styles. For years, beer writer Lew Bryson has been trying to change that. He’s declared Saturday, April 7, Session Beer Day, and is encouraging breweries and beer bars across the country to celebrate it.

    Why did Bryson choose April 7? That’s the anniversary of Little Repeal Day when, in 1933, 3.2% beer was re-legalized. For years afterward, many states classified beer of 3.2% or less as “non-intoxicating” and treated it differently than stronger beverages. Ohioans of a certain age can attest to that.

    The Friday Mash (Mr. Zip Edition)

    On this day in 1963, U.S. Postal Service introduced ZIP (for Zone Improvement Plan) codes. To get Americans to use the newfangled numbers, the Postal Service introduced a cartoon character called “Mr. Zip.” He’s moved on to advertising heaven, but ZIP codes are still with us.

    And now…The Mash!

    We begin in Frederick, Maryland, where new state laws have allowed the Flying Dog Brewery to bring back brewery tours. The tours are popular, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead.

    Will session beer catch on in the U.S.? Perhaps, but Andy Crouch warns that it faces major cultural hurdles. Being goal-oriented, Americans don’t like settling in for hours at a time at a pub.

    What do The Turtles, Bob Dylan, and Dr. Dre have in common? All three can be found on the list of Top Ten Songs in Beer Commercials, compiled by Ciaren Thompson of

    If you live, work, or find yourself in New York City, beer gardens aplenty are waiting for you. Amarelle Wenkert of Black Book magazine offers some of her favorites.

    In Ottawa, Ohio, Larry Wagner plunked down $740 for a can of beer. The cash went to a good cause–the struggling Putnam County Fair–and Wagner got a neon sign along with the beer.

    A 170-year-old bottle of beer found in a shipwreck was contaminated by salt, and contained no yeast cells needed to reverse-engineer the brew. Scientists hope for better luck next time.

    Finally, Appalachia’s tobacco farms are giving way to a variety of crops including truffles, wasabi, shiitake mushrooms, and last but not least, hops. Draft magazine takes a look.

    Beer…By the Numbers

    Annual beer sales in the European Union: over €110 billion ($155 billion).
    Percent of European-brewed beer that is exported: 17.
    Average price of a case of beer at a supermarket $20.34.
    Annual sales of private label beer at supermarkets: $23.6 million.
    These beers’ share of the beer market: .086 percent.
    Cost of a beer at a West Virginia football game this fall: $6.
    Division I schools, besides West Virginia, that sell beer in the stands: 19.
    Germany’s per capita beer consumption last year: 102 liters per year.
    Its annual per capita beer consumption 20 years ago: 141 liters.
    Coors Light’s sales growth from 2009 to 2010: plus 1.1 percent.
    Budweiser sales growth over the same period: minus 7.3 percent.
    Projected size of this year’s Canadian barley crop: 7.7 million tons.
    Average crop over the past five years: 9 million tons.
    Unofficial maximum ABV for “session beer” in Britain: 4% (ABV).
    Unofficial maximum in the U.S.: 4.5% or 5%, depending on who you ask.

    Mondial de la Biere Wrap-Up

    The 18th annual Mondial de la Biere in Montreal took place this past weekend, and Canadian beer writer Jordan St. John came away impressed. The festival has moved to a new venue, Place Bonaventure, which is large enough to accommodate the 136 breweries that took part. For the record, more than 600 beers were poured, and over a third of them were new to this festival. Festival-goers gave high marks to Quebec breweries, with Le Trou Du Diable, Hopfenstark, and Le Saint Bock among those highly recommended.

    According to St. John, the beers poured at Mondial often become the trend in other parts of Canada. He drank his first black IPA in Montreal; and two years later, they were commercially available in Ontario. St. John also says that the trend at this year’s event was flavorful, low-alcohol styles. That’s good news for session beer fans on both sides of the border.

    How Old is the Term “Session Beer”?

    What is a “session beer”? Easy question. It’s something you can drink for several hours and still find your way home afterward. Now a tougher question. Where did the term come from? Martyn Cornell, the ever-curious beer historian, is trying to find out, and he’s asking for your help.

    Cornell remembers first hearing “session beer” during the 1980s at the earliest, and the oldest publications he’s found containing phrase are dated 1991. He’s certain that it appeared in print at least several years before that, and has issued the following challenge to readers of his blog:

    I’m also sure there are readers of this blog who have stacks of back copies of Camra newsletters and pub guides that they can search for early mentions of “session beer”. I give you chaps (and chapesses, no sexism here, Denny) a challenge: supply a properly referenced and verifiably dated example, and there’s a good chance we can get the term “session beer” into the Oxford English Dictionary.

    Lew Bryson on the Kennett Square BrewFest

    The Brits are familiar with “session beer”–the kind you can drink all evening without keeling over–and Lew Bryson has been calling on American craft breweries to add session beers to their lineup. Last Saturday, Lew took his Session Beer Project to the Kennett Square BrewFest. He pronounced the festival’s Conn-O-Session “a success…mostly.”

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