This post is a contribution to The Session, aka Beer Blogging Friday. This month’s topic is session beers hosted – hooray – here, by me.
Ever since I suggested the topic, I’ve been struggling with what I was going to write about it. I’ve noticed, with interest, bloggers from other countries noting that Americans are particularly worked up about the concept of session beers, which is interesting. To many other beer cultures, it’s probably a ridiculous concept that MOST of the beer available isn’t a session beer. Even in America that isn’t the case, though we do have a particularly large market for high-gravity and low attenuation.
So, I’ve been thinking about it. What is a session beer?
It’s not about low alcohol. After all, if that were the only criteria, BMC has session beer in spades and, sorry to say (or maybe happy to say), Bud Light is not a session beer for me.
It’s not the “more” factor that I’ve heard bandied about. Session beer, to me, is not about binge drinking. It’s not about the ability to over-consume.
No, to me I think what defines a session beer is a beer that I can enjoy without effort. It’s not a particular style of beer, or even a particular alcohol content, so much as it is accessibility. It is a beer that I can drink without having to think about – “What is that flavor?” “How is this made?” “What’s going on in this beer?”
My best example of this might be gueuze. It’s a low alcohol beer, it’s light, and it’s easy drinking, but it is not a session beer. It’s challenging and complex, and when I drink one I want to linger over it and examine it. I want to roll it around my mouth and look for more flavor. I want to savor it and drink it with food. I want to keep discovering more things about it, and while I think it’s delicious, that challenging complexity is what stops it from being a session beer to me.
It’s the same experience I have with most high-gravity selections. There’s a lot going on in each sip, and I want to enjoy it. Even when they’re deceptively easy drinking, they’re still a challenge. They still require thought and time to enjoy and savor.
And so I submit my definition for a session beer: it’s not about the strength, or the ability to drink a lot of it. It’s not bland beer or boring beer. It’s beer that can be enjoyed without effort, one that I can keep by my side during an evening with friends and still thoroughly enjoy every sip, even if I’m not paying attention to it.
And, in my opinion, that is what our current craft beer market could use more of.