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Where’s the Love for Session Beers?

May 13, 2010

American craft brewers seem to be focused on producing beers that have higher and higher alcohol by volume, as evidenced by the recent obsession with “imperial” styles (“imperial” stouts, IPA’s, etc. refer to the practice of jacking up the alcohol content in a beer so that it ages better, a style made popular in the days of colonialism when beer had to be shipped long distances). Whether this trend is based on the demand of the market or merely the whims of the brewers themselves is hard say, but I think that there is something to be said for the merits of session beers, which have largely been pushed to the periphery of the craft beer world.

Though there is no concrete definition of what a session beer is, there is a general consensus that a session beer is one that contains 4.5% alcohol by volume or less. Not that I don’t enjoy beers with a higher alcohol content, but its seems that along with this trend comes an attitude that moves away from what the purpose of craft beer should be. In my mind at least, a love of craft beer has always been coupled with a love of good conversation, and the appreciation of subtlety and innovation that most craft beer lovers seem to share. For me, the alcohol content in a beer has always been secondary to the overall quality of the brew itself, and putting the focus on alcohol content for me seems to be counter to my idea of beer culture.

Some of the best examples of session beers done right come out of the U.K. (England especially), with brands like Tetley’s and Boddington’s producing time-tested pub ales that hover around 4.5% abv. This begs the question: where is the pub culture in this country? What happened to sitting around a table with friends, drinking a good pub ale and having a real conversation? It seems like every bar I go to these days is full of loud, obnoxious music and people who only seem interested in getting smashed as quickly as possible. I suppose in the age of Facebook and Twitter and body shots this idea seems antiquated, but I’m sure there are many people out there who share my frustration.

There is however still hope for American beer culture, and there are some great American session beers out there that are worthy of exploring. One great session beer I tried recently is Troegs’ Rugged Trail Nut Brown Ale, a smooth, bronze-colored ale at 4.4% abv, with subtle hints of chocolate. Geary’s Pale Ale, the subject of one of my earlier posts, is actually a session beer, with 4.5% abv. There are too many others to name here, but I think I’ve made my point. There’s nothing wrong with preferring lower-alcohol brews, so grab a six-pack and have yourself a session with friends, you may learn something. Unless your friends are idiots. But hey, at least there’s beer.

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