Let’s talk about session beer
Session beers are all the rage these days, or at least beers calling themselves as much, but they focus too much on pure numbers: what’s the alcohol by volume? Ideally I would say any beer calling itself a “session” should be under 4%, though the current beer climate means that by necessity I begrudgingly accept up to 4.5%. Yeah, that’s right: I don’t think we actually make any session beers. Frank, at 4.7%, is a beer I’ll accept other people calling a session but which I can’t in good conscience do myself.
It isn’t just about metrics, the relationship between the original and final gravity of the beer. At least I don’t think it should be. Let’s try a thought experiment. To begin I’ll contradict myself and ask you to consider Frank to be a session beer.
So in our constructed BBC-Sherlock-esque fictional scenario I pour you a pint of Frank, and one for myself so you don’t have to drink by yourself and feel awkward. We both take a sip. What do you experience? (Bonus points if you have an actual pint of Frank to drink while reading this)
Light, biscuity malt which is overtaken by the hops: pine, resinous and bitter. I actually think, personally, that Frank is more bitter than either That or The IPA, while retaining its identity as an American, rather than India, pale ale.
Which is my point: I like Frank. I’ve sort of rediscovered it recently, in an “it’s always been here but sure go ahead and take credit” kind of way. But one of its qualities is that it demands your attention. The anthropomorphized Frank is a laid back guy, but the beer version is slightly more in your face about things. Not in an abrasive way, but when you drink Frank you know you’re drinking Frank.
I brought this up in our CBW Slack channel, in between bouts of rap battling Justin because he doesn’t like Hamilton (???????). I liked High Bines, the pale ale made with local hops, because it is less aggressive. You can drink it without it being the center of your attention.
Andee pointed out that it’s probably a good thing to be conscious of what you’re putting in your body. She’s right, and I’ve written blog posts about how I like to be fully aware when I’m drinking. But there are times when — steel yourselves — beer isn’t the most important thing about a situation. It’s the people, or the book, or the musical that would tear your heart out if you would just listen to Aaron Burr in The World Was Wide Enough, that really matter.
And while I like hoppy beers, sometimes to the exclusion of other, arguably better, beer, sometimes that’s what I want. And so I submit: to be a session beer, in addition to a low abv, it needs to be subtle in its flavors. Not lacking, not bland, but subtle. The top lists of beer rating sites are packed with brash, high alcohol beers, ones that get in your face with their dark fruits and brown sugar sweetness, and I love them! But I also love something that I need to ponder to dissect, but which I also don’t have to. Sometimes a beer is just a beer.