Showing posts with label session beer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label session beer. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Hitting the Sweet Spot

Well, so much for micro blogging July eh? Turns out the Blogger mobile app is a pile of dogshit and every post I attempted got hung up in the publishing process. Anyway, Mrs V, myself, and the twins are back from our month long sojourn to Scotland, so I have access to regular Blogger again - 2 step authentication is great, if your mobile phone actually gets text messages abroad.

One of aims while home in the Highlands was to stick as much as possible to local beer, and if that failed then to at least drink Scottish brews. The very, very, very minor midge in that ointment, was that my thinking ahead parents got me in some Timothy Taylor Landlord a couple of days before we arrived. One of my rules in life is to never say no to Landlord, and after 20ish hours of travelling, they went down superbly well.

Don't worry, I am not going to give you a blow by blow list of tasting notes of the various beers I enjoyed, and didn't, in my month back. One thing though that I did notice, and this may say more about me than it does Scottish brewing, but there seemed to be a sweet spot in terms of ABV and insanely wonderful drinking, somewhere in the range of 3.5-3.8% to be honest.

That range of alcohol seems tiddly when compared to the average craft beer being made in many a brewery in Virginia, 6.5% is pretty much the norm. Thankfully though I tend not to think of strength as a flavour or pre-cursor to my enjoyment, many of the worst beers I have ever drunk have been in that average craft beer range. Perhaps then it is a case that British brewers are just phenomenal at producing flavourful beer without boatloads of malt and the requisite hopping to avoid drinking syrup.

The highlights of drinking in this sweet spot were:

The beers listed are sold as an Edinburgh pale ale, session IPA, session blonde, and session pale ale respectively, so sessionability is a key part of the appeal, and there is not one of them I wouldn't happily spend the night on the sesh devoted to. Of the 4 only Inveralmond's frankly divine EPA doesn't focus on New World hops, if anyone ever slags off Goldings or Styrian Goldings then force this down their neck and watch them come to the light of truth.

When I finally get back round to having a pint now that the travelling is all but done, I am actually mildly concerned that nothing at the various brewpubs and bars I frequent will have the same appeal. I know that I will spend some time brewing variations on this theme, so I am not utterly bereft, but the absence of proper session beer in the US craft scene genuinely saddens me.

When I think of Lew Bryson's definition of a session beer topping out at 4.5% and that so many brewers sell "session" beers that go well north of that, I am forced to come to the conclusion that despite various well known outliers, session beer is unlikely to be a regular part of the craft beer scene. Whether that is a result of brewers being unwilling to make beers that are genuinely session strength or that a very vocal minority of drinkers advocate for the big, or unusual, stuff to the detriment of all else, I am not sure.

Thank goodness then for the homebrew store...

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

More Than Less

I will just come out and say it, I like a drink.

That fact is probably the main reason I seek out session beers whenever possible. Unless I am in the company of good friends, I am the guy that will sit at a table and be very much on the periphery of the conversation. It's just as well I am something of an amateur anthropologist, I love watching people and how they interact, though it does mean I tend to drink quicker than a lot of people I know, and that's where session beers come in. I simply wouldn't want to drink 5 or 6 imperial pints of standard strength craft beer (between 6.5% and 7% in this part of Virginia) and then drive myself home, regional public transport being something akin to unicorn shit and the Brexit dividend.

For a while a couple of years ago it seemed as though everyone and his mate was jumping on the session beer bandwagon, though this being the US they wanted to say 5.5% abv beer was sessionable. Given that my definition of a session begins at the fourth imperial pint, these beers felt like some cruel joke. For those unaware of Lew Bryson's vital work at The Session Beer Project, let's remind ourselves of his suggested guidelines for an American session beer:
  • 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
  • flavorful enough to be interesting
  • balanced enough for multiple pints
  • conducive to conversation
  • reasonably priced
Forgive me for being cynical, but there are times when I wonder if anyone is paying much attention to anything but the first point in the definition, maybe the second, though again being grumpy I would say that most session IPAs are too flavourful.

The other three points though appear to be willfully ignored. A sweet and sour fruit infused faux gose is not balanced enough to have multiple pints, remember a session begins at the fourth imperial pint - 4 imperial pints of a watermelon gose? Not fucking likely, most samples of the gack are difficult enough to get through, let alone a US customary pint.

Even though I tend to be the quiet guy on the edges, it is session beer that eventually gets me in to a place where I am happier to jump into conversation. God that makes me sound like some right uptight git, I am just not much of a talker when there are more people in a group that I don't know than I do. After a few pints though, I'll loosen up and dip my toe into the waters of the conversation, and we'll see where it goes, the beer though conducts me into the conversation.

Much like the pricing restrictions of Reinheitsgebot, the idea of reasonably priced beer is conveniently forgotten by all and sundry. For example, during American Mild Month I routinely saw dark milds between 3% and 4% being sold for between $5 and $7 for an imperial pint, the same price as some 7%-9% abv beers on the same beer list. Now, pardon my french, but that is taking the fucking piss. Charging the same price for a 3.5% mild as an 8% double IPA simply smacks of gouging the customer and reaping a much bigger profit margin on the beer.

There is more to creating a session beer than simply being technical with the ABV. To truly have session beer there needs to be an environment where the best bitters, dark milds, and pale lagers are as an attractive proposition as some extreme hop bomb or malt based fruity alcopop. Session beer thrives when the beer culture is one of drinking pints with your mates rather than cruising breweries doing flights. I fear we are starting to lose that culture.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Session 129 - Whither the Session?

How exactly is it the first Friday of November already? Rhetorical questions aside, as it is so, that means it is time for The Session, hosted this month by Eoghan of Brussels Beer City. Eoghan's theme for the month is "Missing Local Beer Styles", which he boils down to being:
"what beer style would you like to see being brewed in your local market that is not yet being brewed?"
As Eoghan points out, beer choice can often seem to be an exercise in choosing from endless variations on the theme of IPA, which is incredibly boring after a while. While I consider myself very lucky to live in a part of Virginia with plenty of breweries who make beers beyond the confines of a modern interpretation of India Pale Ale (does the modern concept of IPA even relate to India Pale Ale in anything other than name any more?), I naturally have beer styles that I miss.

If you have read more that 2 or 3 of my blog posts you will likely know well by now that my favourite beer styles are (not necessarily in order):
  • Bitter
  • Pilsner
  • Dry Stout
  • Mild
Of those 4 styles, the only one brewed in this area that I can get with any regularity is Pilsner, Champion Brewing's lovely Shower Beer.

Once upon a time Starr Hill Brewing, where for the sake of full disclosure I used to work, brewed a dry Irish stout called Dark Starr, it was sublime, it is still the most award winning dry Irish stout in America, it hasn't been brewed for about 3 years if memory serves. When I worked behind the bar of the taproom I would pour Dark Starr early so it could get to the right temperature to unlock the flavours, and many people discovered they actually did like stout after all.

I manage to get my mild kick in the pub for a single month each year as several of the local breweries support my American Mild Month project, but outside of May, mild is as rare as hen's teeth. The same could be said for bitter. Unless Three Notch'd Brewing has put out my Bitter 42 Best Bitter recipe, fresh bitter is basically unicorn shit in these parts.

Thankfully there is a place where I can semi-regularly get my fix of all three styles, guaranteed fresh, and at the generally reasonable price of less than $1 for an imperial pint. That place is of course my kitchen, and the beers are my homebrew renditions of the styles.

Even though I like to think that I am a pretty decent brewer, there are times when I would like nothing more than to be sat in the pub nursing a pint some tasty, session beer while reading a book or hanging out with friends. Given that reality, the one beer "style" that is grossly underrepresented in Central Virginia is just that, session beers.

I recently did some research into the state of core beers being produced by the various breweries within 35 miles of my house and discovered that the average ABV is 6.7%, and found not a single core beer that would satisfy the definition of session beer as laid out by Lew Bryson.

I realise this has the potential of making me sound like a total druth, but I actively enjoy drinking. In common with most people from those mad islands on the west of Europe, the pub is the place I am happiest, and I can think of few things I would prefer to do than spend an afternoon drinking pints with friends, or alone just reading a good book. Were I to have such a session on 6.7% ABV beer, I would be in no fit state to get myself home.

So come on brewers of Central Virginia, try introducing session beers to your core ranges, bitters, stouts, milds, as well as pilsners! Given that they are cheaper to make, it'll help your bottom line as well!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Session Beer Day

It's today!!!

Now, if you have followed Fuggled for any length of time more than say, three days, you'll know that I love my session beers. I love bitters, milds, desítky, dry Irish stouts, et al, the kinds of beers that are ideal for a long period of time I the pub with friends, playing pool, talking shit, and just hanging out, kind of like this pub from a Greene King ad:

Naturally then I fully support the Session Beer Project, and will find some session beer to drink today, whether that's Three Notch'd Bitter 42 (originally Session 42 but some people seem to think they can own the term 'session'), O'Hara's Red Ale at the Tin Whistle, one of the other handful of places round here that are guaranteed to have session beer available.

Session Beer Day is also the ideal pre-cursor to American Mild Month, which encourages breweries, drinkers, and homebrewers to celebrate a particular kind of session beer, mild ales, whether dark, pale, or 'American', for the entire month of May.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

More Than Strength

Yesterday Lew Bryson announced that April 7th would be 'Session Beer Day' (quite why all these days have to be on Thursdays is beyond me, but that's by the by), and that is something that Fuggled gets 100% behind. However, it also got me thinking about the current swell in session beers that we are seeing in the US and I am not happy with what I am seeing. Ask your average Joe on the street what a 'session' beer is and you'll likely get the response that it is a low alcohol beer that you can drink a lot of, and while that is an undeniably true statement, it is not the whole truth about session beer.

Before going further, let's remind ourselves of Lew's definition of session beer here in the US, sure other cultures may have different definitions, and that's fine, but I find most other countries concepts are broadly similar. Here is the definition as spelled out on Session Beer Project:
  • 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
  • flavorful enough to be interesting
  • balanced enough for multiple pints
  • conducive to conversation
  • reasonably priced

Clearly by that definition many a 'session IPA' is not a session beer. Founder's All Day IPA, 4.7%, not a session beer. Lagunitas Day Time, 4.7%, not a session beer. Lickinghole Creek Til Sunset, 4.7%, not a session beer. That's not to say these are bad beers, and in the case of Til Sunset far from it, or that they are beers I don't enjoy polishing off a six pack off, and again see Til Sunset, but they are not session beers. They are what I refer to as 'pintable', meaning I can have 2 or 3 pints quite happily, but not sessionable in my mind, and not just because they exceed the ceiling of 4.5% abv - something Lew actually mentions in his Session Beer Day announcement.

Where many such beers fall down as regards the definition of session beer is in pretty much every other facet of the description. Many a session IPA, and I am sorry if I am picking on a particular style right now, is one dimensional in the extreme, once you get past the sensory blast of hops. Oooo hop flavour and aroma, how freaking original.

This why beers like a a good dry Irish stout, a classic best bitter, or a well made Czech pilsner all succeed far better as session beers, they have layers of flavour that hide and reveal themselves as you drink them. I find with the kind of dry stout that I love, think Starr Hill's magnificent 4.2% Dark Starr, you start off with a roasty bite, but as it warms chocolate notes shine though, and the clean bite of the hops snaps to attention. What do you often have behind the hops of a session IPA? A base of pale malt that is like eating saltines, and that quickly becomes boring, after about 2 to 3 pints I find, and sessions don't start until pint 4 is finished in my world.

Balance is also important, and while I don't particular hold to the view espoused in the latest Sam Adams ads on TV of beer being a battle between hops and malts, I agree with the overall idea, balanced beers are generally good beers. Beers where everything is noticeable, but in harmony with each other, not dominating, not being lopsided. It's almost like a hermenutical circle, understanding the parts helps us to understand the whole, which helps us further understand the parts, and so on.

There isn't much need to speak too much about session beers being conducive to conversation, if you're the kind of person that likes going to the pub of an evening, downing 8-10 pints of best, and then tottering home, or getting a taxi if you live too far from the pub door, then chances are you have been engaged in conversation with your mates for the duration. Unless you're the kind of bod sitting at one end of the bar reading the Daily Mail/Guardian, depending on your political persuasion, scowling at the world.

Which brings us to the last point in the definition, and one which I think is scandalously disregarded, session beers should be reasonably priced. The question here is 'what is reasonable'? Let me put it this way, I walk into your bar/tap room and the best selling beer on the taps is a 7% IPA for $5 for a 16oz pint, why would I pay $5 for a 3.5% dark mild? The cost of creating the dark mild is considerably less than the cost of making the IPA and yet the savings of making session beer do not get passed along to the consumer. Somewhere someone is gouging consumers that want to drink session beers, and in my opinion this really needs to stop. Thinking a bit wider for a moment, pricing of beer is something of an annoyance of mine lately, especially when non-US macro beer gets lumped with local craft beer in the pricing structure of many bars, but I'll likely moan about that some other time.

So there we have it, for this year's Session Beer Day, let's see brewers and bars actually stick to Lew's definition of session beer and not just flood the taps with lazy session IPAs.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Let The Session Commence!

A couple of weeks ago I spent a Friday morning at Three Notch'd doing the ceremonial dumping of hops, the slightly more labour intensive digging out of a mash tun, and the ever pleasant ritual of watching the runnings of a beautiful copper wort flowing from the mash tun to the kettle. Or to put it more simply, brewing Session 42.

This Thursday brings the best part of brewing a beer to town, drinking the stuff!

Yep, on Thursday at the Three Notch'd Brewing tasting room, the third iteration of Session 42 Best Bitter will be tapped, from about 5.30pm if memory serves.

I am sure I have said this before, but it's always worth repeating, Session 42 is as close to a British style best bitter as is possible to get over in the States, at least, in the Virginia part of these United States. If you have ever had Timothy Taylor Landlord or Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted then you know what to expect in terms of colour, none of your 'boring brown bitter' here (the less said about people who think bitter is brown and boring the better really). That colour comes from a combination of 2 row pale malt and Victory malt, which lends the beer a distinctively biscuity flavour.

In keeping with the theme of the beer using all US ingredients, the hops are US Goldings, which are very similar to East Kent Goldings, in that they are spicy, orangey, delicious, all 42 IBUs of them. A good whack of bitterness, plenty of flavour and aroma.....mmmm......Goldings.

So guess where I'll be on Thursday after work, and with Friday off to boot, so I can have a fair few pints. Oh, and at some point, not this Thursday I believe, there will be cask Session 42....oh yes, cask best bitter!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Session Season Cometh

It's a four day week for me this week, but I will be working all five days of the week. Although I won't be spending Friday doing my usual business analyst tasks such as requirements gathering, writing user stories, or working with software developers to create something useful for our clients's users, I will be working. Working as in dumping sacks of grain into a mill, digging out the mash tun, and ceremoniously chucking hops into boiling wort, yes I am off to a brewery for a brewday and all the satisfaction that gives me.

The brewery in question is my favourite local brewery Three Notch'd, and the beer is the third rendition of Session 42, the best bitter I designed a couple of years back using Timothy Taylor Landlord as something of a model.

I know that I am utterly biased but Session 42 being available is one of the highlights of my drinking year, not just because it is great to see 'my' beer available in lots of places in the area, but also because best bitter is probably my favourite style of beer to drink. Whether I am sat on the patio just chilling with Mrs V, or with a group of colleagues kicking back after work, or even by myself at the bar of one of my favourite watering holes, I find that best bitters suit my mood more often than not.

For those in Virginia, and hopefully it will again make it down to Richmond,  maybe even up to Northern VA, Session 42 is a burnt orange delight that packs a punch belying its 4.2% abv and is essentially a love song to Goldings hops, with all their spicy, Seville orange goodness. Yes I am biased, but if you see it on tap in a few weeks time, give it try.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

#MildMonthUS is on!

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the possibility of having a US based equivalent of CAMRA's May is Mild Month. A couple of days later Tom Cizauskas from Yours for Good Fermentables got in touch to tell me that he and Lew Bryson thought the idea was a good one and that he would be on board, so I decided to test the waters and see if any of my local breweries would be interested in brewing mild ales for May, and overwhelmingly they were.

Thus American Mild Month was born, the domain registered, the Facebook page created, the Twitter account created, and the hashtag #MildMonthUS started.

The website and Facebook pages are very much works in progress, and I hope to be unveiling the project logo in the very near future.

So far the following breweries have committed to having mild ales available in May:
  • Three Notch'd Brewing, VA
  • Blue Mountain Brewery, VA
  • Champion Brewing, VA
  • South Street Brewery, VA
  • Mad Fox Brewing, VA
  • Williamsburg Alewerks, VA
  • Oliver Ales, MD
  • Brewers Union Local 180, OR
  • Jester King Brewing, TX
  • Freetail Brewing, TX
  • Pour Decisions/Brewstillery, MN
The following breweries are possibly taking part:
  • Fortnight Brewing, NC
  • Twin Leaf Brewing, NC
  • Devils Backbone Brewing, VA
As more breweries come on board I'll be adding them to the list over on the American Mild Month website, and I'll be adding details of the milds being brewed as I get them.

If you know of any breweries that would be interested in joining the project, let me know, and let them know about American Mild Month. Other than that, like the Facebook page, follow the Twitter account, and get set for drinking Mild ale in May!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Session Fizz

When I was home in the summer I drank almost exclusively cask conditioned ales, as well as a fair few bottled conditioned ales. If I recall correctly, I may have had fewer non-real ales than I have digits on my hands. I am utterly biased I admit, but cask conditioned ale is, for me, one of the heights of the brewer's, and cellarman's, craft.

When we landed back in Philadelphia after our holiday, we grabbed a couple of seats at a bar and ordered food and beer. My beer was Yard's Philadelphia Pale Ale, a beer that I actually quite enjoy, but after 3 weeks of Happy Chappy, Skye Black, and Kelburn Dark Moor, it was just too fizzy for me.

On Sunday afternoon some friends of mine came into the bar at Starr Hill, having just returned from a few weeks touring round the south of England. Taking in the delights of London, the New Forest, and the Cotswolds, and reveling in the pleasures of....cask conditioned ales in the pub. As we chatted, my friend commented on how much more beer she drank while in the UK than she would normally, and while part of that is likely to have been a result of the lower gravity of many of the beers, she also said that the lack of excessive fizz meant she didn't feel bloated after a few pints, which got me wondering about session beer.

I love session beers, as pretty much anyone that knows me will tell you. I can think of no better way to while away several hours than being sat in the pub, drinking low alcohol, flavoursome beers. For me though, a session starts after the fourth pint, which can be tricky when the beer is north of 6% and much fizzier than something properly cask conditioned, and no, putting still fermenting beer in a firkin with a slew of weird shit doesn't count, you could call it 'casky' in juxtaposition to the real thing.

My thought then is this, are cask conditioned ales more conducive a session, because they don't fill you up with excessive CO2 to burp and fart out along the way? Perhaps an extra, admittedly optional, criteria is required for the definition of session beer? Less fizzy than standard beers.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tis The Session

Today is the beginning of 'the Holidays', five and a bit weeks of parties, soirees, over-eating, and, best of all, plenty of free flowing booze.

Seasonal beers, as the nights shorten and the mercury plummets tend toward the boozy. Barleywine, Imperial Stout, and many a Belgian over 8% abv. While they are all wonderful styles to drink ensconced in the warmth and comfort of your home, I sometimes wonder if they are the best thing to drink at the company Chrimble bash, the homebrew club festivities, or just your annual meet up with friends to do a pub crawl (note to self: organise a crawl with Mark).

You likely know that I am a fan, and even perhaps an advocate, for session beers. Those wonderful pints, proper pints naturally, of complex, flavourful brew that weigh in under 4.5% abv (no 6% is not sessionable). Sadly many relegate session beers to the warmer months, disparaging them with terms like 'lawnmower beer', but I am convinced that with so many parties to go to, this is the time of year when session beers should come into their own.

With several hours of socialising to get through, why not a nice dry stout, a best bitter, or even a well made mild (other than the fact that the latter two are rarer than hen's teeth)?

Forgive the shameless plug, but I get the feeling that I will be drinking lots of Session 42 in the coming months. I tried it the other day from the fermenter, where it is conditioning beautifully, and to be honest, and in no way objective, it is lovely. As I said to Dave at Three Notch'd, if I were served that in a pub back home I would not be disappointed. As I sniffed, swished, and sampled, I started to realise that a best bitter is actually a great winter beer.

Think about what a best bitter is. A beer where hops are the very heart of it, though not the grapefruit, pine resin thing of Cascade and it's C-brothers, but the orange and spice of something like Goldings. I don't know about you, but growing up, Advent and Christmas were redolent with the aroma of spice studded oranges. In terms of malts, the highest quality pale malt lays down a base for amber and/or caramel malts to shine through, adding complexity so the hops don't have it all their own way. So take that spicy orange thing from the hops and smear it on top of the warm toast of great amber malt, and at between 4-4.5% abv you have a beer you can drink all night, or even indulge in a quick pint with lunch - and all food tastes better with a beer than an insipid ice tea or post-mix fizzy drink.

Session 42 ticks every box for me when it comes to best bitters. 4%, a beautiful orange colour, 38 IBUs of pure Goldings, and a drinkability that is, quite simply, moreish. As with any British style beer being served in an American pub, give it time to warm up...

For people reading this in the Charlottesville area, Session 42 is being released on December 6th at the Three Notch'd tasting room, with a sneak peek at Brixx when they have a Three Notch's Tap Takeover on the 3rd. If you run a pub in the area, it will be available in distribution from the 9th....just in time for Christmas drinking!

Thursday, October 10, 2013


It's something that has been pottering around my mind for a while now, and with Boak and Bailey's post this week about the indicators of a 'healthy beer culture', perhaps this is as good a time as any to spout forth.

First let me say that I think the brewing scene in this part of Virginia is fantastic, and vibrant. In the last year and a bit we have seen several new breweries open, already established breweries expand, and seemingly not a week goes by when there are whispers of a new brewing operation in the area. Taking a broader perspective, the sheer number of breweries, and types of beer, being brewed in the US means that it is difficult to not find something worth drinking, even for those of us whose beer of choice is a properly made Czech style pale lager.

There is however something that bothers me, and I speak here purely for myself and not for any particular caucus. I wish there was more of a drinking culture.

You see, I like a drink. I rarely go somewhere with a view to sampling as many beers as possible to then write up notes on websites that advocate the rating of beers. I find myself in full agreement with Mr Swiveller in Dickens' 'The Old Curiosity Shop' when he cries that beer 'can't be tasted in a sip!'. This may also explain why my idea of a beer festival worth going to is the kind of festival where the drinking of half pints and pints is the norm. Not for me standing in a queue for a couple of ounces.

You can have the palette of Oz Clarke, BJCP certifications aplenty, and the vocabulary of Chaucer, you simply cannot get a full handle on a beer from a few ounces. The best you can get is whether you want a full pint in order to explore further. Rating a beer on the basis of a couple of ounces is the equivalent of landing in the Caribbean and declaring to have discovered India and jumping straight back to Spain on one of your remaining ships.

I suppose this is really at the heart of my love of, and encouragement for, session beers. I love sitting in the pub, with friends, maybe playing pool, inflicting my choice of music on the jukebox (I love pubs with jukeboxes, a fact I realise that puts me in a minority in certain circles). You simply can't have a good session with some 8% double IPA, here I am defining a session as being at least 5 pints of beer, less than 3 is called lunch.

Perhaps I am an outlier, adverse to the hype of special releases, cynical of the craze for putting random shit in mash tun or kettle, and never more happy than when sat with a pint of some classic beer, in a pub, with friends. That really is the sign of a healthy drinking culture. Friends, with beer the social lubricant, but very much in a supporting role.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Price of a Session

Come with me to the pub and let us darken the door of a hostelry. Let's take a table in the corner, normally I would sit at the bar but this is a decent sized group of people, and let's get the first round in. The menu includes such favourites as Bell's Two Hearted Ale (surely Doctor Who's beer of choice), Port City Porter, and given that autumn is a mere month away Sierra Nevada Tumbler, and Highland Brewing's Clawhammer Octoberfest lager are already on tap. In amongst the litany of smackdowns, big hitters, and other weapons of war, there is a single session beer, Troeg's Sunshine Pils for example. After a few hours of talking, laughing, and carrying on, each person's bill arrives, and while I am no more shedded than my friends, my bill is probably about 50% higher for the simple reason that I am a session beer drinker.

As a session beer drinker I value drinkability over IBUs, flavour over ABV, and the revelry of the pub over pretty much any other drinking sitz im leben. As such, I find that I drink more than many of my friends, session beers are great that way, 5 mouthfuls and you're done, ready for the next pint, safe in the knowledge that your friend opposite you trying to match you pint for pint will inevitably have his head on the desk all the next day, assuming we are drinking on a school night. I have got used to the fact that my sub 4.5% session beer is going to cost pretty much the same as my friends' IPAs and Foreign Extra Stouts, though that doesn't mean that I necessarily like it.

I speak to lots of people about beer, perhaps inevitably as I have this blog and I am known, outside my fellow beer loving friends, as 'the guy that knows about beer', and I hear the same refrain from many of them, they wish there were more lower gravity beers out there. I know several drinkers of BudMillerCoors Lighte who do so purely because it only has an abv of 4.2%. I tend to think though that pricing is also an issue, why would a consumer pay the same for a beer which has two-thirds of the alcohol? That makes me wonder if pubs, beer bars, and other assorted booze emporia aren't actually missing a trick by not having more session beer available, and  having it at a slightly lower price?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Going for Gold

There is perhaps no higher expression of beer as the working man's refreshment than session beer. Sure you can have your gorilla snot infused, bourbon barrel aged, imperial pale Belgo-India stout porter, but giving me several pints of something with an ABV well south of 4.5%, and hopping to match, makes me a happy camper.

One such tradition of the working man's refreshment can be found in the mountains of Bohemia. In a town called Harrachov, tucked away on the Czech-Polish border, is a brewery and glass works called Novosad and Sons. The brewery makes a beer called Hu?ské světlé vy?epní, which is an 8° Plato lager made as hydration for the glass blowers.

Sadly I never made it up to the brewery in Harrachov, though I visited the town before I discovered the beery joys of Bohemia beyond the generic Gambrinus and Staropramen. You can imagine then my intrigue and delight when Jason Oliver down at Devils Backbone told me they were coming out with an 8° Plato beer, made with just floor malted Bohemian pilsner malt and hopped exclusively with Saaz. The beer though would be warm fermented using a K?lsch yeast strain, and earned the nickname 'Pilsch', though the actual name is Old Virginia Gold.

When I popped into Beer Run on Tuesday night to have dinner with Mrs V and some friends, I saw it on the menu and knew I needed a pint, a proper pint that is. Old Virginia Gold is what you can see in the picture, beautiful golden, cracker dry and crisp, delicate Saaz grassiness, hints of lemon and a body that belies it's 'meagre' 3.1% abv.

Old Virginia Gold could quite easily be the best session beer I will drink this year, and one that I wish would be regular part of the Devils Backbone lineup, though I'd be happy enough with it being available every summer.

Who needs gimmicks, flavours, and funky shit when beer can be this good?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Caledonia Werks!

As I mentioned in last Friday's post, McGrady's Irish Pub in Charlottesville was planning to have a beer called Caledonia on tap for Session Beer Day. It was a beer that I had never had before, but from its description on the Williamsburg Alewerks website, I was eager to try it:
Caledonia is a session-able IPA featuring Styrian Goldings, Willamette, and Fuggle hops balanced with pale malt and crystal malts. ABV:4.5%
Once my Sunday shift at the Starr Hill tasting room was done and dusted, I headed over to to give it a bash. Expecting a friend to join me, I grabbed a booth rather than squeezing myself into the one spare seat at the bar, and promptly ordered. I think the server may have been a touch confused by my not wanting Samuel Adams Alpine Spring, which has been my go-to beer since February. Anyway, a few minutes later the beer was sat in front of me.

I have to admit I was expecting a slightly paler beer, what I got was an ever so slightly cloudy rich amber, like orange marmelade, though minus the thick cut peel that is my preference in the marmelade world. There was not much of a head, though given a quick swirl a half head white cap appeared. The hops in the beer are three of my favourites, so I had half an idea of what the aroma would be, but wasn't really expecting the sheer intensity of the Seville orange assault on my nostrils, back behind the oranges though was a touch of toastiness and a trace of light syrup...I was looking forward to the best bit about beer, drinking the damned stuff.

Such a delicious beer can only be described with one word, balance. Yes the hops are there, bitter, fruity, fragrant and tangy, but that is not all there is to the beer. The malt weighs in with juicy sweet sugars, more of the toasty theme and a soft toffee element which just dances with the hops and spins your head as it pirouettes round and round.

Is this stuff really only 4.5%??? Caledonia is an absolute dream of a beer, let alone a session beer, and one that my friend was equally impressed by, as was the owner of McGrady's - in fact I think it is the beer we have drunk more of this week than any other, and hopefully it will become a regular on tap.

I seem to have garnered a reputation with my friends for not being a fan of pale ales, I can't imagine where they get that idea from, but when done right, and Caledonia is done emphatically right, it is a real pleasure to down a few pints of pale.

Picture credit: taken from the Williamsburg Alewerks website.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Daily Liquid Bread

This Sunday is a special day. Well, at least it is for us drinkers of the world, for this Sunday is Session Beer Day. For those not aware of this most worthy day, it is a day to celebrate those beers which are, in my opinion, the best in the beer world, and often the most difficult to make. I am, of course, referring to session beers. Of the various drinking establishments in Charlottesville, I know for sure that will have a selection of session beers available this weekend.

Making a return appearance is 21st Amendment's Bitter American, which is 4.4% and boasts 42 IBUs of Warrior and Cascade. I have to admit that I was not a big fan of this beer when I first had it in cans, but on tap it was a rather moreish pint and definitely worth having several rounds of, which is kind of the point of session beers.

Closer the home, McGrady's will have Caledonia from Williamsburg Alewerks. The guys at Alewerks describe this as a 'Scottish Style IPA' and it weighs in at a thoroughly sessionable 4.5%. As a British style IPA, Caledonia uses Styrian Goldings, Willamette and Fuggles for its hopping, which makes be keen to try it as they are three of my favourite hop varieties.

Sneaking a little over the upper limit of session beer as espoused by the Session Beer Project, will be Founder's All Day IPA. As with the Bitter American, this beer has 42 IBUs of American hops and while it is just a touch on the strong side for a session beer, everything I have had from Founders before has been good, so I would expect nothing less here.

Again coming closer to home, and again a touch on the strong side, it is possible that McGrady's will have the Great Outdoors Pale Ale from Three Brothers Brewing, up in Harrisonburg. Great Outdoors is described as being a 'Virginia Pale Ale that is clean, crisp and refreshing'.

There are few better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than sat in the pub with mates enjoying a few well earned rounds before heading back to the daily grind, session beers like those available at McGrady's this weekend make that idyll almost complete..

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Day for Drinkers

I have a confession to make. I broke my 'no going to the pub on St Patrick's Day' rule last night. having had a fairly quiet shift at the Starr Hill tasting room, a colleague and I popped into McGrady's a quick pint - seriously, the shift was insanely quiet, apparently the lure of half price pints of America's most award winning dry stout was not strong enough. I have two main reasons for not darkening the door of a pub on March 17th each year, one of which I covered in this post, and the other being the pub is packed with people who rarely if ever go. St Patrick's Day, or International Amateur Drinkers Day as some refer to it, is like Midnight Mass for many people, the one time of the year when they actually attend.

Thankfully the beer drinking day for regular pub goers is just around the corner, because April 7th is Session Beer Day. I am sure most of you already know the definition of 'session' beer, as proposed by Lew Bryson and thoroughly approved of by me (I am sure Lew sleeps all the more soundly for knowing that), just in case though a session beer is:
  • 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
  • flavorful enough to be interesting
  • balanced enough for multiple pints
  • conducive to conversation
  • reasonably priced
Session beers are an essential part, in my unhumble opinion, of a good pub, given that pubs are places where people go to meet friends, talk, play pool, all over a few pints of something tasty. I guess this is one of the reasons I fail to understand the mindset of people who want 'more bang for their buck' and drink several pints of imperial IPA because it gets them drunk quicker. While beer is an intoxicant, I am not convinced that beer 'culture', and especially pub culture, is about getting trashed, it's about being social, and beer lubricates the sociability of the scene.

Anyway, last year both Beer Run and McGrady's here in Charlottesville had a decent selection of session beer, including Williams Brothers simply wonderful Scottish Session Ale, which I think I drank McGrady's out of last year. Hopefully this year will see more session beers on tap as well as more pubs having something available. Although this ad is for whisky, I love one line in particular.....'all hail to drinking man!' (or woman, obviously, yes thank you Stan)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Looking Ahead

Well, we made it. 2013 is here and as modern day Mayans have been telling us for most of 2012 their calendar did not predict a cataclysm. Given that it is January now, I am in the early stages of my annual booze fast. I realise that some people think giving up the booze for a month is pointless from a health perspective, but I like to go the entire month without mainly to prove to myself that I can live without it for extended periods of time, also I find my tastebuds to be pretty jaded by the end of the holiday season and they appreciate the break as much as my liver.

What about the rest of the year though, what do I hope 2013 will see happen in the beer drinking and brewing world? This isn't really a list of New Year's resolutions, rather an overview of things I would like to see happen in the next 12 months.

Top of my list is hoping that some will get their heads out of their arses and smell the free air again rather than wallowing in the stink of their own shit. There are times when I get the feeling there are people in the beer world carving out their own little fiefdoms and then they stomp their feet in a mass hissy fit when someone comes along to do something similar. The whole Brewers Association 'Craft vs Crafty' thing was a case in point, not only did they bang on about what or what isn't 'genuine craft' (cynical side note - at this rate 'craft beer' will become the US equivalent of 'real ale' in the annals of annoying terminology). They also managed to insult a large section of the beer drinking community by claiming that many people don't realise that something like Blue Moon is a MillerCoors product - more likely is that most people don't give a shit, they either like it or they don't. I fail to see the point of picking ridiculous fights, especially when the BA are then happy to take BMC money for associate membership and presence at the GABF. At the end of the day it is the beer that counts, not the corporate structure of the company making the beer, so how about everyone just chill out, remember it is only beer and get on with enjoying beer in all its forms?

Another thing I would like to see is more session beer. As a man who likes a drink, well, ok then, likes plenty of drinks, preferably sat in the pub with mates, maybe playing some pool and generally having a good time, I like session beer. Having more breweries exploring the range of styles out there that can be brewed to have less than 4.5% abv would be a great thing - while there are some good session beers being made by the breweries in my part of the world, not one of them makes a bitter with any regularity, or a mild or even a brown ale. Indeed, I can can think of just 3 regularly brewed session beers available from my local breweries, Starr Pils and Dark Starr Stout from Starr Hill and Devils Backbone's Gold Leaf Lager.

Finally, and probably my most ardent wish for 2013 is for the word 'lager' to stop being used as a lazy synonym for crap beer. Forgive my cynicism but anyone can make an IPA, whether golden, white, black or any other colour, dump a shitload of hops into it and call it 'craft beer', but making one of the lager styles properly takes time, patience and a willingness to tie up your capital for far longer than for a warm fermented style. I have no problem with people not liking a given beer style, but sneering at an entire family of beers simply because they are lagers shows nothing more than the drinker's ignorance. From the desítkas of the Czech Republic to Polish Baltic Porters, the world of lager is vast, diverse and packed with flavour, just get out there and try stuff, you never known, you might just find that you love lager as much as I do.

What do you want to see in 2013?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Missing Something?

Pubs, you know I love them. Pretty much any time of any day of the week is the perfect time to address oneself to the bar and have a pint. While my affection for, and patronage of, pubs is pretty well known to you, my dear readers, something has been bothering me of late. I have come to realise that something is missing from many a watering hole that I go to.

The majority of hostelries of which I avail myself, whether here in central Virginia or further afield (aka Columbia, SC) have at least 15 taps and often the selection ranges from pretty reasonable to good, but still there is often something awry, amiss or even just simply overlooked. A 'session tap'.

I realise that session beer is still something of a specialist niche interest in the beer drinking milieu in which I find myself, but I think it is one which pub owners are missing a trick with. Just a single tap dedicated to the fine art of making beer that is sub 4.5% abv and sufficiently moreish to warrant a few post work drinkies with friends would make going to the pub an even more pleasurable experience.

I guess I shouldn't really be all that surprised at the absence of a specifically session beer tap in many a pub, given the average strength of an non-BMC beer over here seems to be in the 6.5-6.9% range - based on my thoroughly unscientific calculations, where I looked at a brewery website and worked out their average ABV.

This makes me wonder what many American breweries are afraid of when it comes to dabbling in the fine arts of session brewing? Do they worry that there is no market for such beers (something I believe to be utter nonsense)? Do they worry that the advocates of beer rating websites will pan the beer because they really have no idea what a Best Bitter, Mild or Vy?epní pivo is supposed to taste like? Have they bought into the crazy notion that the more hops and weirdness you put into your beer the more 'craft' you are? Who knows? The one thing I do know is I wish there were more independent session beers on the taps of America.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Reason to Celebrate

July 1st 2012 is a date that may prove to be decisive in the history of brewing in Virginia. That was the date when a law came into effect which allowed breweries to sell pints of their products in their tasting rooms. The main reason it may prove to be decisive is that I am fairly sure we will now see a flourishing in the numbers of small breweries opening up and taking advantage of the law to build a following without having the hassle of distribution to deal with straight off the bat.

One such brewery is opening its doors to the public on Saturday, the first of several that I am aware of in the Charlottesville area. Beer Hound Brewery is the brainchild of one of the members of the homebrew club I go to, and owner of a local homebrew shop - Fermentation Trap. Beer Hound is located in Barboursville, about 15 miles north(ish) of Charlottesville, just off the main highway that runs through the area, Route 29, which runs from Baltimore in Maryland to Pensacola, Florida.

The brewery is based in the same location as the homebrew shop, and they have a nice bar where you can try the 8 beers they will have available, which on Saturday will be:
  • Archie- American Brown Ale
  • Scottie- Scottish 60/-
  • Teufelhunde- Belgian Abbey Blonde
  • Fang- Oatmeal Stout
  • Kujo- Rabid Pale Ale
  • Olde Yella- American Pale Wheat
  • Scrappy Doo- Marzen Oktoberfest
  • Winston- Root Beer
As you can see from the names there is something of a canine going on here, that's because Kenny, the brewer, and his wife love dogs and it is pretty normal to see their dog at the shop. One thing that is interesting to note in that list is a 60/- Scottish ale, a new brewery doing a session beer? I like the sound of that and will hopefully be able to get over there on Saturday to try the beers. Given that Beer Hound is on the opposite side of town from most of the breweries, it is effectively Mrs V and I's local brewery now.

Hopefully in the near future I can impose on Kenny to do the Brewer of the Week interview, in the meantime I am looking forward to trying the beers and welcoming another brewery to the area! You can follow Beer Hound on Twitter at @BeerHoundBrewer or on their Facebook page which I linked to above.

Picture credit: not mine, taken from Beer Hound's Facebook page.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Responsible Brewing?

It's a slogan that we see a lot of these days, "Drink Responsibly", you can see my take on the slogan at the top of this page, for example. Pretty much every beer advert on the TV flashes it up after they have attempted to convince us that drinking their beer will put us at the heart of rather suave social situation or will give us the courage to chat up the boss's daughter. In all this fraternisation and sexual tension, one is encouraged to "drink responsibly".

Drinking responsibly, whatever that means, is certainly a commendable aim. I would most assuredly not encourage people to down a session's worth of some high octane brew and then drive, neither do I think drinking gallons of alcohol every night of the week is good for you. So yes, being a responsible drinker is something I think is a "good thing".

The question I have then is how come all the responsibility gets punted on to the drinker rather than the producer of the beer? Surely if a brewery is serious about encouraging its drinkers to be responsible, which I am fairly sure they aren't they are just complying with regulations, then they should be brewing more session beers?

It is a fact of life that people enjoy drinking and socialising, and by socialising I mean being with real physical people in actual buildings rather than being a social media approximation of real life. From a purely anecdotal perspective, people seem to drink at pretty much the same rate regardless of the strength of the beer being imbibed, though when you get north of about 8% the drinking speed does drop off, and understandably so.

Let me give you a concrete example, imagine you are at a party and in 5 hours you drink the equivalent of 6 US pints (4.8 imperial pints, 5.5 500ml glasses, or 8 12oz bottles) of Pilsner Urquell, which is 4.4% ABV, so just under the limit for session beer. If you are 250lbs then your Blood Alcohol Content would be 0.05, or to put it another way, you aren't getting a DUI on the way home. Let's up that though to the fairly average ABV for American breweries of 6.5%, based on my reviewing brewers' ranges and working out averages, and your BAC would be 0.11% and should you get caught you are in a shit load of trouble, and not just from your mother.

While I accept that it is the drinker's responsibility not to guzzle nearly a gallon of "average" beer and then drive home, sometimes it is pretty bloody difficult to get anything other than an "average" strength beer in the pub. It wouldn't hurt if the brewers and pubs gave responsibility a helping hand by having a diverse selection of sub 4.5% abv beers.

There are plenty of beer "styles" with upper limits on their ABV which fit nicely in the definition of session beer, and sadly they are the styles that seem to be the most neglected in the "I use more hops and have more alcohol than you" dick waving contest which is craft beer. So come on brewers, stop just nodding in the direction of session beer and let's see how good you really are at brewing by developing a whole range of beers.

PS - those that think 6% can be a session beer clearly don't know what they are talking about, and I would like to invite them to responsibly take a long walk off a short pier.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...