Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Features and More

Session beers lower the alcohol, keep the flavor

With rising interest in craft beer comes rising alcohol content — or so it often seems.

Not long ago, the average beer pulled at random from your local liquor store shelf was likely to have an alcohol content somewhere around 5 percent by volume, give or take a fraction of a percent. As IPAs and Belgian-style ales take over as the go-to beers for many drinkers, that figure is now closer to 6 percent or 7 percent, maybe higher. While big beers are almost synonymous with the modern craft beer movement, a mini backlash of sorts is forming — a move toward beers that are not only not big but decidedly small.

The term "session beer" gets tossed around a lot, and most generally agree that it refers to beers on the lighter, more refreshing end of the spectrum. Origins of the term are unclear, though Beer Advocate offers one anecdote involving 20th-century British artillery production workers and government-approved four-hour drinking sessions throughout the day. The workers needed a beer that they could enjoy during these sessions and still be able return to work afterward.

Recently, there have been a few attempts to clarify the session beer designation, with specific stylistic guidelines and rules dictating what can, and cannot, be a session beer.

The Brewers Association — the organ­ization behind the Great American Beer Festival — added a session beer category in 2010, with guidelines specifying that beers in the category must be between 4 percent and 5.1 percent alcohol by volume. I would be surprised to see these guidelines stand as more and more breweries embrace session beers, with a handful of new brews weighing in well under that 4 percent mark.

Beer and whiskey writer Lew Bryson has proposed an alternate definition, outlined as part of his Session Beer Project, launched in 2007. Bryson defines session beers as containing "4.5 percent alcohol by volume or less, flavorful enough to be interesting, and balanced enough for multiple pints." Followers of the project celebrate this definition every April 7 — known as Session Beer Day.

So why the sudden popularity of session beer? It could be that people are growing weary of increasingly extreme brews becoming the norm, or perhaps craft beer's popularity is moving the entire practice of drinking toward a more social model, rather than one based primarily on getting drunk. Another of the Session Beer Project's criteria is that a session beer must be "conducive to conversation." Personally, I think it's a combination of both, as well as pure, simple innovation on the part of the breweries producing these beers.

For example, a typical session beer of the past would invariably be a bitter, or maybe a mild lager. Today, session beers are brewed in a wide variety of styles, including flavorful, heavily hopped ales, stouts, sour beers and fruit-flavored lagers. These beers present a challenge that their more potent counterparts don't; while adding tons of malt and hops all but guarantees loads of flavor in big beers, session beers must rely on a careful balance rather than a brute force approach.

Session beers are becoming more extreme, though in the opposite direction.

Eviltwin Brewing, a Danish company contracting through breweries in the United States and abroad, has released a light pale ale called Bikini Beer (lower alcohol = fewer calories) that clocks in at a mere 2.7 percent ABV. Cigar City recently debuted its One Percenter, a Berliner Weisse containing only 1 percent ABV. At least one brewery — Massachusetts' Notch Brewing — brews nothing but session beers, with its Pilsners, Saisons, Belgian-style beers, Stouts and even cask ales, all containing no more than 4.5 percent alcohol by volume.

While Session Beer Day may be months away, there's no reason you can't enjoy something nice on the lighter side of beer. Whether your aim is to maximize summertime refreshment, or you simply want to enjoy a six-pack with friends without getting sloppy, session beers are becoming easier to find everywhere, and they're getting surprisingly good.

[email protected]

Comments
Here’s the skinny on the ketogenic diet: What it is, how to follow it properly

Here’s the skinny on the ketogenic diet: What it is, how to follow it properly

It started with jugs of olive oil and cans of tuna, lots of it, which my husband hauled in one day and plunked on the counter. "That’s my lunch!"That was about three months ago, and every day since there has been a new entity in our house to consider...
Published: 06/20/18
My husband has been on the ketogenic diet for three months. Here’s how he does it.

My husband has been on the ketogenic diet for three months. Here’s how he does it.

This week I wrote about something with which I have become very familiar: the ketogenic diet. If you’re like, "Huh?" you are where I was three months ago, before my husband, Phil, embarked on the weight-loss regimen. The keto diet is a high-fat, low-...
Published: 06/19/18
Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

TAMPA — The virtues of Dancing at Lughnasa, with which Jobsite Theater closes its season, are many. This drama by the celebrated Brian Friel opened in 1990 to much acclaim. It captures a family’s joys and sadnesses, and the quickness with which one s...
Published: 06/19/18
A perfect pick for dessert

A perfect pick for dessert

America’s Test KitchenIt might seem impossible to improve on a perfect peach, but we decided to try. We wanted a simple, warm dessert that amplified the peaches’ flavor. To achieve tender, flavorful peaches with a lightly sweet glaze, we began by tos...
Published: 06/19/18
Everything you need to know about marinating meat

Everything you need to know about marinating meat

For a lot of home cooks, marinating meat is almost as automatic as cooking the meat itself. Douse the meat in some kind of flavored liquid, pop it in the refrigerator overnight and cook it the next day.Seems straightforward enough, but there are reas...
Published: 06/19/18
Restaurant review: Chile Verde is serving up very solid tacos in an unlikely spot

Restaurant review: Chile Verde is serving up very solid tacos in an unlikely spot

ST. PETERSBURGThere are a lot of decommissioned gas stations across the country. Some have been reinvented, cleverly made over as upscale restaurants. There’s Big Star in Chicago, Elaia & Olio in St. Louis, Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton, Va., even Bi...
Published: 06/18/18
Taste test: Chocolate chip cookies

Taste test: Chocolate chip cookies

When we started seeing ads for Nestle Toll House cookies already baked and prepackaged, I knew it was time for our tasters to get involved. They are cookie lovers, and one even has his own cookiemaking business. We found the Nestle brand and had hope...
Published: 06/18/18
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/15/18
With over 40 years between the birth of my two daughters, I am two different fathers

With over 40 years between the birth of my two daughters, I am two different fathers

Still shaken by Bobby Kennedy’s assassination six days earlier, I sat in the hospital waiting room mindlessly thumbing through a May 1968 Rolling Stone while my wife, Fran, gave birth to our daughter Elle. As was customary, when everyone had been fre...
Published: 06/15/18
Puerto Vallarta is a dreamy Mexican getaway within reach

Puerto Vallarta is a dreamy Mexican getaway within reach

LOREN ELLIOTT • Times CorrespondentPUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICOThe third-floor balcony attached to our rented apartment served as a peaceful refuge above Puerto Vallarta’s bustling central district streets. Below us, taxis honked, people crowded bus ...
Published: 06/15/18