It seems lately like craft beer brewers are borrowing a page from their brethren in big beer: Less is more. While the craft beer revolution has fundamentally transformed brewing in the United States towards producing bigger and bolder flavored beers, lately more brewers are turning out lessrobust “session” beers, much to their consumers delight. A session beer is loosely defined as one with less than 5.0 percent ABV and a full flavor that allows a person to drink multiple beers without getting drunk.
The rise of this new movement in brewing circles has attracted its fair share of supporters and critics. The supporters praise the ability to enjoy full-flavored beer without the higher alcohol punch many crafts pack, and its critics decry the beers as craft wannabees that should not be taken seriously. One thing is for sure though: they are rapidly gaining popularity.
“Three years ago when we introduced our Craft Lager, we thought it would do well. Customers at the brewery had been looking for a quality session beer,” says Henry Wood of Upslope Brewing. “It has become our top seller and our Session IPA we only pour in the tap room is booming. What’s interesting is that they have not hurt the sales of our other beers with higher alcohol content.”
In fact the demand for session beers prompted the newly opened Finkel & Garf brewing in Gunbarrel to build their brewery around it.
“Beer has always been a social event,” says Dan Garfinkel, co-owner of Finkel & Garf. “People gather in pubs, backyards and such to have a few cold ones and visit. We wanted to create beers that would complement a conversation, not dominate it, and ones you could enjoy without fear of suddenly finding yourself drunk.”
The tasting room at Finkel & Garf reinforces their beliefs with community tables, numerous games and a large outdoor seating area.
“In the past, most beers were session beers and enjoyed in neighborhood pubs,” says Garfinkel. “You went out for an experience, not just the beer.”
While they do have a few higher alcohol beers on tap, the majority of their 12 offerings are between 4.4 and 5.2 percent.
“Just today, we had a guy come in wearing a Pliny the Elder shirt looking for a more approachable beer,” says Garfinkel. “There is room for big beers and session beers. Drinkers want both.”
Even brewers known for their extreme beers are turning out more sessionable beers these days. Dogfish Head (one of the pioneers of the big beer movement) offers several, namely their Namaste and Festina Peche. This spring, Stone Brewing (famous for hop-bombs) released a 4.5 percent session IPA, Go To IPA, in response to their customers repeated requests. And closer to home, Avery Brewing, kings of high potency brews, released Joe’s Pilsner, a tribute to the beers of the past.
Big brewing, long the land of lower ABV beers, is getting in on the session beer craze also as they attempt to stem the tide of drinkers leaving domestic beer for craft. Anheuser Busch has been expanding their Shock Top lineup and MillerCoors is selling more Blue Moon and Leinenkugel Summer Shandy than ever before.
If the consumers keep buying it, then the breweries will keep creating these beers. And is that such a bad thing? More people enjoying better beer sounds good to me.