Monday, September 13, 2010

Hurray for Session Beer

I sometimes get the feeling that the term "session beer" is becoming a catch all phrase for those beers which are none of the following:

  • hopped so insanely that blindfolded you would be unable to tell grapefruit juice from beer
  • includes some strange ingredient or method which is this month's "innovation"
  • backed up by some trendy marketing gimmick
It is almost as though the very term "session beer" is the tippler's equivalent of "meh". Now, I am perfectly prepared to accept that my hermeneutics of other people's texts and utterings is wrong, a touch too much of Ricoeur's hermenteutics of suspicion?

The notion then that a low alcohol beer could possibly be interesting is alien to many a ticker and tippler mind it would seem, especially on this side of the, rather turbulent of late, Pond. Evidently such people have never been to Devils Backbone. Yes, I wrote a few posts about DB a few weeks back, but yesterday afternoon Mrs Velkyal and I drove that way for some afternoon refreshment and as it was a cheat day on our healthier living efforts, have a burger and chips.

Mrs V wasn't in a booze mood, perhaps still recovering from rowing 13 miles round an island on Saturday, and I took one look at the menu and knew I wanted Ale of Fergus. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me, so please use your imagination. What arrived at our table was a deep crimson beer, topped with a light tan head, which was at least an inch thick. What left the table about 7 minutes later was an empty glass, with plenty of lacing and a request to our waitress to haste ye back with more! Good? Bloody hell it was marvelous! I am sure I could wax lyrical about toffee and cocoa notes and the merest hint of spicy hops, but why, when it was the sheer pleasure the beer bought me which is the abiding memory?

I have mentioned at least once before that I love those times when a beer hits the spot so perfectly that it takes you back, like Anton Ego in Ratatouille, to childhood. That's how this beer was when I shoved my face into it to get a good sniff - straight back to the Sergeants' Mess bar and the smell of beer and tobacco. I think the second pint was polished off with just as much aplomb as the first. Then the third, then the fourth and one final one before driving the long way home, just to see it was any different from driving the equally long way home.

As I said to the barman yesterday, there is only thing which would have improved the beer for me yesterday - being served on cask. Given though that all Devils Backbone beers are naturally carbonated using the spunding method, I wonder how much difference it would actually make.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the abv on this treasure. 4%. Yes you are reading that correctly, 4%. Bursting with flavour, easy and smooth to drink and only 4%. Hurray for session beer, hurray for Devils Backbone!


  1. But... I like GrapeFruit BeerJuice.
    Seriously though, I agree. It's nice to enjoy more than a few of a glorious brew and walk away.

  2. When American craft brewers apply themselves to the conundrum of session beer, things will get really interesting. Until then, the UK has the sub-4% market all sewn up.

  3. Awesome. Thank you, so much. I've Devil's Backbone on my list since it opened -- brewer's reputation -- and I guess I'll just have to make the trip.

  4. I love going out there - it is the only brewery/brewpub in the area that my wife and I have taken all our visitors to. Jason also brewed a London style stout recently, which was a revelation and again I polished a fair few pints off.

  5. I've been trying to promote small beers as the new "extreme." It's actually pretty easy to brew 9% hop bombs, but a nice 4% session is quite a task. And the flavors that emerge with the elbow room in the smaller beers--a connoisseur's treat. Let's point the testosterone at small beers and see if we can start a movement...

  6. Jeff,

    Slightly tongue in cheek perhaps, but how about a "I am a Session Beer drinker" video? ;) In general though I agree, we consumers need to make more brewers aware that we want flavourful session beers. The true test of a great brewer as far as I am concerned is how well they do the session beer, not how many hops they can cram down my throat.


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