Friday, June 24, 2011

Can't Have a Session with no Session Beer

Sometimes when I am writing my blog, the chorus to this song, covered by Simply Red, comes to mind. I guess most of my regular readers, let's call you punters as this is beer and pub blog, have a pretty good idea of my thinking about beer.

As I mentioned in Monday's post, I spent a very enjoyable night in the pubs of Greenville. Excellent company, fine beer, wide ranging conversation, a really excellent way to spend time in my opinion. An almost constant thread throughout the evening's conversation was the importance of session beer to a good pub culture, and the challenges that poses.

While I agree that in an ideal beer and pub culture, session beers would be those below 4% abv, I can see that the American context would limit the drinker to next to nothing, and so Lew Bryson's 4.5% is a good compromise. On the occasions when I go out for a major night on the sauce, over here I try to limit myself to beers that are under 5%, purely out of necessity rather than trying to change the definition of session beer.

Until recently South Carolina had a cap on what could be brewed and labelled as "beer". That limit was 5% alcohol by weight, which equates to 6.25% by volume, and is now 14% abw, or 17.5% abv. Now, while I agree in principle that a brewery should have the right to brew whatever beers they want to, I wonder if this is creating a short sightedness that has pushed session beers to the margins of South Carolinian beer culture?

Just a cursory look at the regular line up of three of the more well known breweries in South Carolina shows me that most have no beer in their lineup below 4.5% abv, from about 40 beers looked at, just 3 were at 4.5%. One of the breweries has 2 beers in the 4.6% - 5% range. A quick averaging of abv across the breweries lines came up with two breweries averaging 6.3% and the third 6.9%.

I have heard several times from respected brewers that there "isn't a market" for low alcohol beers, and yet I constantly hear in the pubs and bars of America a sizable segment of beer drinkers wishing there was more choice of low alcohol beers. So where has this disconnect come from? In my more cynical moments, I wonder if brewers are losing touch with drinkers in the pubs and bars up and down the country, in favour of great ratings on websites that advocate beer?

I have said it many times on here that it is excellence with classic styles that convinces me of the quality of a brewer, and not the barrel aged gorilla snot infused imperial India Pale Stout. Perhaps this is being harsh, but if a brewer cannot make a sub 4.5% abv beer which is tasty and makes me want me to drink a lot of it, then is that brewer really all that good at brewing?

The market is out there, sure the majority of session beer drinkers might not be blogging about it, but they are talking about it in the pub. The question I guess though is, who is listening?

Well as it is Friday, here's some classic tunes to head into the weekend with.....


  1. I do believe it's changing. More brewers ARE interested in this. And hooray for that.
    Thanks for the shout!

  2. Count me as one in favor of more session beers. I'm sick of going to a pub and my only choice below 7% ABV is Guinness.


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