Monday, November 14, 2011

Necessary Session Brewing

When I started brewing my own beer, in admittedly miniscule amounts, back in 2009 it was to fill a gap in my beer drinking life. As you probably know, my first beer love was stout, and given the paucity of warm fermented beers being brewed in the Czech Republic at the time, I decided to take things into my own hands. That first batch of beer was a dark mild kit that I added some rauchmalt to and used a different yeast to the one in that came with it. I would like to think that I am a better brewer today than I was then, but that core reason for making beer is still part of my reason for doing so, I want to make the beers that are not readily available in the shops.

I try to be proactive and brew my own bitters, milds, alts and anything else that can be tricky to find commercially. However, I do spend quite a bit of time wondering why more craft brewers aren't making these styles? I tend to think there are two possible answers to that question. Firstly that there genuinely is no market for sessionable beers and secondly that the only way to be recognised in the bigger picture is to do something more extreme than the last brewer, a beery keeping up with the Joneses if you will.

I have posted before that I am not convinced that there is no market for sessionable beers in the US, after all, the vast majority of beer drunk in this country is below the 4.5% abv threshold for session beer. Admittedly there is a very vocal minority of beer drinkers who deride anything that doesn't rape your tongue and leave you on your arse after half a pint, but they, like most blinkered fundamentalists, are unrepresentative of the wider beer drinking community. Of course, it is much easier to drink a six pack of some 10% abv monster beer sat at your kitchen table because negotiating your way to bed doesn't involve being in control of motorised transport. Being a pub-goer then becomes difficult because you have to keep in mind that too much of a big hitter can get you into trouble, but then the pubs don't help by having banks of taps with nothing under 6.5% - a quick aside, I did a little study on the average strength of brewers' wares over here and 6.7% abv seems to be a fairly consistent average.

Another point that seems to mitigate against session beer is price, and people's attitude to getting the biggest bang for their buck. For many, given the choice of paying $6 for a pint of a 7% IPA over a 4% stout, they will go for the IPA because it will get them to where they want to be, quicker. On the basis of paying a consistent price for each percentage of alcohol by volume, the 4% stout would be about $3.50 per pint. Personally I believe that beer prices in the States are artificially high as a result of the three tier system in place, whereby a brewery sells to a distributor, who in turn sells to the retailer. Each company has to make a profit, and so the mark up gets shifted down to the consumer. Interestingly though, it is not unusual to see higher pricing for higher gravity or special beers, and yet no lower pricing for session beers. I suppose then, there is an element of truth to the claim that "there is no market" for more sessionable beers, simply because that market has been stifled by ridiculous pricing conventions, not to mention that the brewing industry does not enjoy the benefits of being a free market.

That then is one of the contributing factors to my ongoing desire to make low alcohol beers that taste good, because the options in the commercial beer world are, at the moment, quite limited. Admittedly it is getting better, thanks to the work of Lew Bryson, and those brewers prepared to stick their necks out and make something which is unextreme, perhaps unsexy but most definitely very drinkable, which is after all the main point of beer, the drinking.


  1. This post, and the recent one on stout day (including the porter vs. stout link) have really spoken to me. I'm hoping to try my hand at a homebrew batch of porter/stout or amber ale in the near future. Thank you for the inspiration from this blog - I would also be appreciative of any recipes, instructions, hints, tips, sources, recommended equipment or anything else you're willing to share. Thank you!

  2. Cheers,
    It's not so much that session beers would be cheaper, but that the bigger beers being more expensive makes sense. They're harder to make, take up more equipment, blah blah blah (but in a serious way). On the other hand, a 4% beer costs pretty much the same to make as, say, a 6% beer. It's less than a nickel a pint difference, so what are you going to do? It's certainly not a whole dollar less. And...are we paying for alcohol? Or flavor? Or freshness? Or rarity? Or variety? Beer prices are not about ABV in America; our taxes are on volume, not ABV. Complicated issue, price.


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