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Session Beer Book

Guys,

For those of you that dont know, I’ll be writing the next Brewer’s Association book. It will be entirely on Session beers. Anyone that knows me, know I love suicidally drinkable session beers and not just because I’m a pisshead. Seriously, two of our first three beers at Pour Decisions will be session beers…maybe even 3 of the first 4! I think its imperative that we, as brewers, bring ‘proper’ session beers to the light.

If given my way, and my ability for loquacity, this will be a pretty heavy book. I have my outline of the book and everything I want to talk about. Ive been all over the world, drinking different types of session beers but I can be jaded when it comes to what I know and what people don’t know and would want to know. So the idea is to gather as much info as possible for the book that would help the most people. So to you guys, I have a few questions if you wouldn’t mind taking a few minutes to answer. Be as thorough as you’d like. Here goes…

The word ‘session’. What does it mean to you to have a session? Does it mean behavior? If you drink a crap ton of something, that’s still a session no? How does ‘sessionable’ vs ‘session’ differ? Does this change over national/cultural boundaries?

Session beer. What I think one of the biggest problems are peoples idea of what a ‘session beer’ is. How does digestability, drinkability, alcohol, etc come into play? Is it a relative comment on the difference between beers? What do you think makes a session beer a session beer?

Bastardization of ‘session’. Imperial, American, San Diego, etc. Are we just inventing ‘new styles’ for their own sake? Do we need to stick a ‘style’ label on every beer we make even if we have to invent one? How does the bastardization of ‘session’ beers change the way session beers are viewed? When one hears ‘session’ should they not think a single thing? Is this a double negative?

Alcohol and ‘worth’. A lot of the American public think that a beer that is lower in alcohol is lower in worth. Seeing that America is the single most consumer of ‘session beer’, yes, miller light is a session beer, why or how does their perception change when it comes to the craft beer equivalent (lets not get lost in the definition of craft beer and just take it as is)?

History of session beers. I don’t want to know what you can google. I want to know, right now, as you sit, what do you know about the sessionization of beers? Session beers at different periods of time. Moreover, why were there session beers at all? Many reasons to be sure. Tell me what you know, or have been taught.

Historical session beers. Going further on the history topic, what do you want to know about the history of the actual beers that’s were brewed. Would it be better to see a lot of single original examples of different types of session beers or would you rather follow a single beer/style over time to see how it changes? Or both?

Difficulty in brewing. I’ve brewed hundreds of session beers and won many medals with them. They are, IMO and many others, the hardest beers to make on earth. Once you get below 4%, the world changes. There is nothing to hide behind. What do you think it is that makes these beers so hard to do? Do you think that this difficultly plays a role in the low number of session beers you see brewed in America?

Quality of session beers. The vast majority of session beers I’ve had in the US are either just bad recipes or are lacking in flavor and depth. Do you think this comes from lack of knowledge or classic examples to taste? Do you think it comes from using inferior ingredients? Do you think it comes from a lack of understanding of processes in manipulating the finished product (eg short mash, etc)? How much of it do you think comes from the freshness of the product?

Americanization. So we all know that American brewer’s have a propensity to Americanize everything. What does that mean? How do you think it relates to session beers? Would it be taking an American style, something like an American brown ale, and just reduce the OG and, hence, the alcohol? Is it using American ingredients? How do you think this differs from European brewer’s use of American ingredients in their beers? Meaning how can they keep mostly traditional flavors and incorporate US ingredients?

Recipes. The first thing that you need to know is that people that buy home brew books don’t like to do a lot of work. Its not knock, it’s a fact. You can see by ratings on Amazon. The ‘clone’ books are always higher ranked, on a whole, that ‘how to’ books. Most people want full-on recipes to plug and play with, no matter how much they change them at home. I’d much prefer to include recipes by percent and allow people to tailor them to their systems. What is your preference?

Recipes – Extract. To you extract brewers, would a simple appendix suffice on how to ‘translate’ the ingredients used to an extract model? Substitution list, conversions, etc? This way there would be no confusion or questions about, ‘can I use X or Y in the place of’.

Ingredients. There are an awful lot to making session beers that involve ingredients. For instance, a lot of session beers include a single malt and hop which enforce the fact that these need to be of the highest quality. I don’t want to have a standard ‘ingredient’ chapter but maybe a ingredient reference in the appendix. Something like traditional ingredients, substitutions that work well, etc. Something easy to flip to for a quick question rather than having to dig through verbiage.

Techniques. This is almost more important than ingredients IMO. There are many things that can be done via technique that will make a great session beer. How to ensure complexity, body, finish, etc are all very important. Decoction, cask cellarmanship, gyle, etc. Would it make more sense to have a single chapter demonstrating these or an individual appendix that was referenced to for a certain style?

Non-beer session ‘beers’. What are your thoughts into non-beer sessiony stuff? Brewers really like fermenting fun stuff they can drink. Whether its meat or mushrooms, they like making stuff. I think a little chapter on Kombucha, Kvass, Ginger beer, etc.

What did I miss? What would you want to know more about? As I said, I’ve got a good game plan but would really like to tailor this to exact needs and wants.

Feel free to share this with all your friends and such, post to lists, etc. The questions above are just a guide meant to prod your mind into action. Feel free to chat with your friends, make this a conversation. Feel free to answer in freestyle, but please for the love of everything holy don’t answer inline and trim your posts lest we kill a million trees when someone prints this out.

You can also email me personally at kristen@pourdecisionsbrewery.com

Thanks for all the help. This is going to be fun.


Üdvözlettel,

Kristen England
BJCP Education Director
BJCP Grand Master II Judge

Wow, I’m pretty sure I don’t qualify to answer. But, here goes. To me, a session beer is something I can knock back easily and quickly, without getting hammered too fast. It is also really light in color (that’s just my paradigm). My buddies are Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite lovers. When they drink my weakest of beers, it knocks them on their ass. You should see what a high gravity does to them. I’ve been brewing now for 4 years (next month) and have brewed 126 batches, the last 7 being all grain. I’d say about half of them a session beers. I’d say I equate a session beer to a lawnmower beer, or at least I put them in the same group. Just my 2 cents.

Paul

I think “session” means any beer you can drink throughout the night and has enough alcohol to enliven the conversation without making anyone sloppy drunk. So it does depend on the drinker’s alcohol tolerance, but anything up to 6% ABV would qualify for most of the people I know.

What I would find most useful in a book on session beers is a section on brewing techniques for making them interesting and what works best for both competitions and for commercial success. (Where “commercial” means making the beers as customer/drinker friendly and attractive as possible, not necessarily for sale.) Second most important is a section of solid recipes that either mimic the classic examples or are just good, straight-forward session beers.

This sounds like quite a great project, Kris. A couple of quick things

I think of a session beer as the classic English ale in the 3-4% range, but I’d like to see more on 4-5% beers around the world.

The whole high ABV=quality thing. I’d love to see you expand on this. I came of age in Utah drinking crap beers first and then good flavorful beers brewed at 4% ABV, because of the state laws. There’s some very good beer being dismissed as no good, simply because of that. I’m curious where that perception comes from.

Recipes. I’d say put full recipes in at an assumed efficiency, but list percentages so people can adjust. As you say, homebrewers are lazy so most people just want to see pounds and ounces.

Brewing a session beer. I’d like to see an overview of techniques that have worked.

How long will we have to wait for this? I’m excited already.

Definitely not limited to light colored beers - Polygamy Porter and Lancashire Black Cat Ales are prime examples of session beers that are dark. I welcome such a book, as my efficiency tends to creep up when I try to brew the smaller beers - keeping them small and good are definitely a difficult balance to achieve.

FWIW - I think the focus on session beer is where a lot of guys are heading. It keeps the conversation going without the slurred speech.

:cheers:

One thing I noticed was:

An important note would be that the large commercial beer industry here never uses the term “session beer.” I am willing to bet if you walked into an average bar and asked any person drinking beer in there if they were drinking a session beer you would get a sea of blank looks. I personally liked craft beers and imports long before I was a home brewer yet it wasn’t until I got into brewing that I even heard the phrase “session beer.” And I wonder if the reason the large brewers brew session beers is because less malt means less cost.

Another thing that caught my eye was the implication that just because it is a lower ABV beer there isn’t much to it. But when you figure in things like FG, mash temps, and attenuation there is a lot of leeway.

I think a lot of the reason you don’t see more session beers here has more to do with our beer culture, indeed, our drinking culture as a whole. We seem to be wired to go bigger, faster, and stronger. Just look at what has happened with IPAs and the extreme amount of hops being used. And as far as alcohol content look at how the country likes to binge drink. Pete Brown’s Three Sheets to the Wind is a phenomenal look into beer culture.

Just some food for thought.

Kris,

my long reply to you got eaten, so I’ll just focus on the most important point that I made:

Yes, give people the information to easily adapt your recipes to their systems, but also provide more short bus recipes for those of us who don’t have well calibrated systems yet. A perfect recipe book for me would have something like:

Fancy: % Grain A, %Grain B, Mash Schedule (single and multistep), hops, ideal water profile
All-grain Noobs: Actual weight of grains for an assumed 75% efficient system, mash schedule, hops
Easy-Does it: Extracts by Weight

If you need someone to test out extract versions of your recipes… ahem.

A session beer can be any style and any color. Almost every beer I have made for the past 13 years has been a session beer, IMO. My definition of a session beer would be one that I might be able to drink from noon on a Saturday until into the night while never growing tired of it and remaining at a “pleasant elevation” the whole time & never getting to the point where I feel that I’ve had too much. There was an article in BYO about session beers with a few people saying “I’m getting tired of ‘Imperial’ everything, why can’t we have ‘Session’ everything?”… and that’s the way I brew. I make 5% APAs and Oktoberfests. 5% ESBs, Pilsners, Red Lagers, Amber Ales, etc. Almost everything I make is between 4.5% and 5.5%. I would also suggest that a session beer really can’t be overly hoppy or overly anything (sweet, fruity, spicy, etc.) because you would tire of it before the session was over. Session beer = drinkability. Sounds like a fun project and a book I would like to have. Cheers.

I agree with Brother Ken on this. “Drinkability” is a fantastic word. Also want the book.

I agree with those who don’t want to limit “session” beers to any one style. I tend to make session versions of most of my beers because my wife works nights, leaving me home with the kids. I like to be able to have 2 or 3 beers without worrying about being buzzed in an emergency. To me, the key is to make a lower-strength version of the style that still preserves its signature qualities. Depending on the style, those characteristics might be subdued but should still be recognizable. My rule of thumb on defining session-strength is 4% although the British traditionally use 3.5%, I think.

+1 to those who pointed out the social aspects of a session beer. As a history buff, I would love to read more about their evolution and origins.

Finally, I see session beers as easy drinking; not so bitter/malty as to numb the palette after 2 or 3 rounds.

Have you seen The Session Beer Project at http://sessionbeerproject.blogspot.com? It’s worth checking out.

“Session” to me means drinking at least three pints without feeling really buzzed. My own personal tolerance is a beer in the 1.030-1.040 OG range although that assumes a FG of 1.010 or a little higher. I like to have body/mouthfeel reasonably close to a normal 1.050 beer, and that can be tricky to accomplish.

I’m wary of the use of “session” commercially, it can mean a beer of 5% ABV which to me isn’t really a session strength. Although I don’t typically worry about it too much, as the price tends to limit my consumption to a few pints and as long as I’m not in a hurry I can quit early if I feel the alcohol.

Count me as one who considers the alcohol content to be a factor in the worth of a beer. A beer with an OG of 1.080 has twice the ingredients of a 1.040 beer, so if they’re the same price I’m going with the bigger beer assuming I enjoy both styles.

It seems to me that beer is tending toward higher ABV and its not something I really care for all that much, especially with the focus on DUIs and the way much of the midwest is so spread out. I know this is somewhat at odds with my previous statement about ABV and price. I’d prefer to drink twice as much session beer for the same amount of money, maybe with a small premium for the glassware and a more healthy tip for the waitress. I keep most of my own brewing in the 1.050 OG range, a little above what I consider session strength but low enough that two pints is a mild buzz and three won’t knock me out. I suppose your upscale brewpub needs to get $4-6 for a glass of beer to be profitable and the bigger beers will command the higher prices.

History is always appreciated.

I will definitely buy this book.

I very much know about the Session Beer project and praise the hell out of it. I think Lew is doing a great job bringing session beer to the public domain.

Most of you are hitting the point I think is most important for session beer. Drinkability. Even though a beer is low in gravity doesn’t make it quaffable. A lot of Lambics are low in abv but very much not easily drinkable. A lot of the new ‘American session’ beers are basically super hopped small beers. The massive amounts of hops make them very difficult to drink easily. Then again a milk stout that ends at 1.020 isn’t necessarily ‘fat’ either, heavy or cloying. Straight numbers don’t always tell the tale.

A point I really don’t want to focus on is the cost of the beer. The ‘value’ of a session point is a great discussion on our culture. I just don’t want to go into it saying, ‘You shouldn’t pay more than X for a pint of ordinary bitter!’ or the like. I’ve been bit in an interview saying that I thought people shouldn’t have to pay more than $3 for a pint of session beer. I was then told that its not my business to tell bars how much to charge. Moreover, one bar owner specifically pointed out that its a waste of a seat if someone comes in drinking session beers. You take up a place at his bar for 3 hours and have 5 $3 pints, or the like, and he can charge $8 for a DIPA which the person has 3 in an hour and leaves. We are just taking up space. Indeed every bar owner is not like this and I’m not trying to say all beers should be session. I love a regular strength or even a heavy weight beer just as much as the next guy. I’m saying, we need more high quality low gravity options.

I think the comment about the breadth of the country and our having to drive all over is a brilliant one. I can tell you that in Saint Paul, there has been a massive increase in DUI traps/lookouts over the last 5 years.

Keep up the great comments guys and include anything else you might like. How about some of your favorite sessiony beers?

First of all, I’ll be honest. I’m not interested in the whole “session” beer terminology. It’s like when we refer to “organic” food. Years ago, organic was the only way you made food.

I don’t ever remember there being “Session” beers when I grew up in Germany. I remember the local choices of “pils” or “export”. Sometimes you could get a weizen served in a bottle, and other times, you could get a doppelbock. At least those were the choices I was aware of when I was 15.

I’m all for new beers, and I do have to admit that I’ve made my share of 4.5-4.7% beers, but I don’t feel the need to refer to these as session beers.

I’m all for full flavor, and that’s what makes a beer, but I do have to agree with you about the alcohol = value part. Maybe a lot of people don’t care if a sixer of a 3.5% beer costs the same as a 6.5% beer, but understanding the way alcohol volume is achieved in brewing beer (amount of grain determines OG, yeast attenuates to it’s expected outcome, calculated ABV is achieved), I kind of have to believe that the costs to make the lower ABV beer is less (less grain), therefore, those costs should be passed along to the customer. If company A is willing to price their IPA a dollar per sixer more than their pale ale, then they should be willing to drop the price on their session beer. The kits Northern Brewer sells is the same story: Patersbier is like $20 for a kit whereas the Dead Ringer is somewhere around $30. As should be expected.

I’m all for a book on this, as I’m sure like everything else, I could learn something from it, but on the whole, the idea of “session” seems unnecessary. I have a local coffee shop that carries an organic brand of coffee, but they have chosen not to market that angle. They buy the coffee because it tastes GOOD, and they’re self-annointed Coffee Nerds.

Same should go with beer. The one thing I know for sure is I’m going to drink my fill, no matter the ABV. I don’t care if it’s 3.5% or 8.5%, it should taste good no matter what. Carrying the “Session” banner just seems pretentious.

So you think ‘Session’ is up there with ‘Organic’? I rank ‘session’ up there as a topic. The book coming out on Hops would be similar. All things regarding hops and hopping and hoppy or the like.

If you go to beer advocate and type in “session” on the search engine, 157 beers show up. Mind you, these are only the beers with the word “Session” in their name.

Reading some of the submissions here, you would think that session-style beers haven’t been around very long, but one of those brewers on Beer Advocate is called East End Brewing, and they’ve been making session beers since 2002. Stone has been making the 4.5% Levitation for a while now, their current incarnation of it since 2009, or at least when I first heard about it. And yes, it’s dry-hopped to bejesus and a wonderful beer.

I guess some people would be interested in the session angle, and maybe this brings more people to craft brewing, which is a good thing. Just know that it’s not something that needs to happen…it already is happening.

Well…organic is a method of growing food. I guess the method of brewing session beers is similar to other beers. I see your point. Session is more like a style - when I hear ‘IPA’ I think of hoppy beers. When I hear ‘session’ I think ABV<4.5%. So, “topic”, yeah, but it comes across as more of a style to me, although a more diverse style than say “IPA”.

But both are labels, to be sure.

Honestly I think a smart microbrewer might capitalize on the current trend in the BMC market towards making lighter, lower calorie, lower carb beers. One could imagine marketing a line of session ales for active people who want microbrew flavor in a low calorie format. God knows that as I age I seem to be wrapping plenty of beer around my midsection.

There are a lot of breweries starting up that are going the ‘session’ route to be different. The problem is that session beers are much more than just taking a recipe and making it lower gravity.

Thats funny, they’ll all be different together. I don’t care though, it’ll be a nice change from the rush to create double imperial barrel aged beers served in a small snifter. I hope we see more liter steins brought into use, that is the most fun glass for beer drinking.

Der Maßkrug…I agree!!

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