by Erik Wollschlager
It is commonly thought that the differences between macro-beer drinkers and micro-beer drinkers rival the Grand Canyon in their width and depth. There are commonalities, though, and more than one might think.For instance, in both cases, those who consume these beverages love beer. One might argue that macro beers barely approach the actual definition of beer, but this is not the place for such an argument. These friendly pages are here to promote one of the greatest aspects of beer: the communion of beer drinkers. Whether your brewery of choice buys Super Bowl ads, owns hockey teams, or has their kettles boiling just over the fence in your back yard, there are few things better than getting together with your tribe for a day of sharing beer, food, friendly competition, and merriment.
Traditionally, the macrobrewers had a leg up here. Often, the ingredients and processes that make craft beer so tasty also give the beer a higher alcohol content, which makes it tough to spend a day knocking them back with friends. Macros are designed to be consumed in quantity, though. They are mass-produced, mass-packaged, and quaffed en masse. Craft beer lovers may have sat sadly on the sidelines as endless beer pong games dragged on, afraid to enter into a world where 7% ABV was the difference between victory and certain defeat.
Thankfully, craft brewers, being craft beer drinkers themselves, recognized the plight of the common beer geek. They vowed that craft beer drinkers would no longer be banned from the party games that have entertained the light beer world for ages on end. Much to the delight of the flip-cup wallflower, the session beer is back. Those who enjoy a bit more flavor in their beer could join the party, and even take part in all of the drinking game splendor they’d previously been left out of.
So, what is a session beer? How did they first come to be? These are great questions—neither of which really has an exact answer. Most session drinkers have come to agree that a session beer is one that has an ABV 5% or less. They also believe that the price should match—no one wants to spend too much money on a beer they’ll be “crushing” throughout the day. And finally, a session beer should be tasty. To tip the cap to a famous macro, a session beer should indeed taste great and be less filling.
The history of the session beer is even more difficult to nail down. Several sources, both American and British, indicate that the term came from both a type of beer, and a time of day. Around the commencement of WWI, Britain was in the midst of preparing for war. In order to best do so, restrictions had to be placed on two things: ABV and the time spent at the pub. The Queen’s men set two standard “sessions” that public houses could open—lunch session and dinner session. Each lasted only a few hours, and so Brits took to the oak to down as many pints as possible. Parliament was one step ahead, though, and restricted the strength of the beer, so even though the men set their minds to taking full advantage of the session, they were still able to function at the munitions plant after 8 pints (which are 20oz across the pond!) Next time you’re enjoying your favorite session with some friends around a fire, raise your glass with a nod to Jolly ol’ England and their clever policies.
As craft brewing continues to rise in the US, most breweries understand that drinkers are often looking for a session option. National juggernauts like Founders and Stone each have delicious session IPAs that rival the flavor of some full IPAs. Anderson Valley’s Highway 128 is an entire series dedicated to sessionable beers—perhaps the most popular of the series are their gose selections, most notably, the Blood Orange Gose. Locally, breweries are throwing their hat into the session ring, as well. Big Ditch Brewing released their collaboration with FC Buffalo (our professional soccer team) called, fittingly, FC. FC stands for “Fantastically Crushable,” and at 3.5% ABV, FC is a crisp, slightly sweet wheat ale that is perfect for a hot day on the Kan Jam circuit. CBW’s Frank weighs in at 4.7%, has a great dry-hopped flavor that betrays the low ABV.
The grills are fired, the coolers stocked, and the volleyball nets are raised. Buffalo summer is upon us. As you enjoy your favorite session beers this summer, be sure to do so safely. Here’s to our favorite season! Let us in drink it in—the sun, the fun, the food, and the games. Here’s to a crushable season with friends and family.