First Friday of the month means, for beer bloggers, that it’s time for another session of The Session! Each month’s Session is hosted by a fellow blogger who gets to pick the theme and then compiles all of the various blog postings for everyone’s reading enjoyment.
What is your definition of a session beer? Is it, as Dr. Lewis suggested at the Craft Brewers Conference this year, “a pint of British wallop” or is your idea of a session beer a crisp Eastern European lager, a light smoky porter, a dry witbier, or even a dry Flemish sour?
Is it merely enough for a beer to be low alcohol to be considered a session beer, or is there some other ineffable quality that a beer must hold in order to merit the term? And if so, what is that quality? Is it “drinkability”? Or something else?
What about the place of session beer in the craft beer industry? Does session beer risk being washed away in the deluge of extreme beers, special releases, and country-wide collaborations? Or is it the future of the industry, the inevitable palate-saving backlash against a shelf full of Imperial Imperials?
For me, defining “session beer” is easy: I subscribe to Lew Bryson’s definition (or manifesto, or whatever you want to call it) over at his Session Beer Project blog:
- 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
- flavorful enough to be interesting
- balanced enough for multiple pints
- conducive to conversation
- reasonably priced
…although I tend to bump up the alcohol level to define “session” as 5% or less.
I don’t care what style of beer it is—if it’s 5% or less and interesting, for me that’s a “session” beer. Hell, there are even times when PBR is interesting and that qualifies.
Of course, the session beers that really interest me are the ones being embraced by the craft beer industry, and fortunately, I do believe that session beers are on the rise. Will they be the next “extreme beer”? I honestly don’t know, though I suspect that while they will get their due, I doubt they will inspire the same kind of slathering admiration that extreme beers receive.
For this month’s Session on sessions, I wanted to get back to an actual tasting and review, something I haven’t done lately for these monthly outings. And fortunately, I recently found an Oregon-brewed beer that fit the bill exactly: Gone Fishin Mild Ale, from Beer Valley Brewing over on the eastern border of Oregon in the town of Ontario. It’s 4% alcohol by volume, and I’m absolutely amazed to find this for a number of reasons:
- How many American craft brewers produce Mild Ales commercially?
- How many of those spend the time and effort to bottle them?
- Beer Valley made its reputation by launching an Imperial Stout as their flagship beer. To now also brew and bottle a 4% Mild is somewhat mind-boggling in that light.
Here’s their description of the beer:
Gone Fishin Mild Ale is a 4% ABV, low hop beer. Brewed with 5 different malts, this beer is high in malt character and low in hop bitterness and flavor. The perfect session beer for reeling in a few at the secret fishing hole.
I found it at Whole Foods for $3.49 for a 22-ounce bottle, which is a pretty good deal. So it fits nicely into the session beer criteria: less than 5%, it’s flavorful and balanced (as you’ll see when you read my tasting notes), it’s very affordable. It doesn’t get much more “session” than this.
Appearance: Copper colored to a brown, fairly clear, with a nice two fingers of head on the pour (though my camera’s batteries died, so my picture is after the head had reduced substantially).
Smell: Toasty, bready, and caramelly—actually really nice and aromatic and presents with a mouth-watering appeal.
Taste: Husky grainy flavors with dark-toasted bread; fairly flavorful for what I was expecting (which was—?). A bit of fruity ale character, hops are light but clean; perhaps a light touch of butterscotch, but I’m not sure. I’m enjoying the flavors.
Mouthfeel: Light-to-medium-bodied, fairly clean, goes down easy—very well-balanced.
Overall: Quite enjoyable and very nicely flavorful and aromatic—I’m pretty impressed with this and I could see drinking several pints of this in a sitting—and going back for more.