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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In defense of big session

The author, serious about session beer
A "session" beer like Pig's Eye Leanwhat does it have in common with Kraft Mac & Cheese? More than you might think.

By Doug Dorda

Occasionally customers will set a case of Hamms or Black Label on the counter with a look of embarrassment. "Please don't judge me," they will say, only half joking. To ask their reason for concern is to hear some version of the following: "Look at the selection of beers you have, and I walk out with this!" Having heard it so many times now I feel it's necessary to inform our customers that we see nothing wrong with drinking affordable, pilsner-style light lagers. In fact it's just the opposite—I also drink these "session" beers, and so do all my colleagues.

It can be difficult to admit to your fellow beer geek that you sometimes stray from the renaissance of flavor and delve back into the world session beers. I'm no stranger to feeling shame when spotted with a PBR in hand by an ale aficionado I respect. What will they think of me? How will they ever respect me again? It's hard not to ask these questions, just as hard not to fret about the answers.

But I can promise you this, no true aficionado will ever judge you. The fact is they probably won't even remark on the beer you have chosen to drink, but rather join with you in conversation and companionship the same as they would had you been enjoying a fine craft selection. At Sicilianos we try to do the same, and we preach that every beer (every beer) has its time and place for enjoyment.

Contrary to the possible negative perceptions of session beers, they actually offer many benefits to the craft beer drinker. First of all, the beers always taste the same. Each time you reach for a PBR, or even a Blatz, it will taste the same as it did the last time you had it. The craft beer world is full of exciting flavors and stylistic variance, but it can also be a hotbed of flavors that don't appeal to your particular palate. A session beer is like a bunt—it may not be a home run, but it's a tried and true way to get you onto first.

Next, session beers are inexpensive. The average cost of a six pack of craft beer is $10-12. Nine days out of ten most of us would proudly pay this price in the name of supporting the industry we have become so passionate about. However, it's sometimes hard to argue against the sheer quantity of session beer we can afford at a similar price point.

As an added bonus, the modest alcohol content in session beers allows for greater let's call it composure over long periods of time. When I attend a barbecue or house party, I will often bring along a session beer so that I can be a member of the festivities for their duration. These beers also act as great "pacing laps" as I'm fond of calling them. When conducting a taste of many different high gravity craft offerings, I will commonly have a session beer to relax my palate and stave off the desire to drink the higher alcohol beers at a rapid pace.

While musing on this topic earlier I was struck by the realization that session beers are a lot like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (stay with me here). Kraft may not be the sexiest, most organic, or most delicious food item to end up in your grocery cart, but you buy it every now and then because it's simple, nostalgic, and always the same. So it is for session beers. Though we soldiers in the craft beer revolution wave the flag of passion ever stronger in the face of massive business conglomerates, we may still tip our caps in respect of the big boy's achievements by buying a case here and there.

In summation, buy whichever beer you like, whenever you feel like drinking it. You won't see judgement on our faces. In fact, we'll only thank you for your continued patronage of our store, and thusly, the beer industry as a whole.

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