My first encounter with a session beer involved power tools.
I was working on a kitchen project, and a both a reciprocating and circular saw were strewn about my front yard. The sun was beating down on me and my tools, and a friend dropped by with a case of Tetley's English Ale. I looked at the yellow power tools, the pile of lumber and PVC pipe and the case of beer, and I smiled wide. This was going to be a good day.
No limbs were lost that day. Tetley's clocks in at 3.6 percent ABV and we drank half the case without incident. The beer had a light malt flavor, and a thick creamy head. I asked my friend if we should finish the case and he agreed. "That's the point," he said.
Session beers are meant for long sessions. You can drink them for hours without losing your wallet or accidentally hitting on your boss' wife. They're mild in flavor and don't punch you in palate or lay in your stomach like a loaf of bread. These low-booze beers got started in Europe, and like many things they've started gaining popularity on this side of the pond. It's a great trend, but there's a problem: We're kinda fucking up the beer.
As the hop-heads continue to drive high-alcohol, super-bitter American IPAs, drinkers are more accustomed to swilling beer with serious punch. The trend for high-alcohol beers has become so pervasive that beers with 4, 5 and close to 6 percent alcohol are being marketed as "sessionable." If I had had eight beers with 6 percent ABV while wielding that circular saw, I'd likely be typing this blog post with a few less digits.
Now, I've found the Jester King Brewery, which has spent a good bit of time developing beers that are smooth enough to drink into infinity and low enough in alcohol to allow for day-long sessions. I talked to Ron Extract, a co-owner of the Austin-based brewery, to find out why they're breaking the big booze trend.
Extract told me he once played with power tools too. They were brewing beer as they were building out the historic farmhouse that shelters the brewery, and wanted to have some beer on hand that wouldn't ruin the whole day. They called their first batch Commercial Suicide because the English dark ale was too passive to appeal to high-octane beer geeks, but too dark and rich to appeal to the Miller Lite crowd. "We thought we were brewing a beer that has no commercial audience," Extract told me. He was wrong.
Le Petit Prince Farm House Ale, a beer developed after the brewery opened, clocks in at a ridiculously low 2.9-percent ABV. You could put this stuff in your baby's bottle. The beer has some hops, but they're subtle, refined and floral instead of brash and in your face. This is a beer that's worthy of an epic drinking session, and there are a few places in Dallas you can now order the beer on tap.
If you do, you should put in a real session. Have a few and get to know a single beer intimately, instead of jumping around the taps like a beer hussy. Drink it at The Common Table while you watch an entire Rangers game and revel in your relative sobriety when the game is done. Spend an afternoon at the Meddlesome Moth, soaking up the sun on the patio and knowing that you'll still be able to hang out with friends that evening. Or hit up your favorite beer store and take up a few hundred bottles to take home to enjoy any way you choose. But maybe leave the power tools in your garage. That was probably a bad idea.
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