Are Session Ales a Growing Craft Beer Trend?

session-beer-definitionI’m a craft beer enthusiast, home brewer and at one time the beer buyer at Richmond’s local food market. I’ve been enjoying great beer for the last 10 years and I’ve seen a market that was once reserved for a handful of elitists evolve to a state where just about every bar, restaurant and dicey corner store has some sort of craft beer available.

I’m constantly trying new beers and I’m always interested in what new style breweries are throwing out there. In recent years I’ve noticed more easy drinking craft beers hitting the store shelves and tap handles. Beers like Founders All Day IPA and 21st Amendment’s Bitter American have quickly become a few of my favorite summertime session ales.

Creating a session friendly craft ale is interesting as you typically don’t associate “easy drinking” and “quantity” with craft beer. Typically, this mindset has been reserved for American Macro’s as they are marketed as light, smooth refreshing beers that you can consume in abundance. With the majority of Americans still in that mindset and with the craft beer market continuing to grow, a session ale seems like a logical place where the two markets could meet.

I don’t see a lot of breweries pushing their lighter beers as session beers. A few do but I think more can and will begin pursuing this term as more consumers become educated about beer. I feel that no matter what the style of beer, if it’s under 5%, the beer’s packaging should adorn the session ale term as it gives an instant snapshot of what the beer’s purpose and alcohol content is all about. Beyond the stated marketing and packaging opportunities, here are a few reasons why brewers and distributors should consider pursuing the session ale.

Lower Alcohol & Lower Calories

Most craft ales are in the 6+ ABV realm and with more alcohol comes more calories as more malt (sugar) is needed to obtain a higher ABV. I love a great IPA but maybe I don’t want to get wasted off a handful of them or wind up consuming 2,000 calories worth of beer during a cookout. Not that session ales should be marketed as “light” beer, but quality beer under 5% ABV should be explored as we may not need the extra alcohol or calories typically found with craft beer.

Approachable & Flavorful

I used to always carry Victory All Malt Lager and North Coast Scrimshaw when I worked in the industry. These were great gateway beers as I would always recommend them to Macro drinkers or people not too familiar with quality beer. These beers are great lagers but it’s nice to see Founder’s and 21st creating some nice flavorful ales instead of lagers. Even Flying Dog’s Pearl Necklace is very session friendly stout (even though its 5.5% ABV). I see opportunity with beers like these as they are great introductory ales for beginners and interesting enough for seasoned craft beer drinkers.

Highlight the Brewmaster’s Skill

Lastly, if you want to highlight the skill and craft of brewing, try making a light beer. It’s tough. The lighter more delicate ales and lagers can easily showcase any off flavors, poor ingredients or brewing mistakes. A solid brewmaster should be able to create a flawless beer no matter the style. A clean American IPA, a stout from Flying Dog or a Berliner Weiss from Bell’s – these are all perfect examples of quality driven beers that took skill to create and a product that the brewery and brewmaster should take pride in.

I love my high ABV stouts, double IPAs and barleywines but those aren’t necessarily cookout- or boat-friendly beers. For the reasons I mentioned above, I think that every brewery should be brewing and marketing a session-friendly beer.


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