So you like to drink beer? You like to drink a lot of beer? You like to drink a lot of beer over the course of a social evening, but not be falling-over drunk at the end of it? Then what you need is a session beer.
What’s a session beer? Typically, such a brew will have three qualities; an alcohol content of generally less than 5%, a balanced flavour and a light to moderate body. There are good reasons for specifying these things.
First of all, in a social setting, getting blotto is a no-no; the object of an evening in company is to be, well, companionable. You also want to be able to make it home in one piece and however you plan to do that, having a bellyfull of beer and a bloodstream full of booze in not conducive to a safe or comfortable journey. (On a side note, and for safety information, and because I worry about you all, I found a Blood Alcohol Count calculator tool that you may find to be of use. Respect beer and enjoy yourselves, but let’s be careful out there.)
Flavour and body can be issues, too. Some beers can be quite challenging on flavour after a while – for some, a lot of highly-hopped or bitter beers can be hard to handle, for others, sweeter brews. Heavy beers too, have their problems; I can think of half a dozen beers I’d not want to drink one after another.
So in short, a session beer sits in the middle of the ABV, taste and body range, enabling the enjoyment of many pints over an afternoon or evening, without damaging conversation, comfort or safety. The beers I've noded on E2, Riggwelter and 1554 miss the true "session" mark, but then these days I'm frankly not a session drinker.
A Little Session History
I’ve heard many a tale regarding the origin of the term, but the one that seems right to me concerns the old UK pub licensing laws. At one time, pub opening times were strictly limited; 11am til 3pm and 7pm until closing time at 11pm. These four-hour sessions were presumably set so that no-one could sit in the pub all day and get plastered. Workers leaving work therefore had four hours of drinking time until they were thrown out of the boozer, and hence if they wanted a reasonable and sociable time, and to enjoy a few pints, they’d limit themselves to those beers that they could drink throughout the opening session.
At the time, most pub beers were around the 3.5% – 5% alcohol mark, with a few other beers like barley wines and “old ales” that were stronger. It was vital, then to know the difference between the stronger brews and those that one could drink all night.
Over the years, the law changed, and permitted pubs to open longer hours (although to this day most pubs still have to stop serving at 11pm). The “session beer” is still a valuable thing, however – provided you’re a social drinker.
Back in the day, when I was a young and cocky boozer, it was not uncommon for me to head to the pub on a Friday night and expect to sink six or eight pints (Imperial pints, mind you – 20 fluid ounces) over the course of an evening. Allowing for travel and food, I’d be drinking for about four or five hours. No way was I going to be pounding down strong Scotch ales, perilously hoppy IPAs or heady Imperial stouts for that time.
The beer of choice was generally Bitter, occasionally Dark Mild or Brown, but always around the 3.8 – 4.5% mark. That way I could hold my own at the bar, the conversation and the trip home. These days, of course, I’m the responsible married man, out for one or two and home before nine (with one exception, of course). It turns out that every man is entitled to one mistake; every woman, apparently, is allowed one rolling pin.
Originally posted at http://realbeer.wordpress.com/2009/09/21/session-beer/
With help from http://beeradvocate.com/articles/653