For a brief history lesson that will ultimately lead us to a discussion on session beers, let’s go back a couple hundred years - before Louis Pasteur forever changed the face of science - and find something to drink. I would probably choose a beer out of instinct and, in this case, beer would certainly be one of the safest choices.
Pathogens are microbes that cause diseases – think salmonella or listeria. Fortunately for the human population, they are unable to survive in the beer matrix, thus rendering beer a safer drink than, say, water or milk. After the yeast cells have completed fermentation and formed what we know as beer, the liquid environment is acidic, nutrient deprived, often times cold, and in most cases dosed with hops, which are antimicrobial.
In Colonial America, and around the world, it was commonplace for housewives to brew their own beer in their kitchens. The process would begin with a big mash of malted barley that would produce a rich, full-bodied, alcoholic ale. The grains would then be re-used two or three times, each time running off smaller and smaller beers. The final “runnings” from the mash contained little sugars and flavor, but would be boiled and fermented, to be consumed as table beer or session beer. This table beer was low in alcohol, light bodied, and would be considered by today’s beer aficionados as swill. To the people of the time, however, it was safe swill.
The tradition to brew out of necessity has surely passed, but the frenzy to brew out of creative desire and the lust for flavor is very now. I’m not much of a beer styles kind of guy - I don’t see why a good beer can’t just be a good beer, whether it fits in between some imaginary lines or not. Session beers are a category of beers that are balanced, full of flavor, are in the ballpark of 5% alcohol by volume or less, and meant to be “sessionable.” They include any beer that fits the previous guidelines and makes you say, “hey, I could drink these all night!” Meaning, someone can drink a reasonable amount of these in a short period of time and not feel three sheets to the wind and taste-blind. [photo by Drew Allen]
Session beers are also a re-emerging trend that I personally feel is long overdue. How many 8, 10, or 12 ABV beers can you knock back in a given night before your taste buds are numb and you’re belting out Journey at the end of the bar? (Not like that’s ever happened to me.) For a night of flavorful drinking without the fusel alcohols and the headache, turn to session beers. Click here for session beer recommendations and tasting notes.