Lots of catching up to do after a wonderful time in balmy St. Paul, Minn. Great beers, not so good beers. More important, great conversations and stories, not all of them about beer.
So just one bit of musing, then off to all that e-mail. First stop Thursday was The Muddy Pig in St. Paul, which bills itself as a “neighborhood bistro.” And it is. Good looking food menu, beer menu that includes descriptions of 48 beers on tap and a an excellent bottle selection, all set in a comfortable pub/tavern. (Photo is from their website.)
Places like this barely existed when we started research on the first Beer Travelers Guide in the early 1990s, and the best did not have a beer selection so inviting.
I considered beers from Belgium. I looked at the Bell’s offerings — who could turn down Two Hearted Ale, Hopslam or Expedition Stout? I’ve got the latter in my cooler, but Expedition Stout on tap . . .
Aside from my interest in drinking local I also did a bit of math. This was going to an 18-to-20 hour day, and drinking would continue from this moment on. I ordered Surly Mild.
Not a a beer that would have scored well in the Upper Mississippi Mash Out. A session-friendly 4.2% abv with the rich chocolate, caramel and roast you expect in a mild, but brimming with juicy hop character. The description said 31 BU but against a modest malt bill it seemed like more.
Much of the discussion about session beers has focused on alcohol content, but that should be only part of the conversation. A session beer needs to understand its place at the table. It’s there to facilitate the session, not to star.
Saint Arnold Brewing founder Brock Wagner defined this perfectly in a conversation several years ago.
“We want you to think about what you are drinking. I’ll think about the beer when I first taste it. After that I’m sitting there with my wife and with friends shooting the breeze and it becomes background,” he said. “But periodically I will think about the beer again.”
Maybe you have to be a hophead, which I am, and you certainly need to set aside your idea of traditional mild, but to me Surly Mild qualifies as an outstanding session beer.
Had I stuck with it my head would have thanked me the next morning.