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Session #40: When is a session a Session?

The SessionHave you heard the one about an Englishman, a Belgian and a Czech who walk into a drinking establishment, whereupon the Englishman orders a round of “session” beers?

There is no punchline. Instead another question. What do you think the Czech is drinking?

The topic for the 40th gathering of The Session is Session Beer. Host Erik Myers has offered plenty of options in announcing the theme, but this is a subject that screams for context.

What we (meaning Anglo-Saxons, I guess) choose to call “session” beers are unique to the social gatherings — perhaps lasting hours, involving several beers and plenty of conversation — where they are enjoyed. Are these still “sessions” in West Flanders and Bohemia? In Berlin and Munich? What about the emerging beer cultures of Brazil, Denmark and Italy?

Probably, though not in name. Are the beers the same? Not usually. Does everybody depart a “session” in the same state of inebriation? Not likely.

For the record, I’m a big fan of The Session Beer Project. I’d much prefer pubs to coffee shops sa great good places (and not just because I don’t drink coffee). I really appreciate brewers who find ways to pack more flavor and less alcohol in a glass.

And until Erik set the theme for this round of The Session I hadn’t thought twice about calling session beers “session beers” (or do I mean “session beers” session beers?). The current All About Beer magazine has a feature using the words “session” and “session beers” and I suspect few readers will have any problem immediately understanding what Rick Lyke’s story is about.

It works, so why worry? I’m not registering a complaint so much as a concern, thinking about what the Czech beer drinker at the top would order. America’s own emerging beer culture has plenty to learn from others. The beers, whatever we call them, will follow.

2 Responses to Session #40: When is a session a Session?

  1. Lew Bryson June 6, 2010 at 8:38 am #

    Wouldn’t it most likely be a 10° lager of some sort?

    The main, almost only reason I defined session beer at The Session Beer Project™ was to take out the folks that ‘define’ session beer as any beer they like to have more than two of, regardless of how knee-limber it makes them. I’m really tired of reading about “great session beer at 7.5%” and “my session beer is double IPA.” Sorry, you hump, but you’re wrong, and someone — ME — needs to tell you that.

    Needed to get that off my chest. So…yes, “session beer” may be an English term, but I’m okay with that: I speak English. I know some people don’t like the term; okay, I don’t like the term “gastropub.” But the concept? It’s useful and valuable, so until a better term comes along, I’ll tag it as session beer. I don’t think we need to tie it down stylistically any more than 4.5% and below, other than to state simply, without evasion or over-definition, that we’re not talking about light beer.

    Thanks for the “big fan” bit. I need to do more with SBP.

  2. Boak June 13, 2010 at 2:03 am #

    4.5% is pushing it in my book, but then I guess the default assumption in the uk is that the beer is “sessionable”. My own view of a session beer is something less than 4, but I’m spliiting hairs, I know. Difficult to pull off in bottles though.

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