Saturday, July 3, 2010

Two S's in Beer - Session and Summer

I have a strong beer orientation, going back 15+ years, having sampled craft beers almost everywhere I have travelled and patronizing the local specialty beer shops looking for new and interesting beers to try. That said, I was surprised a few months ago to see the word "session" associated with beer. I read articles about session beer in Stuff Boston, The Beer Advocate, various blogs and saw the term show up in advertising for the American Craft Beer Week, SlowFest and Boston Beer Week celebrations. I finally looked it up.

The Session Beer Project blog defines 'session beer' as
  • 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
  • flavorful enough to be interesting
  • balanced enough for multiple pints
  • conducive to conversation
  • reasonably priced
Sourcing session beers could be a bit tricky depending on what types of beer selection your local retailers carry. My local grocery stores don't typically carry a wide enough selection to find unique styles and many beers from the small producers, and the best specialty beer stores a bit of a drive. So looking to try one on short notice would end up being luck. Otter Creek Brewing and Harpoon Brewery, both New England producers, make session styles which I believed would be most easily found in the grocery store. No on the Harpoon, and I almost missed the Otter Creek Solstice in a mixed 12 pack with the Copper Ale and Pale ale styles. Jackpot!

I added the Harpoon Summer Ale to this tasting for opposing aromas and flavors. It is not a session beer at 5.0% ABV, but since it was lower in alcohol than anything else I had at home, homemade or commercial, it seemed like a good choice.

The Otter Creek Solstice is described as containing 7 different malts creating rich malty aromas and flavors. The description also indicates that 3 types of hops, Willamette, Cascade and Amarillo, are added during the initial boil to impart a mild hoppy flavor, and a dry hopping with Amarillo hops creates the fragrant hop aromas. At 4% ABV the beer meets the first criteria above.

The Solstice has a fruity, malty nose with no head. The beer has a pale red color and the flavor is rich and complex. I noted that the acidity felt a bit lower than generally perceive in beer. At first I considered lower carbonation, but that didn't seem to be the case with continued sampling. The beer is definitely flavorful and interesting, the lower acid helped its balance, both my wife and I discussed enjoying it, and the mixed 12 pack was $16 so the price is pretty decent. I'll put a check mark next to this beer as a good example of a session beer.

For an opposing perspective we then cracked open the Harpoon Summer Ale. This beer is gold in color with light grain aromas and very mild flavors. With crisp acidity and a light body I didn't find it very interesting, but drinkable. We actually added some ginger-infused simple syrup to it and found it more drinkable! I don't often drink light, golden ales due to my opinion of their low character. If I am going to drink something I want it to be reasonably assertive.

I'll be looking for some more session beers to try in the coming months. I think they might even better matches for hot weather than the beers typically advertised at the height of summer.




Winelady Cooks said...

Hi Jason,

Great information about session beers. I'm not much of a beer drinker but I do enjoy tasting different styles when we are eating out in pub-style restaurants. Thanks for pointing me in a new direction.


Magic of Spice said...

Great write up Jason...Not the biggest bear fan, but I know many:)