By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
Deep in my backfield, a high crossing pass came my way, headed for the other team's right wing. We contested it in the air. I won. I also lost. As I followed through on my header, sending the ball up the line to a waiting midfielder, I collided head-to-head with the other guy and hit the dirt like a waterlogged ragdoll. I've been obsessive about hydration ever since, especially during the comfortably oppressive heat of a Houston summer.
That gets us to session beer. Session beer is its own hydration plan, a built-in mechanism for ensuring that you don't wind up day-drunk, which in my experience is similar in unpleasantness to lying on the sidelines of a soccer game, a teammate's sweat-soaked bandanna draped across your forehead, woozily waiting out the effects of blunt-force trauma and a lack of fluids. Since I don't like that feeling but I do like whiling away a lovely Saturday mornaftervening over a succession of delicious adult beverages, I've become quite fond of session beers.
Depending on whom you talk to, you might find somewhat differing opinions of what exactly "session beer" means. Alcohol by volume provides an easy, definitive target, though it also opens up plenty of debate. Beer Advocate calls it at 5 percent. Lew Bryson, a professional beer writer of some repute, draws a firm line in the sand at 4.5 percent. Over at his Session Beer Project, a repository for all things session, he both admits the slightly arbitrary nature of the threshold and makes a convincing argument for its importance. I tend to edge toward lenience, keeping things under 5 percent and using the other qualifiers, mentioned below, to separate what I think of as true session beers from those that simply have moderate alcohol.
Pretty much all parties agree on a few key points, ABV set aside. Session beers must be low in alcohol, low enough that you can enjoy multiple pints in a "session" without suffering the ill effects of higher-alcohol brews. They have to be balanced and refreshing in character in order to make it enjoyable to drink them in significant quantities in a (relatively) insignificant span of time. They must taste good.
Within that rubric, there's a lot of room for stylistic variety. Some beers lend themselves to sessions more than do others, of course. Belgian strong ales, by definition, will never be session beers as we've laid out here. Pilsners, Witbiers, Kölsch, English Bitters, Berliner Weiss — these are just a few styles whose typical characteristics land them handily in "session" territory or whose flavor profiles lend themselves to the low-alcohol, high-drinkability treatment.
The more I look around, the more beers I find waiting for a session, whether or not they intend to. Here, in no particular order, are a few examples I've been enjoying lately, consumed like dominoes while tending a grill in the backyard or just sitting around the house hanging out with the family. I'm sure they've appreciated the general level of sobriety I've maintained in the process.
Founders All Day IPA
American IPA, 4.7 percent ABV
A light and lithe study in hops aroma and flavor, this packs more wallop than many more standard pales manage. If there's a beer available in the Houston market better suited to session proselytizing, I've yet to find it. It starts bright and grassy, with hints of pine and citrus bleeding from the nose into a palate that allows just a hint of malt. Never bitter or aggressive, this is as thirst-quenching as it is delicious and engaging. A picture-perfect session beer. If they could sneak the alcohol down a half percent or so, this beer would be nothing short of miraculous. I don't think my fridge has been without this one since it made its Houston debut.
Kona Big Wave Golden Ale
American Blonde Ale, 4.4 percent ABV
Smooth as Old Blue Eyes wrapped in Teflon tape, Big Wave is easygoing and laid-back in a way that speaks to your mental image of island life, stereotypical though it may be. Tropical fruit (think the dried nuggets in trail mix, only pleasant) shuffles amiably past moderately bready malt, chased by a lightly spicy hop profile that whispers toward a squeaky-clean finish. Like a hammock in a bottle.
Jester King Le Petit Prince, Commercial Suicide
Farmhouse Table Beer, 2.9 percent ABV; Oaked Farmhouse Mild, 3.5 percent ABV
These are just a couple of JK's session offerings (See also: Das Wunderkind!, Bonnie the Rare, Drink'in the Sunbelt, Buddha's Brew). Clearly, Jester King has a crush on session beers, and I'm all for it. They consistently manage to make session beers that manage extremely low alcohol and significant flavor.
Petit Prince is worth a mention if for no other reason than the fact of its alcohol content. If there's a lower-alcohol craft beer available in the Houston market, I've not found it. If it were as weak in flavor as it is in booze, though, that would be a moot point. Thankfully, though it's done with a light hand, Le Petit Prince is packed with flavor. Bright with lemon, prickly with a peppery spice and teasingly laced with an almost transparent banana note, Le Petit Prince offers a lot but is also willing to take a back seat to whatever else is going on. If you're deep in conversation, it's an affable whistle-wetter. If you've got a few minutes to pay attention, you'll notice the hint of funk under its cracklingly dry, exceedingly crisp surface. Follow it through to a slightly spicy, ever so mildly bitter finish. The next sip is back with lemon-pepper, grassy hops right up front, all of it purposefully light and as refreshing as a jump into the pool.