Are Session Beers for Old Men?

I’ll admit it – I’m not the spring chicken that I once was.  There was a time when I had no interest in beers with an ABV below 8%.  All I wanted were boozy, toe curling brews that hammered my face with flavor.  But then something happened.  I got old, and have begun to appreciate beers of a gentler nature.

This transformation hasn’t happen overnight, it’s been a process.  It started as I gained experience as a beer geek.  Once I had tasted all the big beers, I began to occasionally explore the lighter fare, mostly out of curiosity.  My “a-ha” moment came when I tasted Victory Prima Pils, a 5.3% ABV German-styled pilsner that manages to be crisp and refreshing but still packs in a ton of flavor.  More and more, I craved the serene (sorry for using this next word) drinkability of Prima Pils and it became my weekend filler beer.  The big boozers still were the feature performers on a Saturday night, but my list of “go-to” beers began to become more docile.

Then I met Lew Bryson, champion of the session beer.  Lew was pretty fired up (his natural state), talking about how a beer doesn’t have to be gonzo to be great, that the craft beer trend of “bigger is better” kind of misses the point of beer, which is made to enjoy with friends, not make you dizzy.  I’m paraphrasing here, but it turns out that Lew’s take on session beers sunk in and I began to see them a bit differently.

The final step in my true appreciation for session beers happened last night.  I had a six pack of Victory Summer Love lingering in the fridge, a Blonde Ale that has a hop profile similar to Prima Pils, yet is a bit mellower around the edges and has a lighter mouthfeel.  The way I taste it, it’s an even gentler version of my go-to session beer.  Anyway, I had other bigger beers on hand, but I didn’t want them – they seemed like too much work.  I wanted something easy and friendly that wouldn’t punish me in the morning.  I wanted – I craved – a session beer.  That’s a first for me.

With age and experience comes wisdom, and I’ve finally come to realize that a well made session beer offers a subtle charm that the bigger beers can’t match. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want drama, I just want fun. I don’t want to shout, I just want to chat.  I don’t want to get hammered, I just want to unwind.   Session beers now have a place in my heart, and are perfect for sitting out front of my house on a summer’s eve, waiting for some neighborhood kids to come by so I can yell at them to get off my damn lawn. 😡

So that’s my take on it.  I attribute my burgeoning appreciation for gentler beers with my burgeoning accumulation of birthdays.  Older, wiser, tamer, lamer, and it’s all good.

Do you agree?  Are session beers for old duffers, or just for the enlightened beer geek?  Or perhaps just for metrosexual Mini Cooper pilots? As always, let us know below…




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Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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47 Comments on “Are Session Beers for Old Men?”

  1. Evan
    July 29, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    I think it’s kind of a lifecycle of the beer drinker… Most start out with something light and fizzy, then discover the real deal and want flavor overload, then re-discover the smaller side of things again, but the type with quality and more flavor.

    I see myself drinking “session” beers far more often than not these days. I think that the big, flavor overload beers just become exhausting after a while. Sometimes I just want to drink a good beer that doesn’t overwhelm my senses too much.

    • July 29, 2011 at 10:55 am #

      In other words, you’re getting old! 😉

      Kidding – I think the lifecycle thing makes sense.

  2. July 29, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    Session beers are for every lover of beer.

    They display great subtlety and mastery of craft. Anyone can get flavor with 9%, it takes skill to get it in half that. One needn’t be old or cranky to appreciate that, especially when it is 110 degrees outside.

    But, most importantly: Session beers let you drink more beer.

    • July 29, 2011 at 10:56 am #

      I agree that there’s a lot of room to hide imperfections in bigger, more flavor packed beers. That’s why that’s all I brew at home!

  3. MikeLovesBeer
    July 29, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    Greg is absolutely right.

    I myself went through a sixer of Summer Love a couple weeks ago and right now have some Primas in there. Add in some Yuengling, Narragansett, Dale’s Pale Ale and Joe’s Pils I always have some of those in my fridge for easy drinking.

    • July 29, 2011 at 10:56 am #

      That’s my list of go-to session beers as well. Great minds, Mike, great minds!

  4. July 29, 2011 at 10:44 am #

    Jim, I think it also has to do with the weather. I stockpiled on barleywines this winter and guess what is still sitting in my fridge… The big beers can make you feel a bit full in the summer, the session style beers just dont do that.. At least that is my take. Lets take a look at this conversation again when we have a foot of snow on the ground. And lets see if we’re all drinking pumpkin beers in the fall…

    Wow… I have just come to the conclusion that craft beers are like hallmark cards, there is one for every occasion, and sometimes, you make up an occasion just to have one..

    • July 29, 2011 at 10:58 am #

      I know I’d rather receive a Christmas beer than a Christmas card!

      I agree that weather plays a part – I’ll still curl up with a big stout in the winter, but I also might pepper in more black ales and the like.

  5. johnking82
    July 29, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    Greg hit the nail on the head. The true craft is in session beers. One of my favorites is New Albanian Community Dark at 3.5%

    • July 29, 2011 at 10:59 am #

      To be honest, I used to overlook anything under 6%. I knew there might be quality there, but I figured “why bother?” Well, now I know why, and bother I will.

  6. July 29, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    Jim; I think you’ve got a few years yet before you fit the “old” category. I, on the other hand, qualify as a senior citizen (got my Medicare card recently.)

    What you’re talking about harks back to your earlier post about young people over-doing it (remember the pic of the guy w/ his face in a urinal?). Though still a young whipper-snapper, you’ve now reached an age where you can appreciate beer for its, well, “beeriness”. You don’t feel the need to get schnockered to enjoy it and you can assess the potential bad after-effects if you were to overdo. IM(not-so)HO, beer is about taste, sociability and comfort. If you want higher alcohol beverages they are out there aplenty. For me, beer that tastes like wine, is wine–nothin’ wrong with that just not to my taste. Now, if I did want a high ABV beer I’d want one that was made like a whiskey, i.e., take a good malty/hoppy beer and distill it to about 80 proof. I wonder what that wud taste like….hmmmmm?

    Any-hoo, yay session beers, long may they reign!

    • July 29, 2011 at 11:01 am #

      Thanks, Massugu. I’ll call myself a “mature” beer drinker instead of a duffer. And I still enjoy bigger beers, but I’m looking forward to discovering the stuff I’ve mostly overlooked to this point.

  7. July 29, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    I’m not sure if it is an age thing as much as it is an experience thing. When you’re a spring chick, you want to push the limits: skateboarding, heavy metal, maybe even a scrap with that kid who tried to kiss your girlfriend. As you get older, the need to be *ah-em* …”extreme” subdues and you find the niches that you enjoy. While you still want to hear that metal song and throw the horns up once in a while, you find the middle ground much more enjoyable.

    I think this is also the idea with many craft drinkers. When I started out I wanted to see the limits of what craft beer could be. I’d be searching out bottles and styles I’ve never heard of. And certainly: bigger was better. When you find those parameters and the novelty of threshold type beers wears off, many of us move into a different stage of our drinking and begin to appreciate the nuances of beers that were too novice to comprehend or appreciate during our sophomoric learning process. I joke around with some of my younger craft friends that they’re still in the extreme phase of drinking and will eventually learn to love the subtleties of English bitters or many German lagers. While I am joking with them, I also feel sometimes it takes experience to understand what the boundaries of a beer can be to understand the flavors you really appreciate.

    Anyway, great idea to ponder. Thanks for the read.

    • July 29, 2011 at 11:03 am #

      You might be right, but I just hit 40 and I’m feeling old, so I hitched the two together!

      At any rate, it’s fun to see the evolution of the craft beer drinker. As a matter of fact, perhaps I need to update our infographic!

  8. July 29, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    Meh. I find the whole debate over session versus big beers sort of tired and played out. Why do we have to debate the merits of either? A beer is good, bad, or interesting. Why the constant fussing over ABV? I mostly drink bigger beers, but a good brew in the 4-6% range is fine as long as it brings the flavor.

    That said, last night, my beer club met for cheese and beer pairing event. Overwhelmingly, the bigger beers stood up to the cheeses. The session beers were dominated by the cheese, almost leaving them tasteless.

    And then I question the whole idea of a “session beer.” I get there are standards and traditions to uphold, but I say subvert the dominant paradigm! A session for me is any time I hang out with friends over beers. So, any beer we have during said session is a session beer. That might be a couple of bombers of big DIPA’s. It could be a nice selection of lower ABV pilsners and Saisons. It could be some combination of the two. The focus should be on the session itself and not some arbitrary ABV cutoff. Hell, some of my favorite sessions involved long talks as friends sip on one or two big beers slowly. The traditional session beer just seems to be two or three beers shy of binge drinking.

    • July 29, 2011 at 11:05 am #

      I agree that it’s played out. Actually, it’s mostly nonsense – big beer, little beer, it all has its place. That said, I’ve mostly overlooked the little guys up to this point and I’m looking forward to remedying that. It’s like a whole new section of the beer aisle is opening up to me…

      • July 29, 2011 at 11:12 am #

        I get that, but I actually dislike the six-pack. It means that there is no variety until six beers are consumed. My cellar and fridge are often littered with orphans I am not interested in drinking. This only works for big beers that I want to age. I hate buying a sixer of a 5% beer. I have to drink it relatively quickly as it won’t store well. Honestly, I get bored with sixers of so-called session beers. Brewers have it all backwards. Sell session beers in bombers or four-packs and sell big beers in six packs for trying now and cellaring later. Just a thought.

        • July 29, 2011 at 11:14 am #

          Yeah, I have a few orphans as well from low ABV sixpacks that weren’t great. I have a place by me that sells singles, so that helps. But I agree with your logic – if you don’t pick your session beers well you’re gonna wind up with mediocre beer clogging your cellar.

        • July 29, 2011 at 11:23 am #

          Yeah, singles is not a big deal here in MO. Even when I go to the Wine & Cheese Place in StL (one of the best bottle selections anywhere), there’s very little to their mix a six section. A few groceries offer mix packs here in Columbia, but the selections are a bit mediocre. One place on the other side of town has a huge selection, but that’s usually where I blow all my money on Stillwater and Mikkeller.

          Man, this sub-thread is turning into the ultimate white-whine/1st world problem discussion.

        • July 29, 2011 at 11:36 am #

          Well that’s because we have it so hard, Zac.

        • July 29, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

          So use ’em for cooking. You ever had kielbasa and banana peppers steamed over beer? And beer is the only thing to steam crabs or shrimp with. If worse comes to worse you can always use it for slug bait out in the garden. Or you can gift ’em to someone who likes ’em. I recently tried Yards’ Brawler and found it way too light for my tastes, but my son-in-law liked it well enough, so I gave the rest of the sixer to him.

        • July 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

          I do all of those things. I was just complaining.

        • July 29, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

          Yes – please don’t interfere with his “art” by throwing useful suggestions in the way.

        • July 29, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

          Well builder, I don’t want to interfere with your God-given right to complain (Lord know I’ve turned carping into an art form), but one creative solution to your problem is to try out a new session beer at a bar. If you like it, go get a sixer. or bomber or whatever. If you don’t, no big loss. One thing I often do is ask for a taste in a smaller glass. If I like it (which, I admit, I usually do), then I order a pint or two and bend the barkeep’s ear (gives me time to detox before I get behind the wheel). From the tenor of discussions on this Blog I suspect that you would have no problem bending someones ear (LOL).

        • July 29, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

          I think Zac is a home drinker like me. We hide in our caves and taste beers with people we know and fear strangers.

          And we like whine (the kind with an “h” in it).

        • July 29, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

          Well, it was a thought. I guess that bending strangers’ ears is a prerogative of old farts like myself anyway. My wife knows ahead of time anything I might say about anything at all, and though my dog and cat listen enthusiastically to anything I say they ain’t big on verbal feedback. But a barkeep! A barkeep is kind of a captive audience (kind of like a Blog reader, no), hehe.

    • August 1, 2011 at 12:29 pm #

      I have to agree with you here and bring up the point about the proper glassware. Breweries and bars in my area seem to be catching on to proper pour size, but probably more out of stretching a keg than serving the appropriate ounces for the size of the beer. Do I need to sit down at happy hour and drink a pint of a 8-10% hop bomb? No, and that same beer can be a session beer if they use the proper 10oz goblet or tulip glass. After the glass is empty I get the same ABV with 10oz of 8% beer as I do with 16oz of 5% beer.

      • Don
        August 2, 2011 at 11:20 am #

        Hey Matt, Jim is gone for a few days, but I thought I would let you know that you were our 16,000th comment! We are going to renew your subscription for FREE! It’s your lucky day, now go buy that Lotto ticket.

        • August 2, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

          Woohoo!!!! My momma always told me I can do anything I put my mind to. I willed myself to be the 16,000th comment using the power of the Secret.

        • Don
          August 2, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

          You wanna share “The Secret?”

        • August 3, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

  9. July 29, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    I like session beers when I plan on drinking more than a couple and/or when it is hot as hell. High ABV’s and Heat & Humidity, are a horrible pairing.

    • July 29, 2011 at 11:05 am #

      Unless you like puking, hangovers and dehydration. Then they’re awesome. 🙂

  10. July 29, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    I actually take the premise of “session” to other consumptions like whiskey and cigars. My son loves cigars and he and his friends typically go for those big ring gauge ligeros (doubles and triples) that blow your face off half way through the smoke. I have many whiskies that are big bad a$$ pours topping the proof scale at 144. But to your point, there are many times I want the simple yet flavorful experience. Low proof yet good flavor in a whiskey, mild strength yet good flavor in cigar. During heat of the summer, I tend to go for simple more times than not.

    • July 29, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

      I tend to prefer whiskies that are 90 proof or so, like Four Roses Small Batch. Lots of flavor, plenty of heat and everything in balance.

      I don’t do cigars, but in general I’d avoid the ones that explode half way through (this is why you should never accept one from a cartoon rabbit).

  11. July 29, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    Bigger beers seem to be able to command my attention more, but session beers certainly have their place, and there are definitely times when I want to drink a few beers without getting completely sloshed. Victory certainly seems to be a recurring theme when it comes to that – I’ve drank quite a few Whirlwind Wits this summer. I’m not as taken with Summer Love, but I do always find myself returning to Prima Pils, and a few other Victory brews.

    • July 29, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

      I still love me some big beers (that’s never gonna change) but the lighter fare now has my attention and appreciation. I’m actually starting to crave them, which is new for me.

      Victory makes bold beers, so even their sessionable stuff will appeal to flavor junkies. They’re a great place to start exploring session beers.

  12. Jeff W
    July 29, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    A tired discussion? Maybe, but it’s a tired discussion about beer. How bad can that be?

    As for the topic directly, I’d say it’s less about age and more about season & weather, personal preference, and one’s mood du jour. Lately I’ve been thinking that I want to give my poor abused palate a break from the monster IPA’s I do so love. Toward the beginning of the summer I picked up a couple cases of Full Sail’s Session Blacks. More recently I’ve found myself looking for Ordinary Bitters. Yesterday however I bought a half barrel of Georgetown’s Lucille.

    So much for the IPA break.

    • July 29, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

      I think maybe this is my first real break from bigger beers. In the past, I always felt that session beers weren’t worth the money, the calories or the space in my glass. But now I’m really embracing them, which is different. That said, I’ll never give up my big beers, but I might drink them with less and less frequency.

      • Jeff W
        July 29, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

        Please don’t ever put “give up” and “beer” in the same sentence again.

        Thanks, Jeff

        • July 29, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

          Sorry. That WAS a close one. 🙂

  13. Jeff W
    July 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    It was like those scary black shadows from Ghost were coming for me.

    • July 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

      But they were all in the shape of Clydesdales and Bob Uecker… 😈

      • Jeff W
        July 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

        OMG Mr. Baseball, is he still alive?

  14. July 29, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    I think it’s all a matter of the appropriate beer for the appropriate occasion, regardless of how old you are. Even back in my twenties I’d choose a beer dependent upon: what I was in the mood for, what the social situation was, how hot or cold it was outside, and how much physical activity I just had or was about to have. If whatever I chose had a higher ABV and I had to keep my wits about me, I’d just have fewer. I’m getting close to 50 and I still make decisions the same way I did when I was in my twenties when it comes to choosing a beer. I see all this “big beer” vs “little beer” hoopla as a symptom of newbies going overboard when they first get into craft beer and having to prove to others that they had it all.

    A note about your sub-thread with Zac: Six packs are perfect for me, I just buy a case of four different beers each week and then rotate which ones I drink until I get back to the sore; variety with convenience.

    • July 29, 2011 at 7:00 pm #

      There ya go Zac, problem solved, and a damn good resolution. Will probably gets a case price on it too.

  15. Ryan
    August 2, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    I’ve had a similar eye-opening experience recently, but I chalk it up more to my palate maturing than any other part of me. When I first started drinking craft beer, I didn’t know what I was looking for and my palate wasn’t adjusted. I couldn’t pick out the nuances between two pilsners if you drew me a diagram. Which is why I needed the big beers: “Okay, THOSE are hops!” or “THAT is a pumpkin flavor!” As I’ve grown more accustomed to beer and the subtleties, I’ve found that I’m leaning much more toward the pilsners and kolsches and other toned down styles now that I know what I’m looking for and can pick out small taste differences in them.

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