I’ve started to hear the term “session beer” more and more lately. It is a relatively new term first appearing in the 1980’s, although the idea of a session beer stems from WWI. During that time in England, beer strength was mandated by law and high tariffs. Also at that time, WWI workers were allowed one of two “sessions” where they could go to the pub. These typical licensed session were from 11am – 3pm and 7pm – 11pm. During this time, the workers would drink an average of 8 beers. Now that may seem like a lot, but the workers would intentionally select a beer that had a fairly low alcohol content; that way they could drink those 8 beers and still return to work without being arrested for being drunk and disorderly.
Now, of course, the term has a slightly different meaning. We no longer are allowed to return to work after drinking 8 beers, regardless of alcohol content. However, the term does still refer to a bar session. In England, it is not unusual to get together with a few mates and spend hours at the local pub talking and having a good time. When this happens, it is traditional for each person in the group to buy a round of beer. So if you are hanging out with a group of 7 or 8 mates, you have a lot of drinking to do. Session beers are the way to do this.
Session beers have yet to be truly defined, but this is the gist of it:
session beer (n.) : Any beer that contains no higher than 5 percent ABV, featuring a balance between malt and hop characters (ingredients) and, typically, a clean finish – a combination of which creates a beer with high drinkability. The purpose of a session beer is to allow a beer drinker to have multiple beers, within a reasonable time period or session, without overwhelming the senses or reaching inappropriate levels of intoxication. (Yes, you can drink and enjoy beer without getting drunk.)
Don’t be fooled by session beers. Though they are lower in alcohol content, doesn’t mean that they have to be low in flavor or body. There are thousands of beers sold around the world that are lower than 5% abv. For example, Guiness Draught: 4%, Newcastle Brown Ale: 4.7%, Coopers Dark Ale: 4.5%, Sam Adams Golden Pilsner: 4.6%, and there are many, many more of all different styles. So the next time you’re out with your mates sitting around the pub, order a round of session beers and have yourself a good time. I’ll get the next round.