Monday, February 25, 2008

Pilot Batch #1

One of my goals is to promote session beers. Session beers have low alcohol contents and are very drinkable, meaning that a person can easily consume several of them without feeling overwhelmed. They're good beers to stick with over the course of a long drinking session, such as spending the evening at a pub. Session beers are relatively popular in the British Isles and Germany, but the resurgence of craft brewing in the states has largely relied on strong ales. So why brew session beers?

The big reason is because they naturally moderate alcohol consumption. I'm not gonna lie to you; I like having a beer in my hand. It relaxes my nerves and boosts my confidence. A session beer is a willing security blanket that won't knock me out with a sucker punch and write dirty words on my forehead. I love drinking big beers, but holding an empty glass for an hour between each pint of IPA isn't my favorite way to make a night of it. In addition, session beers are great for informal and unplanned drinking. Do you ever feel like stopping by the pub on the way home from work? Have a quick session beer, say hi to a few friends and get back to what you were doing.

That all sounds great, but why don't more people drink them here? I think it's because most brewpubs charge standard prices for them. Are you willing to repeatedly pay full-price for 3.2% abv beer? We're not going to make the same pricing mistake.

All of this background brings me to the real purpose of this post, which is to describe my first test batch. My intent was to brew a beer with a light copper color, a sweet/bitter balance that leans very slightly toward bitterness, about 3.2% abv and enough body to avoid the common watery mouthfeel of many session beers. Aside from being brewed with all organic ingredients, it's modeled after a traditional style of English ale that you can only buy on draught (as far as I know). Once the beer was ready, I had a few highly qualified sensory analysts - aka friends - try it and give me their honest thoughts. The response was very positive and the group confirmed that I accomplished most of my goals, aside from having a more dominant hop flavor than I wanted. A note to brewers: adding your last hop addition 30 minutes from the end of the boil will still result in a strong flavor. Myth busted!


Scott said...

So if you're going for English are you going to have any hand-pulled taps?

Joe said...

I won't serve a cask for more than a couple of days, so it'll depend on how things go once we've been open for a little while. I'll jump on the chance if I have the demand.

Fresh cask beer tastes so good primarily because of its temperature and carbonation level. It's expensive to install draft systems that allow much variation between beers, so bars that aren't afraid to deviate from ice cold will typically serve all of its beers at a uniform compromise. One of our spending priorities will be to have a flexible draft system, so hopefully I can be pretty close to the essence of cask ale from the start.

Stele said...

Love the idea! I was never a beer drinker until my first visit to England (this was early 90s), where I got to enjoy the experience of pubs and session beers. And I have really loved my times sitting in beer gardens in Germany, with several liters in the belly. You certainly can't go wrong with a nice German-style lager, and a proper weisen in the summer. And don't forget the radlers/russens for the ladies!

Lestah said...

I just read this older blog and couldn't agree more about session ales. My last two trips to the UK focused on these fine beverages, and they excel in production of a wide variety of them over there. The average alcohol per volume was on the order of 4-4.2%, while our craft brews weigh in from 6-7% That means trouble for driving after 3-4 pints unless you weigh 250 lbs or more.

Cask real ale in the UK is not stored with a blanket of CO2 (as it often is here), and it the cask is finished after about three days of serving. A few bad pints can damage both the name of the brewery and the reputation of the pub. Cheers.

Joe said...

I suppose I won't use a cask breather either. Even though they prevent oxidation, they don't stop beer from going flat. If my casks aren't sold in three days, I'll find other uses for their contents.