Wednesday, March 7

In Search of Small

I was talking to Our Fearless Leader awhile back about our mutual love of beer and, more recently, of brewing.

“I want to try everything!” Butch said. “Why not?”

Why not indeed? I was blessed to have a mentor in my introduction to beer, a young man who started me on craft brews and imports instead of Crispix lagers.* I believe I have consumed at least one example of every defined style of both ales and lagers, and I have loved at least one example of most of them. As I grew accustomed to various styles, I developed more of a taste for hops, and found myself drawn to breweries from the Pacific Northwest – Red Hook and Rogue were favorites – but after a six-pack or a couple of big bottles, I often found myself drawn back to more classic ales: English bitters, pales and porters; Irish stouts; and Scottish and Scotch ales.

* * * * *

Even now, with so many beers to choose from, I usually have a little Bass Ale on hand – a consistent, easy drinker that always pleases me. And since I’ve begun brewing, I’ve made…a basic English Pale Ale kit from Northern Brewer, and a basic Irish Stout kit and a Peter’s Wicked clone – a brown ale – from Midwest Supplies.

These are not beers that attract attention on a menu. Do I fear complexity or prefer plain? No – I’ll gladly try the latest malt-ilicious, hop-tastic concoction from the great craft brewers here in Minnesota and nationally, but when it comes to spending time and money on brewing my own – and generating two cases’ worth of any one kind – I like what I like. I like flavor, but I also like balance. I like quintessential examples of classic styles. I like easy drinkers.

* * * * *

I’ve never been one to drink to excess. I remember a gathering of in-laws at Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit in Minneapolis, during which I drank a few mugs of my choice of beer, then twice found myself holding The Boot – a large glass pitcher of pilsner in the shape of, you guessed it, a boot – as the polka band ceased its festive wail, thereby obligating me to polish it off.** A short while later I rose to nature’s call, and found my head swimming in amber nectar. I resumed my seat, and said to Jodi that I thought I’d sit still awhile. My cheeks were warm; my tongue, thick – and I didn’t like the feeling.

You can say that I can’t hold my liquor – I’m okay with that. What bothers me most is that I genuinely enjoy good beer, and like to drink it and remember it. After three or so, I begin to lose track.

* * * * *

So a couple of weeks ago, I was browsing Anchor Brewing, source of two of my favorite brews (Anchor Steam and Anchor Porter), and ran across this page for Anchor Small Beer. Made from the second runnings from the grains of Anchor Old Foghorn Barleywine, it recalls an English Bitter and boasts a modest alcohol content of 3.3 percent. Small beer, apparently, is a style I hadn’t known. Anchor is brewing small beer, in an era of Big Beers. They call it “the original session beer.” Session beer is a phrase I’ve heard before, and I’ve gathered it means, roughly, a good multi-serving, social beer – a beer for a bull session.

Then last week, I ran across The Session Beer Project, which is dedicated to “small” beers. According to the proprietor, Lew Bryson, session beers are:
  • 4.5% alcohol by volume or less (some say
  • flavorful enough to be interesting
  • balanced enough for multiple pints
  • conducive to conversation
  • reasonably priced
The idea is that you can drink multiple pints of the same good brew and enjoy your dinner, argue with friends, or frame the Constitution and be none to worse for wear. This is not “near beer” – as I understand it, this is real beer, but meant as a tasty beverage to enhance an experience, not as an experience in itself. This is my kind of beer.

I want to be a session brewer.

I had already said my next kit would be an English Bitter – coincidentally enough, a session brew. I want beer I can serve to whoever stops by, breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I want beer I can drink, and still get my work done. I want to create a great session porter. A session stout. A session saison.

Go big or go home? I’m heading home – to a fridge full of session brews.

* * * * *

*Made with corn and rice, naturally…
**Once it was in my hands, and once it was in the hands of a diminutive older aunt, and I did the gentlemanly thing.

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