beer column

here are my notes from yesterday's beer column on sessionable beers on cbc radio one's on the coast with stephen quinn:

Spring/Summer beers
aka what the heck is a session beer anyway?!

Coming up on May 10th is Camra Vancouver's second annual Spring Sessional.
The general definition of a sessionable beer as interpreted by Camra Vancouver is one “brewed to be low in alcohol (4.5% or less) without sacrificing flavour or the malt to hop balance, resulting in an extremely drinkable beer. The purpose of these beers is to allow repeated consumption over a long session without overwhelming the palate or coherence of the imbiber”.

In other words, tasty beers low enough in alcohol not to get you intoxicated before you finish the first half of it!

Session beers are really a natural progression in craft beer, and a return to old days.  Historically in Europe beer was the beverage of workers – quaffed during the work day - and you can’t have the workers getting all liquored up while you expect them to be working.
Inefficient, not to mention dangerous. 
After the high alcohol wars it only makes sense that the pendulum would swing totally to the other side and brewing lower alcohol beers would be the next challenge.
British bitters and milds are traditionally session beers, which we were not seeing very many of in Vancouver of late. But they are making a comeback.   Also many imported beers such as Czech pilsners and German kolschs are lower in alcohol, like Pilsner Urquell.

Any beer style can be made sessionable.  So why are we seeing the CAMRA session festival in the Spring?

It's not just a gap in the calendar that needed filling.  A session beer is a perfect warmer weather drink.  If you're going to be drinking in the hot sun, you need a lower alcohol beer if you're going to make it past one or two. And who wants to stop at one when you're enjoying the sun on a patio?

The trick is to brew a full flavoured beer with a lower amount of fermentable sugars. Session beers are not just watered down versions of higher strength beers. This is where the challenge for brewers is and most brewers love a challenge.

There are a couple of ways to beef up the flavour of a beer without raising the alcohol volume.  I won't go into too much detail here, though!  If you are interested in brewing a session ale, there is plenty of homebrew help online, including recipes.

One of the tricks is to get some unfermentables in there to give the beer body without adding alcohol.  "Unfermentables" are sugars and proteins which do not ferment, meaning that they impart flavour but their sugars aren't eaten by the beer yeast and turned into alcohol.  Dextrins, lactose and oatmeal are examples of unfermentables.
Brewers also have to watch the hopping.  Hops add many flavours to beer, but with a lighter body to the beer, you have to be careful with bitterness levels to keep a balance.  Adding hops late in the brewing process can help with adding flavour without overwhelming bitterness, and dry-hopping also works well in session ales.

Some sessionable beers currently available in Vancouver are:

Bomber Brewing's 3.9% Bike Path best bitter, on tap at the tasting room or in 22 oz bombers;
Central City ISA – India Session Ale – is a 4% showcase for mosaic hops.;

R&B's SunGod Wheat Ale has been around for years, and weighs in at 4.2%;

Stiegl Radler, that I raved about this time last year, is available in tall cans at liquor stores and in craft beer locations like The Cascade Room.  The Radler is half fruit juice and half lager, and comes in grapefruit, lemon and raspberry flavours, however you are going to be hard pressed to find anything other than the grapefruit around town. It weighs in at 2.5%. On these ones the acidity of the fruit juice gets me long before the alcohol does.
I have also just heard that Postmark Brewing, a new micro-brewery set to open at 55 Dunlevy Ave., Vancouver later this Spring will be brewing mostly session beers.

So where should you be trying to drink session ales? How about on a patio?  Vancouver has many a fabulous patio. Where do patios and session beers intersect?

Tap and Barrel Olympic Village has the biggest and sunniest patio in the City. Currently on tap there is the Sun God Wheat Ale, and 33 Acres of Life, which is 4.8%;

Tap and Barrel's other location at the Convention Centre also has a great patio and they offer Central City's ISA as well as the SunGod and 33 Acres of Life;

Steamworks Brewpub in Gastown has a patio and a Cascadian Golden Ale on tap that weighs in at a mere 4%;

Biercraft on Commercial Drive has a lovely little patio, and many of their Belgian offerings weigh in under 5%;

Other large patios in Vancouver that offer craft beer include Dockside on Granville Island, Chill Winston in Gastown, and
Local in Kitsilano,

Smaller craft beer patios like Falconetti's, Tangent, Incendio, St. Augustines, Yaletown Brewpub, Bitter, and all the Rogue locations are great places to get a beer in warmer weather.

The Camra Vancouver Spring Sessional will be held at the Cobalt at 917 Main Street, this year from 1:00 – 6:00 on May 10th, and feature four collaboration casks brewed by homebrewers in conjuction with four breweries in town. There are still tickets for this event, but they're going fast, so get yours today! $30.00 gets you in the door, a taster glass and three tasters of beer. Additional tasters of beer will cost you $1.25 each. There will be a food truck and an ATM onsite.

Also on the horizon is Vancouver Craft Beer Week - May 30 through June 7. Tickets went on sale April 28th. I'll be talking about all the events on my next column in two weeks' time, but you should get on buying your tickets now before they all sell out!

Beer Picks:

The session beers I already mentioned are my picks for this week:

Bomber Brewing's Bike Path Best Bitter

Central City's India Session Ale

and R&B's SunGod Wheat Ale


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