Thursday, April 29, 2010

Quit Crying for Session Beers

(Edit: I posted this article the morning of April 30. I was notified by Mr. Chris Lohring with some information I either misconstrued or did not see on his website. The edited portions are in blue)

I get Beer Advocate magazine. A friend of mine got it for me as a gift. It's actually a pretty good magazine that has food recipes, an occasional homebrew recipe, news about craft beer, and reviews of beer. It's decent. In the back of each issue, there's an column written usually by a guest writer called LAST CALL. In this issue (#39), Chris Lohring writes "It's Time for Session Beer".

In case you're unfamiliar with the term, "session" beer is beer that is usually lower than 4.5% alcohol by volume (ABV%). The idea being with less alcohol, you can drink more of that kind of beer, thus having a "session" with the beer. I guess.

It's a decent article - stating that craft beer would be more appealing to people if the alcohol by volume (ABV%) were less, then people could stick around longer without having to stagger out of the bar and keep their wits. Mr. Lohring eventually goes on to discuss his new brew, Notch Session Ale.

There are always these "back and forth" discussions in Beer Advocate. One month, the two brothers that run it were saying that we should all support our local beer cultures by drinking in our local brewpubs and buying from local brewers; stop buying imports. A few months later, in the same Beer Smack column, they're saying we should support overseas markets by buying imports. I'm sure this allows for people on either side of the table to raise a glass to the Brothers Alstrom.

When I try to look up "Notch Session Ale" on ratebeer or beer advocate, I don't find it. I went to the website. Yeah. There doesn't seem to be any description of the beer here, either, but there is a shitload of "marketing" on the Notch website. Reminds me of the Edison Light campaign. That ended up being another light lager in a clear (thanks for skunking it!) bottle.

It's unfortunate that this is how Mr. Lohring and Company want to promote their beer. The footnote at the end of the article states, "Chris Lohring is the founder of Notch American Session Ales, and co-founded Boston's Tremont Brewery. He spent his time out of the beer industry in the world of product design and development."

(edit: Mr. Lohring contacted me, and he was in fact, in Engineering, not Marketing. So I misconstrued what this was, thinking it was "marketing")

The other thing that gripes me also sort of lends itself to the marketing front: "It's Time for Sesson Beer". Really? I think that's been going on a while. In fact, when I searched for "Notch Session Ale" on Beer Advocate, I found a whole list of session beers. I would say East End Brewing in Pittsburgh is kicking your ass on this front.

You also might have heard of Stone Brewing Company in southern California? Yeah, they've been making Levitation since 2002. It's wonderful.

I guess it all comes down to this for me: Beer is beer. Some of it has more hops than others, some of it has funny ingredients, some of it's lower in alcohol, some are higher in alcohol. I like certain ones more at different times of the year. But the one thing that always remains is that I like a variety of beers. It doesn't matter to me if you have a fancy marketing campaign or not. If your beer tastes good, I will buy it.

In my opinion, session beer has always been an option. It's not anything new. Making it a "niche" market is totally unnecessary.


MiBi said...

I'm a fan of a good session beer, but I personally don't think it has anything to do with the amount of alcohol that is in it. I just like something tasty. If it kicks my ass, well it kicks my ass.

I think though, that that interesting part of your statements here are the flip flopping going on by Beer Advocate and this Chris Lohring. I think it is clever to try and tap into the "session beer" market of craft brewing. Let's be honest, you have your Bud Light Drinker and then the guy who is perceived as a beer dude that drinks nothing but 6% ABV IPA's. I know I'm accused of it. I bring a porter to a party and everyone around me thinks that because it is black it is going to have me puking after two. Once they find out it is actually sitting at around 4.3% ABV and it tastes delicious, things begin to change.

I guess what I'm getting at is that these guys are marketing based upon a stigma that I believe is out there. The line is drawn in the sand, craft beer drinker, or commercial drinker. The commercial drinker is considered an idiot that has no tastes by the craft beer drinkers and the craft beer drinkers are snobs that like bitter beer by the commercial drinker. All of the above which I am not, nor am I accusing you of being, its just the trend I see.

Which just so happens to be the same trend I think these guys are trying to attack. If your not a Bud Light drinker, but don't want to be the perceived "beer snob" what can you drink? A nice session beer.

I don't blame them. What I don't understand is your other findings about there being little to know information out there and that they are doing a poor job of marketing it. I just don't get that. Why would they even bother if they don't have something in place, let alone a "light lager?"

I really appreciate your honesty in this article. It was a great read and I look forward to more!

Thanks for stopping by Mike's Brew Review and I can't wait to read more of your insights!

Mike's Brew Review

Jez said...

Strong, solid post, Mike. I sorta felt bad with such a strong response to Chris Lohring. I think he's doing what he wants to do, and I never want to stifle that creativity, but I just kind of roll my eyes when someone pushes a niche. Just make good beer without marketing it, and people will come out and get it.