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No wonder I STILL can’t find any session beer in the USA (and, please re-run the numbers Ken)

Aug 5, 2011

Anyone who knows me, also knows that my constant bitching & moaning about the lack of session beer in the US is a feature as fundamental to my being as my ‘Englishness’, so it has become a bit of a joke in the beer circles that I move in; ‘Oh, here comes ‘4% Ding’, order him a session Russian Imperial Stout’ etc. On the surface I laugh it off, but of course many of you know that this is a serious business to me and quite frankly those comments wear a little thin. Having said that, they are made in good faith and they ARE ‘jokes’, but what is NOT as funny is when people glibly say that in reality there IS lots of true session beer available in the US – there simply is not, and the fallacy that around every corner one can fine a wide array of carefully crafted sub-4% beer is exactly that – a fallacy.

Rather than pointing to anecdotal evidence, I constantly reference a super piece written by Ken Weaver close to 18 months ago. Now, since that piece was written it IS true that many more, lower ABV beers have been brewed in the US craft scene, but my bet (and the challenge to Ken is to repeat his statistical analysis for my benefit) is that very, very little of it is 4% and below, AND that the average ABV of new beer in the US is STILL ridiculously high. In short, despite the fact that more lower ABV IS being made in the US, there is NOT a low ABV revolution occurring in the American craft scene.

Of course, Ken and I disagree COMPLETELY about the ABV limit of session beer, but his numbers still help to demonstrate my overall point about the difficulty of finding session beer in the US. In fact, with the ceiling of 5.5% that he uses one can hardly find much craft session beer, and with my (correct) definition, there’s virtually none. Either way I’d love to see the numbers re-run with a couple of other things investigated. One with a 4% ceiling, and the other with the introduction of 2010 and 2011 numbers. I suspect that analysis may dispel the silly idea that America is now in the throws of some massive, low ABV craft revolution. So, as I was drinking (actually cautiously sipping over several hours) my 22 oz of  9.90%, Smuttynose Homunculus last night, I thought, how about it, Ken?


  1. Jaxbeerlover

    I have always agreed with yea on this. That said I do not see session beers ever being a market here. Take me for instance. I am not much for paying 5+ bucks for a beer, period.

    So unless a session beer was like 2 bucks a pop @ a pub, I would never drink it no matter how good it was @ $5+ a pop. For my 5 bucks I want a buzz, so sue me I have no real need to drink a gallon of beer and NOT be buzzed. Seems pointless to me.

    I do get it, I just do not see the value in it and as a yank, most of us will never get it.

    • arkhamresident

      Two dollars? While a lower ABV beer would require less malts and (probably) less hops the time involved would still make up a significant portion of the costs. I’d expect beers under 4% to be a little less expensive but not half the price.

  2. Ding

    I think you are right, many cultural barriers will never be overcome.

  3. Bill O

    Have you ever considered homebrewing? It’s what I ended up having to do, not being able to find true session beers around here.

  4. JamesS

    That is one of the things I love about being a homebrewer, the ability to brew lower ABV beers. I have made some session browns and bitters that I reall enjoy.

  5. Josh

    Here in Austin Jester King has been working on the session beer front with das wunderkind and commercial suicide(wish they would come out more frequently…)

    It’s not much but there is hope

    • Ding

      The fact that they use the name ‘commercial suicide’ tells you all you need to know!

  6. Ken Weaver


    Thanks for the kind comments (and challenge!). I would have responded sooner, though this just popped up now (I’ve not been moderating comments to the blog as of late, for a number of reasons, not limited to spam and generally being busy).

    I originally got the info from another admin who pulled up the numbers for me. They were originally binned into categories like [3.5% to <4.5%], [4.5% to <5.5%], etc. I'm just so busy right now with book work that I wouldn't have a chance to do this for another few months. If interested in getting the data to check out, I would either send an email to the owner (joet at ratebeer dott com), or pop over there and request it on the forums. Just so busy right now. Manuscript due very soon.

    (You've probably already seen this, but Joe Stange followed up with the data as well: http://www.thirstypilgrim.com/2011/05/growth-of-session-beer-not-yet-friends.html)

    Oh, and I'm also not too particularly opinionated regarding the % cutoff at this point. It's always been more an issue (for me) of just encouraging brewers to make smaller stuff one way or another. My email's on my website, if anything else comes up. I've been pretty rubbish about blog correspondence as of late. cheers!,


  7. marquis

    Commercial suicide? Every brewer this side of the pond (and there are over 900 of them) manage to brew at least one session beer. Many if not most pubs find that they are by far the biggest sellers.

    As for pricing, remember that the material costs are very minor- a few cents a pint. The majority of the price of beer comes from overheads-wages,interest on loans, upkeep of premises, wear and tear, fuel, packaging and distribution which are not ABV dependent.

    • Ding

      The point being of course, that as far a beer culture goes, when comparing the US to the UK, you might as well be comparing chalk & cheese!

      Of course, your point about ingredients being a fractional part of the cost of a pint, whilst being entirely correct (in many cases), is totally lost on people in the US.


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