Sit Down and have a Beer or Three – The Rise of Session Beers

Perhaps the most noticeable trend in the world of craft brewing has been that of exotic, extreme beers made with odd ingredients and/or with super-high alcohol content. While that has certainly given beer lovers an almost endless range of interesting options to explore in their drinking, it’s hard to have more than one or two of these beers without feeling the effects. However, uber-robust beers might not be the norm for long. A new trend is rising – session beers are becoming more and more popular with beer drinkers and pubs/restaurants too.

What the Heck Is a Session Beer?

Before we get into anything else related to the topic, it might be best to look a little more closely at what a session beer actually is. This is not a “style” of beer like a lager or an amber ale. Instead, it’s a concept – an ideal. Interestingly, it seems to be the reverse of the trend that has held strong in craft brewing for the last decade or so. Where many craft brewers focus on robust, super strong beers, session beers are a bit tamer.

Typically, a session beer has an ABV of less than 5% (some say 4.5% or lower). Does that mean they’re boring, watered down brews that hold little interest for the confirmed beer lover? Far from it – you’ll find some extremely good session beers out there and the market is just now beginning to pick up. That means more options will be arriving soon.

Why Lower ABV?

What’s the point of having a beer with such a low amount of alcohol in it? Essentially, a session beer is designed so that drinkers can leave their drinking session without being hammered – walking a straight line out of the pub might be a refreshing difference for some. The entire point here is so that drinkers can enjoy having several beers during a set “session” without becoming incoherent. 

What Makes a Session Beer?

So, other than relatively low alcohol content, what goes into creating a session beer? First, it has to be interesting enough for drinkers to have several of them during the session without becoming bored. That means that watered down, mass-produced beers like Bud are off the list. The beer should have enough flavor to keep the drinker, well, drinking.

The flavor and body of the beer must also be balanced enough that multiple glasses will not wear the drinker down. Remember, too much of a good thing is still too much. A good session beer will be balanced and interesting, flavorful and enjoyable.

Finally, a good session brew should also be relatively affordable. After all, if drinkers are going to have several pints in a row, they have to be able to afford to pony up for those sequential glasses. Obviously, that’s good for the customer but what makes these beers so popular with pubs and eateries serving craft beer?

The Benefits of Session Beers for Sellers

So, as you can see from the information above, beer drinkers get to enjoy a brew that is flavorful, interesting, affordable and not knock-your-socks-off strong. What’s in it for the sellers, though? Actually, establishments serving this type of beer stand to gain just as much as drinkers do. What’s on tap here?

Lower ABV Equates to Better Patrons

For any establishment that serves beer, having customers drink too heavily is not a good thing. The lower alcohol percentage in these brews ensures that customers are better behaved during their sojourn in a pub or restaurant (no arrests for drunk and disorderly for instance). That equates to a better overall atmosphere within an establishment, but it also makes for a more enjoyable experience for patrons.

More Beers Sold per Session Equals More Profit

Most of those heading into their favorite watering hole for a drinking session will limit the number of beers they consume so that they can make it home safely. This has a direct effect on the sales for any establishment, obviously. Fewer beers consumed equates to lower sales. However, because drinkers can have several session beers during any drinking session, that equates to more beers sold and higher profit for the pub or restaurant. 

In addition, because drinkers will be staying for longer sessions, establishments that serve food are noticing a distinct increase the amount of food served – a further boost to profitability.

Wider Appeal for Customers Boosts Establishment Foot Traffic

Let’s face it, not everyone is interested in trying out the latest extreme beer or super-high ABV brew. However, more and more people are becoming interested in session style brews. In fact, the appeal is growing so much that establishments that serve a decent variety of these brews have noticed a distinct increase in the amount of traffic they receive. More patrons certainly goes a long way toward making a bar more successful.

Even with the lower price point for these types of brews, establishments are finding that greater volume and more customers more than makes up for the few dollars they might be losing per pint due to the lower price point. 

Who Really Wins with Session Beers?

So, who comes out batting 1,000 in this situation? Actually, it really looks like it’s a win-win for both sides. Drinkers get to have great beer that won’t put them on the floor after only two pints, and establishments get to sell more product. It doesn’t get much better than that. A considerable number of brewpubs, eateries and bars are currently exploring this new trend and you might be surprised by the number of local watering holes that are beginning to offer session-style brews in your own area.

Will session-style brews eventually replace the current trend of strong craft beer? It’s really pretty doubtful, but only time will tell. If nothing else, it will give drinkers just one more avenue to explore and is just one more thing to love about the world of craft brewing. 

Posted on July 18, 2011 .