Some want to define “session beer” as 4.5% alcohol or less. Others say that’s too high and it should be 4% alcohol or less. Yet others suggest that 5.5% is okay.
Me, I say that everything is relative.
I’ve written before that a “session beer” is, or at least should be, a beer you can drink over the course of a “session,’ that being a specific amount of time enjoyed with friends or family or strangers at a bar or pub or cafe. I’ve written about drinking strong beers and never getting drunk in Belgium, because I’ve been sipping at leisure, often with food, and also about “sessions” with low alcohol best bitters in the United Kingdom. Both, I think, are relevant.
But this post at Boak & Bailey reminded me of another occasion when “session” had a very different meaning, which led me to subsequently recall a separate and also very different instance with a most dissimilar result. These are the stories.
I flew into New York City on the morning of September 11, 2001. Yes, THAT September 11. Mine was one of the last planes to land at LaGuardia. I watched from the Long Island Expressway as the second tower fell. I eventually made my way to my hotel near Times Square, deposited my things and went out to drink. Heavily.
Although beer and whiskey were like water to me that night, my sobriety persisted no matter what I drank. It was the shock, you see, and like pretty much everyone I met that night, no matter how much we tried, drinking would not let us forget. A 12% Imperial stout would have been a “session beer” that night.
Forward to March, 2009, in Seattle. I was in town with my wife, Maggie, to judge at Brouwer’s Cafe’s 7th annual Hard Liver Barley Wine Festival. My wife who, a couple of month earlier, had nearly been killed (and was left injured) in an accident, and who subsequently had undergone unrelated surgery. I had filled many roles during the early weeks of that year – caregiver, provider, counsel – and I was stressed out to the max.
We sipped a bunch of barley wines, not an intemperate amount, and declared winners, adjourning after to socialize over a couple of beers. And I got drunk. Not just because of the alcohol, which really wasn’t that much, but because I was wound up tight as the proverbial drum.
Those are extreme instances, I admit, but ones nonetheless that I see as representative of the extremes of daily life. Sometimes we will be free and easy and the 6.1% alcohol IPA will flow down our throats to little effect, and at other times two pints of 4% bitter will have us feeling uncomfortably buzzed thanks to the stress of the week.
Session Beer: It’s not so easily defined.