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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Next Craft Beer Trend: Session or Sour?

Session Beers: For When You're Having More Than One
So now that this Double IPA trend has peaked, what's next craft beer trend?  I'm thinking there's a backlash in the form of session beers.  This is a backlash I can handle since it means that I don't need to get drunk in order to be trendy.  I like the availability of Full Sail's Session Beers.  And it says it right on the label so that when I spot it in a bar, I'm reminded that it's time to take the ABV down a bit every once in a while.

Last week, I enjoyed this Full Sail Session Black Lager.  Coincidentally, my friend had texted me looking for "a Guinness flavored lager ...light, bubbly and refreshing but nice and malty". This one fitted the bill for him.  Other favorite session beers of mine include  21st Amendment Bitter American, 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon, and Lost Coast Downtown Brown. These are all full-flavored and lower alcohol so you can have more than one.

Meeting Sour Beers Half Way
The other growing trend is sour beers.  It's starting to take up significantly more space on restaurant beer lists and store shelves.   This still surprises me because sour is not a prominent flavor in American cuisine so it does not seem to be something that would take off in the American market.   This is not a trend that I am whole-heartedly embracing and seems a bit difficult for the average American beer drinker to swallow.  A few weeks ago, I went to a friend's house for lunch.  My gracious hosts, knowing that I like beer, had a Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale chilled for me. As I sipped on the beer, they even asked me, "Do you enjoy the sourness?'s not really my kind of drink." It was a hot summer day so I found the cold sourness refreshing, although I was pouring myself small servings from the bottle.  Sour ale is  not something that I reach for regularly, but sometimes it is a nice change of pace for the pallate.

For me, the middle ground is found with the fruity Belgian lambic ales.  I've always enjoyed the Lindemans beers, however they use a fruit syrup for flavoring so I've been looking for more natural flavors lately.

Recently, I picked up Six Rivers Brewery Rasberry Lambic Ale. It's made with 500 pounds of raspberries.  As I was buying this, Evan at The Jugshop said that this is his current favorite beer.  When the shop first received this beer four months ago, it was really sweet.  They put the beer in the back for a few months.  When a few bottles exploded, they decided to try it again.  It's dry, tart, yet sweet and fruity. It's not quite a sour beer, but I can see why The Jugshop was selling it on the shelf next  the sour beers.  If you don't like fruity beers, this one is not for you.  I love fresh, fruity beers so this one is a keeper in its current bottle-aged state. It's best served chilled. As the beer comes up to ambiant temperature, the sourness becomes more prominent, which flattened the fruit flavors.

The Almanac Summer 2010 is another good ale with 250 pounds of berries to create a distinctly fresh sweet blackberry flavor. However, I'm still confused about the consistency of the product.  When I initially tried this beer at the SF Beer Week Opening Gala, the beer was sweet and fruity and not tart or sour.  When I tried this beer out of a bottle at the launch party at Shotwell's, the beer was clearly sour. Since this beer was barrel-aged, the varying amounts of brettanomyces in each barrel changed the sourness throughout this batch. You can read in Almanac's blog about how they Almanac found an astounding variance in the batch so they carefully measured the product of each barrel for a final blend. This variance from bottle to bottle naturally tests your sense of adventure when tasting this beer so I'd be weary of ordering this beer to pair with a meal since what you are served could be sweet or sour. Still, this is a very enjoyable beer while hanging out with friends.


  1. I think the best is a "combo session-sour", when going with a Berliner Weiss. Can't beat refreshing 3% sours on a hot day

  2. easy: it's probably both. most belgian sours are low in alcohol anyway, so I can easily see them becoming just as popular as beers like bitter american

  3. @Jay, What Berliner Weiss do you recommend?

    @Mathew Good point, but can you drink a sour all day like a Bitter American without prepping with an antacid?

  4. Good call Jay. Berliner Weisse is perfect when it's hot out.

    I agree with Mathew, though, that I think beer drinkers at a certain point in their relationship with beer will always want an extreme, and sours and special ingredients are the next frontier there. Still, many craft beer people have been drinking beer long enough that we prize subtlety more, so session beer is naturally on its way up, too.

  5. Hello!

    Jesse from Almanac Beer here. Thanks for including us in your post, as well as coming out for our launch party.

    I wanted to clear up a bit confusion: what you had on tap at SF Beer Week and the finished beer in the bottles are not the same thing. What we served at SF Beer Week was a special, single barrel unblended version of our beer. Compared to the finished bottled product it has much more oak and fruit character. In contrast, the bottles are a blend of several barrels and fresh beer, so it has a more mild oak note, more balanced fruit, and a bright hoppy aroma. (We still have a few kegs of the single barrel version squirreled away for special occasions)

    We added our berries straight off the bush, so it's possible that they have introduced a little brett character into the finished beer - however we didn't add anything else to sour them, such as a belgian sour yeast culture. All other acid in the beer comes from our malt bill.

    As for consistency - all of the bottles came from the same blending tank, and there should be very little variation from bottle to bottle. We've opened quite a few, and have not encountered anything too far outside of expectation. Of course, dealing with bottle conditioned beers, they are alive and will continue to evolve in your cellar.

    Thanks again for writing about us, and please let me know if you have any more questions!

    - Jesse

  6. Jesse,
    Thanks for chiming in and adding clarification. I enjoyed a bottle of Almanac Summer 2010 at RateBeer's Oakland A's event today. It was consistent with what I had at your launch party. As someone who's more enticed by fruity beers than sours, I hope to trying your single barrel version again some day, ideally with pancakes or something dessert-y.