These days, big beers are all the rage. There are double and imperial versions of many beer styles and many big beers are also aged in oak barrels, including bourbon barrels. The craft beer drinking public loves these brews, if the rankings on Beer Advocate and Rate Beer are any indication and there are times when nothing other than a big, bold beer will do.
But this big beer bonanza has spawned a bit of a backlash. Many beer drinkers, including myself, are saying, “Hey, I like a good bourbon barrel aged imperial stout as much as the next guy, but sometimes I want to drink a few beers (rather than sip one or two), and not feel like I’ve been hit by a truck the next day.” And this has led to a mini-resurgence in session beers — low gravity beers that you can enjoy a few, if not several, rounds of and not become too intoxicated. (And, in the July-August issue of BYO, Gordon Strong gives some advice on brewing session beers and some example recipes.)
It’s tempting to speculate about what the future holds for session beers. It’s tempting, so I’ll do it. I think the session beer resurgence (I don’t think you could quite call it a boom yet) will follow the basic outline of the big beer boom we are currently experiencing. A few breweries will lead the way with some very nice offerings, and pretty soon, most breweries will jump on the bandwagon. Some of the entries in the session beer field will be very respectable, others not so much. (Let’s face it, there are some spectacular double IPAs out there and there are some beers that simply have a lot of hops in them. As an aside, I think that if you drew a regression line through the scores of beers on Beer Advocate plotted against ABV, you’d see a large boost for big beers. If you normalized the scores to factor out the “big booze equals big score” factor, you’d get a much better picture of how different beers compare.)
In the future, I think we’ll see a lot of the marginal double IPAs, bourbon aged stouts and the like fall by the wayside. The great versions will, of course, remain. And, I think that we’ll see the same thing with session beers — a bit of culling will happen once the herd gets too big....