The session beer trend hasn't been nearly as strong, however, as RateBeer's Tucker says that his site's numbers indicate that there's actually less session-strength beer being produced in the U.S. Beer blogger Joe Strange, using RateBeer data, discovered that 419 beers of 4.5% alcohol by volume or lower were produced by U.S. craft brewers last year, making up 4.8% of the market. That's down from 615 and 9.6% of the take in 2004.
It's not for lack of effort on the brewers' part. Aside from Lohring's Notch ale and pils, Tucker says Anderson Valley Brewing's Bahl Hornin' Wee Geech Pale Ale, 21st Amendment's Bitter American, Oakham Brewing's Citra and the Ballast Point/Kelsey McNair/Stone collaboration San Diego County Session Ale are all great low-alcohol picks for those seeking something light, while Russian River Brewing's OVL Stout, Narke Single Target and Titanic New York Wheat Porter are all dark without being debilitating. He counts a session beer -- Little Dog Fred from Portland, Ore.,-based Hair of the Dog Brewing -- as one of his favorite beers of 2011, but thinks session beers may be just one more great idea away from breaking into the mainstream.
"Brewers, writers and beer enthusiasts are very enthusiastic about this solution ... canned low-ABV beers!" Tucker says. "It's actually a great idea: In addition to the beer being better protected from damage by light, it's lighter and less likely to break, and more acceptable in places where broken glass would be a problem, like parks and sporting events."
It would also perform the same function for craft beer as low-alcohol, canned beer did for the big brewers: making it more accessible to the masses. Lohring has found that the best customers in his first few months have been either craft beer fans familiar with session beers or beer drinkers who are just getting into craft beer who are drawn in by the low alcohol. It's the main reason he's begun brewing a Belgian saison that's only 3.8% alcohol by volume that, he says, more closely resembles the beer drunk by Belgian farmhands in the early 1900s than the 8%, 9% and 10% alcohol saisons produced today.In his view, it would not only expand options for beer drinkers put off by the potency of craft beer but make it more palatable for those concerned about craft beer prices. For comparison's sake, a 22-ounce bottle of Cambridge, Mass.-based Pretty Things Brewery's Jack D'or sells for $5 to $10 at retail and cost. Considering that a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles of Notch go for roughly the same price, that low alcohol can lead to big savings for consumers who value the opportunity to have more than one. "I offer my beers for a pretty competitive price and I can't have people just buy one 22-ounce bottle and move on, which is why I offer my beers in six-packs to people who are going to barbecues," Lohring says. "From a business perspective, I want people to want to drink more than one beer." -- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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