More Drinking, Less Buzz: Session Beers Gain Fans : The Salt Light beer doesn't have to mean less flavor. A growing trend is offering another option. Session beers emphasize craft-beer taste with alcohol as low as or lower than big-brand light beers.
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More Drinking, Less Buzz: Session Beers Gain Fans

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More Drinking, Less Buzz: Session Beers Gain Fans

More Drinking, Less Buzz: Session Beers Gain Fans

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/368038601/369902567" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

There are a lot of craft beers out there with a pretty high alcohol content. Having more than one or two could mean you're drunk quickly and that's opening up the market for session beer, nice beer that's not so potent. Doug Tribou of member station WBUR introduces us to some beer makers leading this trend.

DOUG TRIBOU, BYLINE: Chris Lohring has been brewing craft beer professionally for more than two decades. In 2010, he founded Notch Brewing. The company's lineup includes a Czech pilsner, a Belgian saison and an India Pale Ale. And all of the brews are session beers, meaning their alcohol by volume, or A.B.V., is less than 5 percent.

CHRIS LOHRING: The only thing in the United States previous to session beer being available by smaller brewers was the light beers of the world, which are mass-marketed flavorless beers. You could call them a session beer, but to me, a session beer needs to have some flavor, it needs to entice you for that second pint.

TRIBOU: Lohring likes to say, one and done's no fun. That concept might sound familiar.(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MEN: (Singing) Schaefer is the one beer to have when you're having more than one.

TRIBOU: Schaefer made that slogan famous in the 1960s and '70s, but when Lohring first started making craft session beers, other brewers told him he was crazy. Stronger brews, including Sierra Nevada's Torpedo Extra IPA with 7.2 percent alcohol were getting all, the, well, buzz. But today, Lohring and Notch Brewing aren't alone. Chase Kushak is the chief operating officer for Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

CHASE KUSHAK: We've had this great, broad stable of really well-respected, well-recognized beers, and then later in the game, All Day IPA came and that's the one that's risen to the top for us now.

TRIBOU: All Day IPA is Founders' first session beer. It's sold in 15-packs instead of the traditional 12. Kushak says Founders isn't promoting longer drinking sessions, but when they come up, All Day IPA and its 4.7 percent alcohol is an alternative.

KUSHAK: Those situations where people were drinking throughout the day already existed, and so our goal was to take a very responsible approach to that.

TRIBOU: But what about the taste? To see if these low-alcohol offerings can earn high marks for flavor, I turned to an expert.

JASON ALSTROM: I'm Jason Alstrom, co-founder of Beer Advocate.

TRIBOU: Beer Advocate is one of the top craft beer websites and magazines. Co-founder Jason Alstrom has been reviewing beers for nearly 20 years. On a warm November afternoon I met him in Boston on the patio at Deep Ellum, a bar that serves session beers from around the world. We ordered Guineu Riner, a golden beer brewed in Barcelona. By any standard, this is a low-alcohol beer. Bud Light and Coors Light clock in at 4.2 percent. Guineu Riner has an alcohol by volume of just 2.5.

I asked Alstrom to take a sip.

ALSTROM: It's just packed with hops. It's perfectly balanced but it's really hard to think that it's 2.5 percent. It's just an amazing beer.

TRIBOU: The experts are convinced, but the customer is always right. And standing at the bar, Newton, Massachusetts resident Marcin Kunicki told me he recently had a memorable weekend that he can actually remember, thanks to a session beer.

MARCIN KUNICKI: We had a half-keg of it amongst four guys. We played cards all day, you know. It was a weekend away with the guys, and not to call ourselves alcoholics, but we drank all day.

TRIBOU: Kunicki's friend Rob Ross was on that trip. Ross is a home brewer so he has a real appreciation for the art of making a flavorful low-octane beer. But he also understands the main appeal.

ROB ROSS: You can have a few of them and not be totally drunk (laughter).

TRIBOU: And whether you sip or swig, the best session beers will leave you with something to savor.

For NPR News I'm Doug Tribou in Boston.

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