Don't get us wrong, we love big, bold, “extreme” beers as much as the next beer geek. That being said, sometimes we just want to have a few beers with friends on a sunny afternoon without losing the ability to walk or speak English. For the last couple years, the pendulum has been swinging back in the direction of so-called “session beers” — lower ABV options that ideally save your sobriety without sacrificing flavor.
The Bay Area does its share to contribute to session beer culture. Anchor Brewing kicked off its new Zymaster Series with a 4.9 percent brew described as a “sessionable lager.” Increased demand led 21st Amendment Brewery to promote its 4.4 percent Bitter American pale ale into a year-round offering, and Shmaltz Brewing retooled its staple Genesis brew, now described as a “dry-hopped session ale.” Upstart Dying Vines, which operates out of the Linden Street facility, produces a full lineup of beers that fall almost exclusively in 3.5-to-4.5 percent territory without sacrificing flavor. Half Moon Bay Brewing, along with help from “Wicked” Pete Slosberg, has re-tooled its Mavericks line of brews, now exclusively 3.75 percent ABV canned beers are perfect for the summer months.
Our local session beers also continue to receive national accolades. Santa Rosa's Moonlight Brewing makes Reality Czeck, the most highly rated domestic Czech-style pilsner on both Ratebeer and Beeradvocate. At the Great American Beer Festival, Fairfax's Iron Springs Brewery has taken home a bronze for its 4 percent ABV Kent Lake Kolsch, and Magnolia Pub has been awarded both silver and bronze in the “ordinary or special bitter” category. The winning bitters, New Speedway and Bonnie Lee's Best, clock in at 3.6 percent and 4.1 percent ABV, respectively.
For the first time, the Bay Area has deemed May to be “Session Beer Month.” Many local watering holes are pouring sessionable brews, ideally in the 4.5 percent ABV and under range. Leading the charge, Drake's Brewing will host the NorCal Session Fest on May 25 (12-4:30 p.m.; $35). The event will feature beers from more than 20 breweries, including favorites such as Ballast Point, Firestone Walker, Green Flash, and Heretic, but Drake's own Alpha Session and Omega Session beers are proof positive that low-alcohol brews can burst with hoppy aroma and flavor.