Joe Stange is an ex-pat American who had been based for several years in Belgium. While there, he co-authored the wonderful Around Brussels in 80 Beers. He has since re-located to Costa Rica.
Mr. Stange is back in the USA for a short visit, and he is on a mission, a mission for the "perfect American craft beer":
I know that brewers have been getting very creative. I know they've been doing some very wild and innovative things. I also know that sometimes these things have been very alcoholic and expensively done and bottled and priced accordingly. And you know what? We're not interested. That's not for us.
I'll be looking for beer with that winning combination of great drinkability and great character. Sessionability is not strictly required but will receive bonus points. Exorbitant prices will not be punished, but simply avoided.
Last week Stange was in my corner of the beer world, Washington, D.C. He stopped into a locally respected beer-centric restaurant, Pizzeria Paradiso, where he found a "nominee", the Bitter American from 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco, California.
Full of zesty hop flavor and aroma, dry and sessionable, with enough malt backbone for balance but checking in at a svelte 3.6 percent strength. Inspiring, nearly perfect, and handpicked by 1-year-olds everywhere for thirsty dads. Especially those throwing down sausage-and-peppers pies at Pizzeria Paradiso on this sultry DC afternoon.
Stange was with his infant son, so a 'small' beer was advisable. Washington, D.C. has been in the grips of a swampy summer heat wave, so a thirst-quenching beer —what others might disparagingly call a 'lawn-mower' beer— was a palliative. Bitter American is only 3.6% alcohol by volume (abv) but, as Stange tasted, full of flavor. There was no need for a North American industrial lager, such as a Budweiser or Coors or Miller, each at or about 5% abv, but of much less flavor. Alcohol and flavor are not synonymous.
Belgium, Costa Rica, Washington, D.C., San Francisco: Mr. Stange's quest continues, cross-pollinated, at his blog, Thirsty Pilgrim.
Beers of lower alcoholic strength, but not necessarily of lower flavor, are often referred to as session beers: one can drink a couple of these at a session without courting over-indulgence. In reaction to the current surfeit of 'extreme' American craft beer of high alcoholic strength, a guerrilla moment is developing for more session beers. There's even a website devoted to this topic: Lew Bryson's The Session Beer Project.