Once in awhile, you take a first drink of beer that just makes you stop and think "wow". Or maybe you accidentally shout it out loud, much to the concerned surprise of other bar-mates, and to your own personal embarrassment. At Three Notch'd Brewing recently, it was the former, I hope.
Three Notch'd Brewing is a start-up production brewery, dead-centered in Virginia, in the town of Charlottesville. The brewer is Dave Warwick, who most recently was brewer at the Rock Bottom in Ballston, Virginia (where he toiled under the hipster misconception that no good beer could be brewed in a mall). Well, look at him, now!
The Three Notch'd taproom was busy on a recent cold Saturday afternoon, and the crowd included some young families and their kids. (That's a bug-a-boo of some 'Yelp-ers- writing on other breweries, but I think it a lovely thing. Moms and Dads can quietly enjoy an adult beverage apiece, without suffering the ruckus of certain child-themed restaurant-thunderdomes.)
The cause of my exultation was the brewery's Session 42 English-style Session Ale.
So-called 'session beers' have become the rage these days. Some U.S. 'craft' breweries are producing crazy-unbalanced hop-bombs of less than 6% abv, and slapping the session moniker on them. I don't know what alcohol-level makes a beer a session beer, but 6% ain't it, and neither is 5%. And, a beer, of whatever strength, that's stuffed with a zoo of unbalanced flavors, hops or otherwise? Well, no. That's not a session beer, either.
Think of a session beer as one that's fit for a drinking session of a couple/three pints without inducing an alcoholic haze, and, as a beer that is flavorful, but not obstreperously so. Paraphrasing a Supreme Court justice, I may not be able to precisely define a session beer, but I know one when I taste one.
For another good starting definition, try that of beer/whisk(e)y writer Lew Bryson.
Or, head down (or up, or over) to Charlottesville, and order a Three Notch'd Session 42. It's draft-only; it's only at the brewery; it's dangerously delicious. Here's how the brewery styles it:
Brewed with the former president of our local homebrew association, blogger Alistair Reece (www.fuggled.net), this Best Bitter is a very sessionable ale and a great example of what you might find in your typical English pub. Made with only three ingredients [other than yeast and water!], the base of this brew comes from 2-row malt; Victory malt provides bready/biscuity flavor and aroma; complimented by the earthy/spicy flavors of U.S. Goldings hops. 4.0% abv [alcohol by volume]; 38 IBUs [International Bitterness Units].
I'll add that the beer has a soft graham-cracker maltiness (with even a touch of toasted S'mores), and a spicy/woodsy hop-derived aroma and finish.
The day I was there, I liked my pint so much, I asked for a growler fill. I paid for it, and headed for the door. I opened the door, and, there, on the other side of the doorway, coming in —in a moment of beer-zen serendipity— was the recipe-creator, Alistair Reece, beer blogger at Fuggled. I turned around, went back to the bar, and had a second pint with him. It was a session beer, after all.
As we drank our pints, Reece told me that he had helped brew the beer at the brewery, on the invitation of Warwick. A great experience, after only brewing prior on a small home-brew scale. And, then sotto voce, he confided, "I'd love to try this cask-conditioned. Maybe, soon."