Thursday, October 27, 2011

An Imperial Session of Session Beers

If you choose your beer because of its alcoholic strength, don't. It's an inefficient alcohol-delivery system, of about only 5% alcohol. Skip the beer and drink Everclear. That's a distilled spirit, and nearly 95% alcohol.

There are many beer drinkers —and a large subset of 'craft' beer drinkers— who choose to drink only so-called 'Imperial' beers (those of more than 8% alcohol by volume). Their reasons range from more bang for the buck to disdain for perceived lack of flavor in less-potent beer.

Any cook can add more salt to the pot. Any brewer can add more hops or more malt to the kettle. But those brewers, who produce beers full of flavor but of less than 5% alcohol by volume (abv), have real skill. It's not the amount of ingredients used that necessarily yields flavor; it's the creative use of the ingredients.

Sam Fitz and Tim Prendergast are the first certified cicerones in the city of Washington D.C., beer sommeliers, as recognized by the Cicerone Certification Program, after rigorous testing. Fitz and Prendergast are also the managers of The Meridian Pint, a beer -forward bar and restaurant in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

They are celebrating their mutual birthdays tonight, throwing a party at the Meridian Pint, everyone invited.

So that all attending will have unfuzzy heads the following morning, all twenty-five beers they will be serving will be of 5% or less in alcohol content, by volume. That's a 'style' of beer, if you will, referred to as 'session beer' as in, make a session of the evening and still walk, coherently, out the door. That's good for you, and that's good for the publican.

There are many in the U.S. —again, principally in the 'craft' beer ambit— who think that low alcohol beer is low-flavored beer. They will tell you that only 'Imperial' beers of prodigious alcohol levels can deliver intriguing and satisfying flavors. But if alcohol were indeed the primary building block of flavor, would not Everclear be the most flavorful alcoholic beverage? Ah, but alcohol, by itself, is flavorless. The fruit of skillful brewing isn't.

Session beer, for various reasons, is more prevalent in the United Kingdom, than here in the United States, especially served as cask-conditioned 'real ale'. Full-flavored lower-alcohol beers are, however, beginning to garner interest here, from both brewers and drinkers. Beer author Lew Bryson maintains a website wholly devoted to the topic: The Session Beer Project.

Here are the details of tonight's celebration, as described on Facebook. Call it an Imperial session of Session beer.

Sam and Tim , the folks who maintain the beer program at Meridian Pint, decided to celebrate their birthdays by putting on a celebration of flavorful, low-alcohol, and eminently drinkable session beer. All 24 draft lines and one cask will be pouring beer 5% and under. In keeping with Meridian Pint's commitment to local beer we are proud to say that 11 of the 24 beers being poured are produced at 5 breweries within 40 miles of DC. There will also be a pig roast on the patio featuring a Tamworth Pig from the Bella Terra Family farm in Montgomery County.

We will be debuting two beers including the ONLY KEG of an American Dark Mild brewed by DC Brau on their Pilot system and the release of the latest Meridian Pint/Oliver Ales collaboration, MP4, a 4.5% boundary straddling English-American Pale Ale. Anyone with facial hair, real or fake, gets a free 4oz taster of the cask!

We'll also have beer from two brewpubs whose beer doesn't make it to DC: Mike Roy brewer at Franklin's Brewery in Hyattsville graciously agreed to bring his Stonehenge English Dark Mild and we couldn't be more excited to announce that we'll be pouring beer from Mad Fox Brewpub in Falls Church who recently brought home two medals from the Great American Beer Festival including a gold for their Keller Kolsch.

The rest of the draft list is rounded out by a slew of high quality and hard to find session beers by breweries including Jolly Pumpkin, Epic, Schlafly, Brewer's Art, Bell's, and Lost Rhino.

Draft list:

  • Oliver MP4 Cask and Draft
  • Oliver Dark Horse- 4% English Dark Mild
  • Oliver Pagan Porter 4.9% English Porter
  • Oliver Blonde Ale- 4.3% Blonde Ale
  • Oliver Bishops Breakfast- 5% Oatmeal Stout on Slow Pour
  • Bell’s Third Coast- 4.8% American Blonde Ale
  • Epic Hop Syndrome- Hoppy American Pale Lager
  • Fox Kolsch - 4.4% German Kolsch
  • Lost Rhino Navigator- American Amber Lager
  • Brewer’s Art Proletary- 5% Belgian Dark Ale
  • Schlafly English Pale- 4.4% English Pale Ale
  • Ommegang Witte- 5% Belgian Witbier
  • Franklin’s Stonehenge- 4% English Dark Mild
  • Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam- 4.5% Barrel Aged Farmhouse Hefeweizen
  • Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere- 4.5% Barrel Aged Saison
  • Festina Peche- 4.5% Berliner Weisse
  • Stoudt’s Heifer-in-Wheat- 5% Hefeweizen
  • Bear Republic Double Aught- 4.2% Czech Pilsner
  • DC Brau American Dark Mild- ~4.5% American Dark Mild
  • Port City Optimal Wit - 5% Belgian Witbier
  • Heavy Seas Pale Ale - 4.8% English Pale Ale
  • North Coast Scrimshaw - 4.4% German Pilsner
  • Schlafly Kolsch - 4.5% German Kolsch
  • Victory Headwaters Pale Ale - 5% American Pale Ale
  • Bluepoint Blueberry - 4.6% Blueberry Ale

MP4 Ale

Notes from the evening

Of the beers I sampled, two really stood out for me (and, there were many, of course, I didn't even get to). MP4: a 4.5% abv 'best bitter' from Steve Jones of Oliver Ales in Baltimore, Maryland. Served both on draft and on cask, the latter was a bracingly hoppy beer. Its (non-grapefruity) aroma and big structured finish could put many 'Imperial' beers to shame.

From Franklin's in Hyattsville, Maryland, the 'mere' 4% abv Stonehenge, an 'English' Dark Mild, was a dark-chocolate malted milkshake of a delight, with dark fruit flavor thrown in for good measure.

There were lots of good beer folk and lots of good beer conversation. Photos: here.

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