Small and local session beers deliver
tasty deliciousness


Lock 27 is one of seven local breweries serving session beers

By Tom Morgan

Session beers are really nothing new, nor are they just one style. As Jennifer Talley recounts in her new book, Session Beers: Brewing for Flavor and Balance, “the term ‘session’ is an adjective, an expression, a descriptor of certain beers rather than a style in and of itself. Defining session beer can feel like defining the undefinable” (p. 11). Talley, whose brewing career began at Squatters Brew Pub in Salt Lake City, knows well the importance of brewing highly drinkable, well-balanced, and flavorful low alcohol beers. After all, her home state of Utah requires that any beer served on draft to be under 4 percent ABV, which means that creating “a balance between the style’s character and the lower alcohol content” (p. 8) is particularly important. Clearly, Talley has done well for herself; she has more than twenty medals between the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup, so session beers are right in her wheelhouse.

Her book does an excellent job of mapping out the possibility connected to session beers, from English bitters and milds, to dry stouts like Guinness, as well as Belgian blondes, saisons, and witbiers, not to mention German berlinner weisses, hefeweizens, and lager, along with the American interpolations of all of these styles. The current growth of craft lager in American brewing circles is one place where a good number of session beers are coming to market, but there are also a large number of session IPAs as well. After all, the real value in session beers comes when drinking them over the course of a night when you want to have several pints, but don’t want to be decimated the next day.

In the Dayton area, there are several excellent session beers regularly available. For many local brewers, the opportunity to create interesting and exciting session beers is a chance to exhibit their brewing skills. When asked about his interest in session beers, Brent Osborn, the head brewer at Lock 27 Brewing in downtown Dayton, told me “I like session beers because they are easy on the pallet, and approachable without lacking flavor or complexity. You can share them with anyone regardless of their experience with craft beer, even if it’s a business lunch.” Steve Barnhart, owner of Lock 27, mirrored Brent’s comments: “We always have session beers on tap. At Lock 27, we believe the true measure of beer quality is someone wanting to have another one. If someone doesn’t want a second beer because the first one was too ‘aggressive,’ then we haven’t done our job. ‘Aggressive’ is easy; finding balance is a sign of quality.”

Current offerings on tap at Lock 27 include Lock Tender, an American golden ale with moderate maltiness and low bitterness that checks in at 4.2 percent ABV. They also have two British-style session beers, Whipple Tree, an ESB, and Oscar Wilde, a Mild. The ESB stands for Extra Special Bitter, but don’t be fooled—this is British-influenced bitterness, not American, so the emphasis is on balance between hop bitterness and malt flavor—while the Mild focuses on malt flavor. They also have several seasonal session offerings, including Towpath, a spring Kölsch-style beer, Muletier, a Farmhouse Saison, and Watermelon Wheat. This commitment to easy-drinking quality makes me happy.

Darren Link, Brewmaster at Fifth Street Brew Pub, is also a big fan of session beers, and there are a number of regular Fifth Street offerings that fit under the heading of session beers. When asked why he liked session beers, Darren told me “they represent nuance and brewing finesse. It can be difficult to create layered complexity in a session beer, as there aren’t strong flavors to hide behind. Anyone can throw a ton of hops in an IPA or make an enormous Imperial Stout, but brewing a good session beer takes patience and skill.” Currently on tap at Fifth Street is Ludwig’s, an authentic Kölsch initially brewed for the annual Springboro Oktoberfest in 2017. It uses a traditional German ale yeast to create a light, delicate, malty ale with just a kiss of sweetness and low hop bitterness, and the current batch on tap is 4 percent ABV. I’ve tried this beer several times, and it is an excellent example of the style. Other regular offerings include Cure-All Cream Ale, a light, clean, and refreshing 4.8 percent beer with little to no hop bitterness, 85 Shilling Scottish Ale, a malt-forward mix of toast, toffee, and caramel that clocks in right at 5 percent ABV, and DryRish, a Dry Irish Stout inspired by the most famous session beer of them all, Guinness.

Warped Wing has taken up the brewing of craft lager beers, which fits well within session beer parameters. They have two offerings, including Trotwood Lager, which is an homage to American light lagers re-imagined through a craft lens. The flavors are clean and grainy with gentle lingering hop bitterness, and the 4 percent ABV makes for plenty of easy drinking. Similarly, Flyer Red is an American red lager that checks in at 4.5 percent ABV. There is a bit more malt character, but it is still a lager, so crisp and clean throughout. The focus on clean, approachable malt flavors sets these beers apart from their macrobrewery competitors—it puts the craft in craft lager.

Slightly to our south is one more brewery worthy of mention for their interest in session beers. FigLeaf’s Brewmaster, Jeff Fortney, has long been a fan of session beers. He loves their versatility and their possibility. While only Lil Amp, a British blonde, is currently on tap, FigLeaf has created a wide range of session beers during their first year, including WasteTimer, an American Pilsner that balances malt and hops, Exculpatory Session IPA, which focuses on citrus and herbal hop flavor in conjunction with bready malt flavors, and my personal favorite, Pride of CinDay, a British Best Bitter that drinks smooth, easy, and delicious.

Embracing session beers allows drinkers to fully experience a brewer’s skill. Since there is no place to hide, the focus is on the balance of flavor and drinkability. Prost!

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Reach DCP freelance writer Tom Morgan at TomMorgan@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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