Lower-Alcohol Level Brews Show Off Fine Art of ‘Session’ Beers

Examining craft beer's low alcohol trend


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With its flavor extremes and unique combinations, the craft beer movement has garnered attention for new breweries and initiated beer drinkers into a world more diverse than offerings from the domestic mega breweries. 

This powerful mouth-punch combination of ingredients invariably led to a higher alcohol content in craft beer. 

Now the growth in that customer base has been leading craft breweries to a place once reserved for a limited number of independent brewers and the big boys, and with some not-so-surprising results: the return of the session beer.

A session beer, simply stated, is a beer with a lower alcohol content – typically 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) and below. 

Many drinkers reach for one of these session brews for several reasons, including enjoying a beer with tasks like cleaning or cutting the lawn, tasting a flight of beers, tailgating, brunching, or spending a long afternoon with friends and family and not getting too intoxicated.

Michigan breweries have tapped into both recent style trends and classic flavors to perfect their preferred session offerings. 

Success lies in making sure the flavors have not been compromised even though brewing a lower alcohol content means an overall reduction of necessary ingredients.

For example, Founders Brewing Co. has struck gold with their All Day IPA. The 4.7 percent ABV American IPA has vaulted to a spot among their best-selling products. 

All Day IPA, as well as other session offerings such as Saugatuck Brewing’s Backyard IPA, Bell’s Oatsmobile, Perrin’s No Problems Session IPA, Griffin Claw’s Norm’s Gateway IPA, and Arcadia Ale’s Cheap Date still bring the hoppy flavor of their stronger counterparts, but without that alcohol kick that can hover near or above 7 percent ABV.

Other breweries have brought session beers to the table modeled after the classic styles of lager, pilsner, and kölsch. 

Make no mistake, brewing a solid lager or kölsch is an extremely daunting task; there is nowhere to hide any off flavor or brewing error. 

The dedication to perfecting these “simpler” styles of beer has won over many drinkers to the craft movement — and helped brewpubs draw in crowds, too.

Batch Brewing’s The Audacity and Detroit Beer Co.’s Broadway Light are a couple of examples of exemplary offerings best tried fresh at the brewery. 

Kölsch has quickly become my favorite style of beer, due in part to Royal Oak Brewery’s offering and monthly serving event, The Kölsching Hour. The event takes place on second Saturday of each month from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The brewery serves kölsch in the traditional German fashion. A nonstop supply of beer is continuously delivered in stange glassware until the patron’s coaster is placed on top of the glass, signaling the server to bring the bill. Tick marks are made on the patron’s coaster during the drinking session for each beer served, simplifying the tallying.

Make a point to check your local brewery and taste what they have to offer. Lower alcohol beers can be full and rich or basic and simple, but if they are brewed with passion and proper technique, they will always be flavorful and satisfying. 

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