My Wall Street Journal story on session beers got a bit of flack from people arguing that “true” session beers must be less than 5.0% ABV. As evidence, they cited their own blog manifestos. The 5.0 argument is, at best, supported by a dubious CDC definition of a “standard beer” as 5.0% ABV, and at worst, totally arbitrary. There’s nothing standard about craft beer. The average ABV rating of all 30,000 beers on Beer Advocate is almost 6.0%. No brewer I’ve ever talked to designs so-called session beers with any such guidelines. If the brewers don’t care, why should you? Arguing that a delicious 5.1% beer can’t be called a session beer, but a 5.0% one can, is a waste of precious drinking time. And session beers, if they’re about anything, are about drinking.
wall street journal
Pi Bar opens at 3:14 every day. That’s dedication to the name. By the time I arrived at four, People were already in the weeds. The beer app on a new friend’s iPhone was telling him to “take it easy.” These drinkers had started from the bottom of the Deschutes tap list instead of the top. Beer before liquor—fine, but no old saying sings the dangers of imperial stouts before hefeweizens.
We love Deschutes, especially their Black Butte porter. This version, XXI, was partially aged in Stranahan’s whiskey barrels and topped off with Theo’s cocoa nibs. They gave the beer some sharp, roasted flavors and a little bit of oily sweetness. That, mixed with the woody vanilla of the barrels, made the whole thing taste kind of like balsamic vinegar. That’s a lot to say about one beer. The others were not as remarkable, but no one noticed.
Heart is a stuck-up wine bar down the street. They were tapping a half dozen firkins (old-school kegs that dispense beer via gravity, not CO2) and I came in, mid-tap, to a spray of foam and a soaked bartender. He posed with his heavy-looking, firkin-tapping wooden mallet for some cell-phone pictures, taken by the only employee of 6 or 7 there wearing an apron. Apron guy and his camera had avoided the spray.
I tried the Black and Blue, a dark beer from Linden Street brewed with Blue Bottle coffee. We like Blue Bottle, but it’s too expensive. It’s also usually acidic, but in this beer it tasted charred and very old. It was not good. Most people there were drinking the Ballast Point Sculpin, an IPA that one guy told me smelled like apricots. Instead of ordering another, I went back to Pi Bar. Apricot guy did too.
We like brunch and puns and beer, so beerunch sounded perfect. The line was long but the beerjitos (yes) were bubbly and the plates had little slots cut into them to hold a wine glass like a sidecar while you schmoozed. Our friend Jim brews Mateveza and he hosted the party. He also wrote poetic descriptions of the beer-and-food pairings on offer. These were often more satisfying than the food. We filled our glass-plate hybrids with fennel-cured salmon on mini bagels and Russian River‘s sour, currant-infused Consecration; mushroom and gruyere popovers and Moonlight‘s Toast; chocolaty bread pudding and Deschutes‘s bourbon-barrel aged Abyss. We read about “harrowing collisions of flavors.” We schmoozed. Bear Republic‘s IPA, Racer X, with a watery endive salad, made the best pairing, even though the salad was weak. Like a perfect pun, the whole was greater than its parts.
That night, sobered and cold from a change in the weather, we trekked west to the Social Kitchen to taste beer from local nano-brewers. That is, homebrewers who’ve almost outgrown their homes. We encountered the biggest line yet, and had to warm up down the street with a whiskey and (spilled) Guinness while we waited it out. Finally inside, a packed crowd and rich glasses of stout from Elizabeth Street and Local Brewing helped. An open door to the breezy upstairs balcony did not. From our perch above the fray, we were amazed we didn’t recognize anyone from previous beer week events. Especially since the fashion on display (top hats, cargo shorts-and-calf-warmers, nano-suspenders) is pretty iconic. I guess nano-brewing attracts a certain crowd. Sunday night in the Richmond, too.