I recently received a request from CAMRA YVR, along with all other BC beer blog writers, to give my thoughts about sessional beer. I have to admit I have never really given this topic much thought and don't know if I will add much to the discussion CAMRA YVR is attempting to generate.
First off, I do not have any preference for what a sessional beer should be or not be. For me, what I drink is dictated by my mood, my palate at the time, who I am with and my budget. When the circumstances are right, I seem be be able to handle and metabolize several pints of high-octane, big beers and wake up the next day feeling like a million dollars. At other times, I feel the buzz after one or two lagers and it goes all Pete Tong in a hurry. The trick, which I have not quite yet mastered, is to recognize the appropriate times to take advantage of the former and run like Hell when I detect the latter.
I can honestly say I have utilized everything from Old Rasputin and barley wines to lower gravity beers like Guinness and lagers as a sessional beers. If I am in for the long haul, and if I have the choice, I tend to change it up as I go. Lately, I have been a major hop monster, so I usually have a pint of Red Racer IPA or Driftwood Fat Tug in front of me to start and then I will venture forth. Red Racer ESB is also one of my favourite starter beers as it is very flavourful but does not blow my taste buds apart right off the hop (no pun intended). I tend to lean towards the bigger beers these days, but not exclusively so and if the mood strikes, I have been known to sit down and enjoy a fare-few Pyramid Apricot Ales.
The gravity of the beer has no relevance in my choosing it, or not, as a sessional beer. I have grown so accustomed to drinking 7% beers that they seem the norm now. In fact, I rarely look at the alcohol percentage of a beer until after I have ordered and tasted it. I drink what I like in the moment. I would never choose to drink a beer because it is 4% just so I can drink more. For me, that is like choosing low-fat cheese so I can eat more with less calories. When I was living in the UK, there was really no choice but to drink low gravity beers, at least where I was living, but I enjoyed many of them. But if similar beers were available here, I would not choose them if I were sitting down for a few just based on the lesser percentage of alcohol. I also never choose a high alcohol beer, just based on the percentage, if I am sitting down just for one.
If there is something that drives my choice of beer when I am having more than a few, it me is the carbonation level of the beer. I tend to look for beers a little less carbonated after a few as I tend to feel bloated. I have learned a wee trick from my good friend Martin Williams of decanting my beer from one glass to another to get rid of the excess and unneeded carbonation and to slightly warm the beer to release to flavours. It is difficult to choose a beer based on carbonation levels here in Vancouver as most beers are served far too carbonated (and too cold).
So, as I said, I might not be the right person to ask about a sessional beer because all beers are potentially sessional beers for me. My drinking habits are not the norm and I realize that. What I find to be the most important factor these days as to what beers I drink and how many of them I consume is the fact that I have a seven-month-old daughter who dictates, more often than not, my beer drinking habits. In fact, said seven-month old is currently squirming in my lap like she has just been tazered, with a funky smell coming from her diaper...she not only is the most improtant factor in my sessional drinking habits, but she also dictates when I can write about beer and for how long.