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Session vs. Sessionable: Refining the Dialogue of Not Getting Slizzered

John Fleury is a freelance bar/beer culture writer and #dcbrews mainstay. Find more of his writing at DCist or on Twitter at @Buffalo_Theory.
 
The craft beer industry finds itself in a time of growth that has many of the most sought after and highly lauded beers reaching to the ABV stratosphere. For example, Ratebeer's Top 50 (which is subject to all of the problems of beer rating sites in general), includes just two beers under 8% alcohol; it also has three beers at 8%.

Given this, it is perhaps time we come up with a term to denote a specific beer having a significantly lower ABV than is normal for its style. This term shouldn't encroach on the both over- and misused term of "session" beer. While trying not get into the specifics that frequent the beer nerd diatribes in various blogs and forums, it is very easy to say that many, many US (and increasingly elsewhere) breweries are using the term session to mean that it doesn't get you blackout drunk by drinking one. However, this usage desecrates the historical interpretation of "session" and often describes beers that have nowhere remotely near a typical session ABV.

In order to appease both those adhering to the stringent definitions often used by our UK beer brethren but also placating those here in the American craft scene who, much like in the music world, need to describe everything well beyond the typical subgenres, I propose making a clear distinction between the terms "session" and "sessionable." "Session" should keep the more traditional meaning of lower ABV beers that historically are less that 4-4.5% (and you session fanatics can continue to decide where that line is, as that really isn't in the scope of this piece).

However, I propose that the term "sessionable" should now describe beers that are lower in alcohol than is usual for a given style and/or are easier on the palate. Sessionable would be the counterpart to our common usage of imperial. Just as we use imperial to describe a beer as a bigger, more robust version of its style, we can use sessionable to describe the beer as a smaller version of what is typical of its peers.

So how could we go about defining what is sessionable? If you want to get into the specifics of BJCP guidelines, perhaps the lower echelon of these guidelines could define sessionable. A beer may fit most of a style's guidelines but have a lower ABV/starting gravity. Take for example an American barleywine; if a beer fitting all of the other characteristics of a barleywine comes in at 6.6% ABV and low OG, it would help consumers to differentiate it from a much larger version to call that beer a sessionable barleywine. 

While many of beer fans may decry this as stylistic treason, we, as flag-bearers of craft beer, may want to take terms like this into consideration. Many of us wear our self-acquired beer education like a battle scar, showing it off on every occasion deemed worthy — from boasting about what year we went to Cantillon to humblebragging about how we were over hops 7 years ago. However, we also need to promote craft in a way that is accessible to all. Craft beer fans are no longer are that small group of zealots that meet in those few bars in town that carry more than macro products.
 
Craft drinkers in America are closing in on the mainstream. We should, as ambassadors of these products, make craft more accessible to those newly initiated into our circles. The easiest way to do this is to create terms or utilize existing terms that plainly describe what a beer is to someone who is new to craft.
 
I see no downside to using the term sessionable to let a drinker know that what they hold in their hands is an easier drinking version of a style they may enjoy. This use of sessionable would make it less intimidating to those who may be new to a style, more descriptive for those selling the beer, and easier for those who want a larger beer to know to look elsewhere.  
 
We can either be a part of the movement to help push beer culture to every part of American culture, or we can be left behind without having a say in how beer will be presented to the masses. Utilizing a term like sessionable seems like a pivotal way to bridge the gap between generations of beer fans, increase awareness, and foster education within all of craft.

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