A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
Thursday, April 7 is Session Beer Day 2016. It's one of my favorite holidays of the year, and so I'll be celebrating in appropriate fashion. After all, there is plenty of time.
I used to be a pro beer drinker. Now I'm a pro bono beer drinker, learning new things every single day, like this: Before you can be bought out, someone must pay you. Remember that. Turns out it's important. Who'd have known?
Meanwhile, here's the session beer story.
A Session Beer Day Brewery Crawl on Thursday, April 7.
On April 7, I'll start before lunch (circa 11:00 a.m.) and traverse downtown Louisville on foot, walking from brewery to brewery and having a session beer at each. Most usually have at least one 4.5% choice on draft. The brewery list, traveling roughly west to east, would be: Falls City (Over the 9), Gordon Biersch, BBC 3rd Street, Against the Grain, Goodwood and Akasha.
For all intents and purposes, session beer consciousness as we know it today originates with Lew Bryson's Session Beer Project.
For our purposes, 'session beer' is defined as a beer that is:
- 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
- flavorful enough to be interesting
- balanced enough for multiple pints
- conducive to conversation
- reasonably priced
Now for the preview, one downtown Louisville brewery at a time.
Within the past month, Kentucky Common has been added to the Falls City brewery's flagship roster. The brewery shares space on S. 10th Street with Old 502 Winery and Over the 9, a gastropub serving house beer and wines as well as a full roster of spirits.
Last year's revised BJCP guidelines include Kentucky Common as an historical beer, with perhaps the clearest description yet offered of a style that remains nebulous in the minds of many -- including mine. For a very long time, I desperately wanted to make a "sour mash" connection, but the evidence simply does not support it.
Modern characterizations of the style often mention a lactic sourness or sour mashing, but extensive brewing records from the larger breweries at the turn of the century have no indication of long acid rests, sour mashing, or extensive conditioning. This is likely a modern homebrewer invention, based on the supposition that since indigenous Bourbon distillers used a sour mash, beer brewers must also have used this process. No contemporaneous records indicate sour mashing or that the beer had a sour profile; rather the opposite, that the beer was brewed as an inexpensive, present-use ale.
Following is Falls City's own description.
Falls City Kentucky Common
What happens when bourbon lovers brew beer
The Kentucky Common is a style of beer that started in Louisville. At one point, more than 75 percent of Louisvillians drank Common before the style disappeared during Prohibition. Today we craft this rich, easy-drinking ale with corn, barley and rye -- just the way it used to be made.
STYLE: Pre-Prohibition Ale
HOPS: Crystal, Perle
AROMA: Complex, malty, unique
It's the perfect choice to kick off this inaugural session brewery crawl -- historic, local and tasty.
In 2015, I surveyed Gordon Biersch's Louisville location for Food & Dining Magazine. In recent years, I've come full circle, back to lagers -- and Biersch does good lager.
Consequently, unlike some other national brewery concepts, all Gordon Biersch house beers right here in Louisville, where chain or not, the company helped launch the Kentucky Guild of Brewers, working alongside the state’s independent small brewers.
Brewer Nicholas Landers tells me that a batch of Schwarzbier is on the way, and strictly speaking, it would make a better tipple for Session Beer Day at 4.3% abv (remember, I'm aiming for 4.5% abv and below).
However, it looks as though my "certainly close enough for rock and roll" selection will be Golden Export.
Our lightest, most refreshing lager, delicately hopped with a clean, crisp finish. The demand was so high when it was first brewed in the 1870s, that it was "exported" to other regions.
Original gravity: 11.5° Plato
Alcohol by volume: 5.00%
Bitterness units: 17
The BJCP (2015) has this to say about German Helles Exportbier, and I concur: "Less finishing hops and more body than a Pils but more bitter than a Helles."
Oldtimers like me still think of "Export" in conjunction with brands from Dortmund (DAB and Dortmunder Union), though these aren't seen very often. Arguably the best known regional example of this style is Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold, out of Cleveland.
Next stop will be Bluegrass Brewing Company's 3rd Street location, across from the Yum Brands Arena. Has it really been five years? I included the recently opened Bluegrass Brewing Company 3rd & Main location as part of my Food & Dining Magazine column in the 4th quarter, 2010 edition. The issue isn't yet available on line, but I reprinted it here in early 2011.
For the new Arena BBC (300 W. Main), directly south of the KFC Yum! Center, the ever industrious Hagans took on their most labor-intensive start-up project to date, and in a truly venerable structure. Dining, drinking and brewing space to the tune of $1.4 million now occupies the basement and first floor of the seven-story Louisville Orchestra Building, formerly known as the Kentucky National Bank, a splendid 120-year-old example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This was so long ago that Against the Grain didn't yet exist. The AtG boys still worked for BBC, and Sam Cruz showed me the new BBC brewery at 3rd & Main.
Altbier is one of the most delightful experiences you'll ever have during German beer hunting, particularly in Düsseldorf. Trust me. The late Michael Jackson provides background in an excerpt from his pocket guide.
For my purposes today, a comprehensive overview of BBC's Altbier isn't necessary. It should suffice to say that it has been a staple for a very long time, since David Pierce's original tenure at BBC, perhaps following our shared "Sticke" experience at Zum Uerige in 1995.
See? Best by 2001. Like I said, it's been a while since BBC Altbier appeared. For a while, it was tagged as Amber.
Now it's both.
BBC Altbier Amber Ale
Altbier, literally translated as "Old Style" beer, is a classic German ale. BBC Altbier is brewed with additions of Munich, wheat, caramel, and chocolate malts creating a delicate, but flavorful malt profile. This delicious amber colored session beer is balanced with additions of tradtional spicy German hops creating a light and floral bouquet to compliment its complex malt profile.
• ABV: 4.20% • IBU: 24
A few long blocks east on Main Street will bring me to Against the Grain, and what can be said about Against the Grain that Against the Grain hasn't already said about itself?
Well, there's this: In spite of the brewery's image as purveyor of crazed liquid extremities, it maintains a Session tap at its Slugger Field headquarters at all times.
Wanna drink some beer? No more should the light beer drinker fear craft brewed beers! At AtG we brew a beer for the session drinker, the light beer drinker, and simply, the new beer drinker. Our session beers typically contain no higher than 5 percent ABV, and feature a balance between malt and hop characters (ingredients) and, typically, a clean finish - a combination of which creates a beer with high drinkability. In short, one that does what it should. Our session beers are light bodied, delicious, and thirst quenching. Come on in and Drink up!
The AtG website currently lists two choices. Either of them works for me, although I lean toward the Belgian.
“NECKHOLE AMERICAN LAGER”
My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.
We remember the good ol' days, when beers were beers and titties were real. Ya know? With the good tan lines on 'em? Those were the days, and this beer takes ya there. Two-row American Pilsner malt and a hint of Munich malt lend a light, bready body. With just enough Citra to balance and add a hint of fruit, it's easy-drinking. It's uncomplicated. Don't over-think it, just pour it down your neckhole.
Ironically, I used to work for a brewery that produced a 4% "Tafelbier." It'd be nice to taste another version. By this point in the walk, it may be necessary to procure some pork belly on a stick.
The Beer For Bad Mo-Fo's
This Belgian table bier is a traditional entry into the Session category. It is meant to be consumed with food but also stands well on its own. When you need to drink the whole meal and want something with plenty of flavor but don’t want to get shit-twisted from the alcohol, this is a great choice. Look for a smooth malty body with hints of biscuit and rye. The hops are subdued and mostly present as a bittering agent. The yeast plays a prominent role in creating bready and lightly fruity notes.
After one final long block east on Main, there's Goodwood Brewing Company, located on the Beer Corner of Main & Clay, as mentioned recently here: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Two decades of Beer Corner barrels.
Goodwood’s identity dates to 2015 and a rebranding of the entity once noted for brewing Bluegrass Brewing Company’s beers under license for packaging and distribution. The brewery’s new name is fully intentional, meant to inform beer lovers of the roles played by wood and water.
“We became Goodwood because we are known throughout the region and industry as experts in barrel aged products,” says Goodwood’s CEO, Ted Mitzlaff.
I'm an outspoken advocate of quality lager, and Louisville Lager fits the bill precisely. It also falls perfectly into the session alcohol content range. The shame is that I'll have time for only one, because Akasha will be beckoning, just around the corner in NuLu.
PUT GOOD WOOD ON IT
Goodwood Louisville Lager is the first and only beer brewed with 100% Kentucky-grown grains. And, in a tip of the cap to our Slugger-making neighbors downtown, white ash – common in baseball bats – is used to enhance brewing. This results in a light-bodied, perfectly balanced lager with a sweet finish delivered by those Kentucky grains.
4.2 ABV/35 IBU
If all goes as planned, I should be arriving at Akasha Brewing Company around opening at 5:00 p.m. Over at Lew Bryson's Session Beer Project, Akasha's Session Beer Day observance scored some ink from the maestro himself, and I love it.
One of Akasha's owners is Rick Stidham, whom I consider not just a friend, but also one of the most thoughtful and authentic personages in local brewing circles -- and we have so many fine people hereabouts.
When it became sadly evident to me that I'd be unable to continue the tradition of Session Head at NABC, I asked Rick about the chances of Akasha having some session-strength beers on tap for Session Beer Day. He was enthused, and because of his gracious support, the idea of a Session Beer Day Brewery Crawl germinated.
Although I've committed to full pours of small beers on Session Day, one at each stop, the rich bounty at Akasha may compel me to consume halvers, because 3 + 1 = 2.
Akasha American Pale with Brett
Sour Ale/Wild Ale · 4.2% ABV
Funky and fruity, brewed with Nugget and a blend of citrus-fruity hops, fermented with California Ale yeast and six strains of Brettanomyces simultaneously.
Akasha Belgian Blonde
Golden Ale/Blond Ale · 4.5% ABV
Our Belgian Blonde is inspired by, but by no means a clone of, one of our all-time favorite beers from our friend, Yvan: De la Senne Taras Boulba. Dry, hoppy, and quenching.
Akasha English Mild with Brett
Mild Ale · 3.1% ABV
English Milds of long ago had Incidental Brett in them. We put Intentional Brett in ours. Dry, drinkable, light in body, dark in color.
Not only those three, but there's a guest from Monnik Beer Co. in Schnitzelburg, roughly two and a half miles south of Akasha. I'm glad Monnik Mild George (English Brown Ale, 3.5%) will be at Akasha, because after six beers ...
At any rate, 3 + 1 = 2 ... or, four halves to make two full pints. There's also a chance that Rick can join me for some of the afternoon stops. That would be serious fun.
There's a 40% chance of showers in the morning on Thursday, with clouds in the afternoon and a high of 56 degrees. In short, delightful Irish weather for a brewery crawl through downtown Louisville.
I'm @newalbanian on Twitter, and will be using #sessionbeerday as a hashtag. My Instagram account is The New Albanian, and I usually post photos to Facebook.
Holidaze. What's not to love?
March 31: ON THE AVENUES: Abortion? Wichita, or maybe Targu Mures.
March 24: ON THE AVENUES: Introducing New Albany Craft Beer Week, May 27 – June 4, 2016.
March 17: ON THE AVENUES: Erin Go Blagh -- a timeless classic for a green-hued holiday.
March 10: ON THE AVENUES: A funny thing happened on the way to a city council nightcap.