The Session #142: One Last Toast to The Session

It’s time. Jay and Stan have decided to wind down The Session.  What an amazing run it had since March 2, 2007. An awful lot has changed in the world of beer over that time, but I think more significantly for The Session, things like Twitter, Podcasts, and apps like Untapped which were either non-existent or in their infancy in 2007 have become major platforms for beer discussion. Blogs still have their place, but that place is becoming increasingly smaller. Frankly, the writing has been on the wall for The Session for a couple years before they finally pulled the plug.

I was an enthusiastic Session contributor in the early days, starting with the 28th Session. So many new and interesting things were happening about beer and it was fascinating reading all the different perspectives from bloggers who ranged from industry professionals to hard core homebrewers to people who just liked to write about beer in their spare time. In fact, ten years ago beer blogs were more interesting to read than a lot of what I found in traditional media, where there were too many articles by people who were either good at writing and knew little about beer, or knew a lot about beer but couldn’t write very well. (Beer writing has improved a lot since.) Blogs seemed to capture the pioneering spirit that pervaded craft beer at the time in a way conventional media couldn’t. Craft brewing was effortlessly enjoying 10-15% growth with new breweries joining the community every day. Beer was fun and The Session expressed the enthusiasm of those days.

But over time, The Session started to become more like a  homework assignment. Topics, just like the times beer found itself in, became increasingly complicated. And as far as craft beer in the United States is concerned, the party is definitely over. Growth in craft beer has significantly declined, new health concerns about moderate levels of alcohol have arisen, and it’s becoming clear brewing beer is a tough way to make a living.  Large corporations started getting into the act, and brewing is longer about welcoming the new kids, but being a business again. I recently decided to retire from beer blogging a couple months ago as part of an overall effort to reduce my alcohol intake and also because I found my interests drifting elsewhere. Blogging about beer became akin to writing for a stodgy trade magazine, instead of bearing witness to a historic cultural and economic revolution.

Stan has asked us to “Pick a beer for the end of a life, an end of a meal, an end of a day, an end of a relationship”.  It’s a hard question. Like most things about beer, the answer is both personal and highly contextual. Is it the death of a life long friend or someone I never met? Is it a tough day, or one of the greatest days of my life?  Is it a holiday feast or late night take out? Am I drinking to remember, or to forget? To think about the question is to contemplate the endless possibilities of what beer is and can become. That’s why beer remains special.el sully

But Stan asked us to make a choice, so I will. I’ll toast the end of The Session with one of my favorite local go-to beers, El Sully Mexican Lager from 21st Amendment, as it epitomizes a lot of the changes in brewing over the life of The Session.  Who would have thought in 2007, when beer bloggers were all raging against Lagers, that Lagers would become a bit vogue in the world of craft beer? El Sully is sold retail in cans, a rarity for craft beer back in 2007 but pretty common now. 21st Amendment emerged as a major regional/national brand over the past ten years from its days as a San Francisco brewpub. Maybe just a good Lager seems the appropriate, low-key sort of way to toast the quiet ending to The Session.

The Session was a great ride reflecting a unique time in beer’s history. I’ll be forever grateful to have had the chance to experience it.

Rambling Reviews 2.10.2016: New beers from 21st Amendment, 10 Barrel and Sierra Nevada

Time once again to ramble on a few new beers that crossed my path.  Here in the dead of a San Jose “winter”, these new brews are decided on the lighter side.

Such as El Sully, described as a Mexican-style lager from 21st Amendment. Presumably named after 21st Amendment Brewmaster Shaun O’Sullivan, it’s a damn good lager. New I realize most of you are probably not breathlessly awaiting the next new lager, but if you ask me, the simplicity of a well executed lager is a thing of beauty.  El Sully’s decent malt heft, effervescent crispness with a light grassy hop bite is sometimes exactly what’s needed in a beer, nothing more, nothing less. It’s not a flavor explosion, but give me a basket of chips, a good salsa and a pint of El Sully and I’d be pretty happy.

Next up, Riding Solo Pale Ale from 10 Barrel Brewing, a single hop beer made with Comet hops which 10 Barrel sent me to sample. Riding Solo is the brain child of “Benny” who, according to a 10 Barrel press release was on the fast track working for a large brewery, and then it all came crashing down. He made a bad choice, climbed the wrong building in Bend and found himself in the clink without a job.”  Hmmmm…am I the only one finding the “large brewery” word choice rather ironic given 10 Barrel is part of A-B InBev’s global beer empire? At any rate, we’ll assume Benny paid his debt to society and is working hard to turn his life around. If he comes up with more beers like this, it won’t take him too long. I enjoyed the unique flavor of this Pale Ale, with a subdued bitter grapefruit peel character with a herbal character similar to mint. It’s one nice little Pale Ale.

Finally, we come to Otra Vez, a Gose with prickly pear cactus and grapefruit, released with much fanfare from Sierra Nevada. The Gose has emerged from near extinction to become the fastest growing craft beer style and this addition to Sierra Nevada’s year ’round line-up has cemented the Gose’s status status in the craft beer industry. Having enjoyed many a recent Gose, when I saw a six-pack of this in my local bottle shop, I snapped it up. Unfortunately, it left me wishing Sierra Nevada just brewed a regular old Gose without dumping a bunch of exotic fruit into it and dialing back the sourness. A more traditional Gose is a study of yin-yang balance between the interplay of salt and sour in a light wheat ale. Otra Vez is basically a light fruit ale with a little salt and nary any sourness. It’s reasonably enjoyable but comes across as a missed opportunity, the fruit becoming a distraction rather than an enhancement of the Gose style. I’ll even go so far as to say if there was ever such a thing as a mass market Gose, a profit driven modification of the style to better conform to more general tastes, it would taste something like this. Sorry, Otra Vez just isn’t my idea of a Gose and I just wasn’t turned on with what really was just a light fruity ale.