MtnHoppin’: Five local brews that make killer session beers

If you’re checking-out this post, then you’ve probably read my recent “MtnHoppin’” column on the growing session-beer insurgency. If not, check it out now. Without regurgitating too much of what I’ve already written on the subject, below are my five favorite local brews that can be rightfully called session beers. Now, when defining the “session” concept I employed the guidelines recently established by longtime beer journalist Lew Bryson.

1) 4.5 percent alcohol by volume or less.
2) Flavorful enough to be interesting.
3) Balanced enough for multiple pints.
4) Conducive to conversation.
5) Reasonably priced.

There are more than a few beer fanatics, as well as industry-types, who are right now reading this and bristling at guideline no. 1. Way too low, they firmly believe; the ceiling for alcohol by volume (ABV) should be 5.0 percent, not 4.5. That is, in fact, the more popular number when defining session beer. However, at a time when inflated ABV-levels are all the rage in the craft-beer industry, I’ve noticed that ceiling has become taller and taller. Over the last month I’ve had two beers with ABV-levels of 5.4 and 5.5, respectively; both times my servers described them as session. So yeah, it’s best if we err on the side of caution these days.

Beer: Battery Hill
ABV: 4.2%
Style: English-style rye ale
Brewery: Craggie Brewing Company
Note: Craggie, in my humble opinion, oh so slightly beats-out Asheville Brewing Company as the local brewery most committed to offering variety and selection when it comes to session beers.

Beer: Belgian White Ale
ABV: 4.3%
Style: duh
Brewery: Lexington Ave. Brewery (LAB)

Beer: Rocket Girl
ABV: 3.2%
Style: American lager
Brewery: Asheville Brewing Company

Beer: Black Mountain Bitter
ABV: 4%
Style: Organic pale ale
Brewery: Highland Brewing Company
Note: A winter seasonal, which is kind of a bummer. I could rock this year round, easy. When served from cask it exemplifies the original British definition of session beer more than any other brew produced in the region. BTW, don’t let that word “bitter” scare you; it’s just a crusty, old English way of saying “pale ale.”

Beer: Toubab Brewe
ABV: 4.2%
Style: Bavarian-style Zwickel beer
Brewery: Craggie Brewing Company

Honorable Mention:
Beer: Swannanoa Sunset
ABV: 4.2%
Style: German-style Keller beer
Brewery: Craggie Brewing Company

Beer: Moonstone Stout
ABV: 4.5%
Style: Duh
Brewery: OysterHouse Brewing Company
Note: OysterHouse lists the ABV at “around 4.5%.” A little vague, sure. But the Moonstone deserves some love as the only stout in the region that meets Bryson’s guidelines. Then again, I could be totally wrong about that—I’m a drinker, not a respectable journalist.

So Very Close and So Very Good:
Beer: Re-Session Ale
ABV: 4.7%
Style: Cream ale
Brewery: French Broad Brewery

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2 thoughts on “MtnHoppin’: Five local brews that make killer session beers

  1. James P. Fisher

    Does Pisgah Endless Summer qualify? We had this all summer last year for band practice and it was a perfect “session beer”, IMHO!

  2. nick s

    Endless Summer should qualify, but Pisgah has never divulged the ABV.

    I’ve had some good conversations at Craggie about their commitment to session beers. While “Pop The Cap” was great for allowing stronger beers into the state, a 9% double IPA isn’t ideal lubrication for a long evening with good company. Lew Bryson’s big point is that it’s an even greater test of craft brewers’ skill to get flavor and complexity without pushing the alcohol, and it also taps into a grand tradition.

    As a point of reference, 5% is Budweiser-strength, Guinness is 4.2%, and most pub ales in England come in around 3.5-4%.

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