Sometimes you just want a beverage with low alcohol - but not low flavor. These brews are for you.
For several years the mantra in craft beer has been "more, more, more," as in more hops, more alcohol, bigger, brasher, smack-you-in-the-face flavors that shout "Pay attention to me!"
But there is a growing cadre of beer makers and drinkers saying that enough is enough. They crave something subtler -- beers that won't wreck their palates or leave them wobbling after just a couple of pints, but with enough flavor to make them want a third.
Enter "session" beers, so-called because they satisfy through a session at the pub without the slurred words and embarrassing antics at the end. They are beers built for socializing, content to be a peripheral player rather than the star.
Some proponents insist that session beers must be less than 4 percent alcohol. That can be hard to find in this country of big beers, but not impossible. Cain's Dark Mild clocks in at a mere 3.2 percent. But don't confuse it with the 3.2 beer you buy at the grocery store. This Liverpudlian mild ale is packed with flavor. A light touch of roasted malt brings chocolate notes that complement the toffee and toast center. Mild bitterness and moderate carbonation keep it smooth. It's one of my new favorites.
For a local take on the English mild, head to Great Waters brewpub in St. Paul for a pint of New Centurian. Nutty and chocolaty malt is balanced by just a touch of bitterness and earthy flavor from English hops. Traditional hand-pulled, cask service and the use of oats and wheat give this light-bodied beer a rich, creamy mouthfeel.
Anchor Small Beer gives you a session brew with a bigger hop bite. At just over 3 percent alcohol it's a lightweight. There's a wee bit of caramel malt, but hops steal the show. Bitterness is relatively high for such a little beer, and the grassy, citrus flavors of English East Kent Golding hops sit firmly on top.
A beverage for relaxing
Although I don't recommend drinking around lawn mowers, certain session beers are often called "lawn mower" beers, meaning they are perfect for knocking back a couple of cold ones on a hot summer day. Samurai from Great Divide Brewing Co. is just such a beer. Like a more interesting version of the standard American lager, this rice ale delivers citrus and apple notes on a base of sweet pilsner malt. It's dry and crisp, but a bit stronger at 5 percent alcohol.
Big Sky's Trout Slayer is a golden-colored pale ale brewed with wheat. It pours with an attractive, creamy, white head. Light bready and biscuit notes serve as a base for assertive bitterness and a burst of herbal hop flavors. A clean, dry finish rounds out the experience. Both Trout Slayer and Samurai are available in cans so you can bring some with you to the BWCA.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He can be reached at email@example.com.