It’s not even officially “out” (even though you can already download it if you have a digital subscription), but we’re already getting heat via Twitter for our new Brewtal Truth column in issue #110 where we take to task metal bands for flying the flag for Coors Light in their band promo photos. In one such Tweet directed at yours truly, @TheMRod offered the following defense of the Silver Bullet: “Coors Light and metal go together so well! Marathon sessions of CDs and cold ones just aren’t possible with 8% IPAs.”
TheMRod is, of course, correct in that if you’re in the mood for a “marathon session,” of metal and high-gravity craft beer, you won’t get too deep into, say, the High on Fire catalog until you’re shitfaced and all you’re capable of is maybe a half metal marathon or a metal 10k at best. But the fallacy we aim to smash here is that all craft beer has a lot of alcohol. It doesn’t. Now, we’ll certainly admit that there’s a ton out there that is in fact not suitable for session drinking. But there are these things that beer geeks like to call “session” beers, which are designed for the very thing our marathon man seeks: extended drinking pleasure.
First, let’s look at what Coors Light has to offer alcohol wise, so we can compare apples to apples as much as possible when making our recommendations. It is a relatively modest 4.2% ABV (although that would practically qualify as a strong beer in the UK). An “average” or “normal” North American beer is around 5%. So, if you’re using CL as your measure for a beer that you can have a marathon sesh with, it doesn’t really have significantly less alcohol. (And, BTW, it’s the same ABV as Guinness, 4.2%). A typical session craft beer is less than 5% and usually, like Coors Light, hovering around 4%. So, let us assure you, CL is not your only choice when it comes to lower alcohol beers.
Now, we won’t be able to convince you otherwise, if it’s really just the taste of CL that you love. Fine. You’re probably not reading this column if that’s the case, but who the hell knows. We do have friends who truly love craft beer, but will quite happily down a Silver Bullet when the mood strikes. However, if you want to drink and drink and drink and actually experience a flavorful beer, you do have some damn tasty options.
Our personal favorite when it comes low ABV and big flavor is Stone Levitation Ale which clocks in at 4.4% ABV and yet packs a hefty 45 IBUs of delicious hoppy bitterness. You’ll think you’re drinking something closer to a 5.6% Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
Sticking with the hoppy theme, there’s an emerging style similar to Levitation that’s commonly know as India Session Ale or ISA. Consider it “IPA Light,” in the craft beer sense, because it’s not light in flavor. Lagunitas cleverly refers to their Day Time (4.65%) as a “fractional IPA.” Plenty of hop character, without the higher alcohol. Great idea!
If you’re not a fan of hoppy beers, there are options for you, too. There are numerous styles that are typically brewed below 5%, such as kölsch, which is like the ale version of a pale lager. Since kölsch is an unfamiliar name to most people, a lot of U.S. breweries market these as “summer” or “blonde” ales in warmer weather. You’d probably be hard pressed to find many different options this time of year, but if you do, it’ll likely clock in below 5% ABV.
And let’s not forget the lager, a style whose name has long been besmirched by macrobrewers to the point where many craft beer drinkers view any lager to be an inferior beer. So not true. Like a session IPA, you can have an incredibly flavorful beer without jacking up the ABV. Case in point: Surly Hell, a 4.5% ABV unfiltered lager that comes in a badass tallboy can and tastes just like it came directly from Deutschland. Surly, over the course of the year, actually brews a handful of lower ABV beers.
There are plenty of other beers out there—in all kinds of styles—that are lower in alcohol. You just have to read a few labels and do a little research. Yes, these beers will cost a bit more than a case of [insert light macrobrew name here], but for that extra money you’ll pay, you’ll get some bonuses. Like real beer flavor! And the satisfaction that you’re supporting a locally owned business, not a megacorp that’s beholden only to its shareholders.