Bill Argues For Small Portions, I Argue for Small Beer

Bill Night has a great post up about the issue of "session beers." The post riffs on an earlier post by Andy Crouch arguing that Americans just aren't cut out for small beers. Andy says a drinking session is a British thing, and anyway, we don't like small beers. I half disagree with Andy. Americans do like drinking sessions--those who live out here, anyway--but we don't really like small beers. Bill, however, takes it in a different direction:
Reading it as I returned from vacation in Europe, it made me reflect on the beer-drinking culture I'd seen in Amsterdam and Belgium. The beers were not low-alcohol -- that's a 10% Westvleteren in the picture above -- but serving sizes were generally very small: often 25 cl (less than 8.5 ounces) or 33 cl (less than 11.25 ounces). Instead of simply beating the drum for lower ABV beers, maybe we need to start calling for lower alcohol servings. If it's a lighter beer, the serving can be larger; if it's a higher-gravity beer, serve it in an appropriate volume.
Fair enough. I think if you're going to have a session of drinking, it's healthiest to make sure it's moderate. If that means drinking Belgian tripels by the thimbleful, godspeed. It's better than throwing back an imperial pint of Pliny the Elder.

I, however, happen to like small beers. The flavors may not be as screamingly intense, but they often have more molecular space to unfold and blossom. You find subtle aromas and flavors in small beers you couldn't hope to identify in bruisers. All things being equal, I'd choose a well-crafted 4% beer over a well-crafted 8% beer almost any day of the week.

What's frustrating for this advocate of small beers is that our team is burdened by an economic disincentive. If you pull up to the bar at the Horse Brass and consider your options, I believe a certain calculation crosses your mind. It goes like this: "Hmmm, that cask bitter looks mighty tasty, but it's only about 4% alcohol. If I have it, I'm likely to want two at the very least and probably three. That IPA looks almost as tasty, but it's north of six percent and I can probably get by with one if I nurse it. Maybe two." A session of the cask will run you $10-$15, but the IPA only $5-$10. So you go with the IPA. Bill thinks this won't affect most beer geeks, but he's wrong: I know because it even affects me.

Now, there may be a festival in three and a half weeks that could turn the tide. It may be called Mighty Mites and I may have had something to do with it. But we'll come to that in due course.