Americans Are Not Doing It Wrong

George Howell in Dunbar.
After a tour of the gorgeous Belhaven brewery in Dunbar, Scotland, brewer George Howell took me and my peripatetic friend to the pub for beers.  At one point, extolling the simple virtues of session ales from the United Kingdom, Howell pointed out that "when you're out with the lads and you have ten or twelve pints" you want a low alcohol beer.  Ten or twelve pints?  That's nearly two gallons of beer!  Patrick and I snuck goggle-eyed peeks at each other.  I assume Howell's session was several hours long, but still, ten pints of even 3.5% beer and I'm under the table trying to find where I left my mind.

I bring this up because Martyn Cornell has an interesting cross-cultural post about a trend Brian Yaeger mentions here--India session ales (ISA).  The post is thoughtful and well-documented in the typically Cornellian way, and the upshot is that the style may have much to recommend it, but it's not for session drinking.  He used Dogfish Head DNA as an example:
While it was less hoppy than 60-minute IPA, at 32 IBUs rather than 60 (and lower in strength, at 4.5 per cent ABV), there was still masses of floral flavour and aroma from both the Dogfish Head addition and the dry-hopping with Simcoe hops the beer had been given in Bedford, so that this was very clearly an American IPA, not a British one. I enjoyed my pint. But I only wanted the one. Palate overload set in after just that single glass. And that means that, regardless of its strength, DNA New World IPA cannot possibly be a session beer.
Matthias Trum in Bamberg
We'll come back around to ISAs in a moment.  But let me tell you about rauchbier.  When I was in Bamberg, Schlenkerla's Matthias Trum explained that you had to drink his rauchbiers up to at least the second and preferably the third half-liter:
"Only as you go through your first two or three pints does the smokiness step back in perception and then the malty notes come out, the bitterness, the smoothness.  So the second Schlenkerla is for you a different beverage than the first one.  And yet the third one is different than the second one.  From the third one on, you have the system running, so to say."
Many people hate rauchbiers and don't want even a mouthful, but in Bamberg they pour them down their throats like water.  (I happily joined them.)

Belgium is a little different, because the variety is such that at a cafe, you are likely not to be drinking a single beer in your session.  You may start off with a gueuze and then head to something lighter with food, and finish up with more alcoholic drinks.  In the US, "Belgian" is an adjective some drinkers deploy only in the negative, to describe any beer that has an abundance of yeast character.  A session of these beers is anathema to them.

I might be able to drink ten of these.
The point of all this is that ISAs are an American thing.  I don't have any doubt that most Brits would find them--and our far more common session ales, IPAs--too assertive for a long session.  Increasingly, American craft beer fans don't.  When I go out with friends, mostly they throw back hoppy beers.  Like rauchbiers, the intense sensations wash over your palate and do overwhelm it; thereafter you adjust, and the other elements of the beer comes out.  For an American, drinking a pint of IPA is just the foreplay for more IPAs--at that point, you can't really go down the ladder, anyway.

But that's what Americans like.  (Or those in the still-small minority who drink craft beer.)  I get that there's a certain amount of disdain around the world for our out-of-balance beers (I'm not a fan of ISAs because they tend to be more out of balance than IPAs).  There's an implicit judgment--not in Martyn's post but elsewhere--about foolish upstarts who don't know what they're doing.  Actually, we do. A love of hops represents the evolution of preference, of local taste.  I wouldn't expect Bambergers to jump on our bandwagon, nor Londoners.  But that doesn't mean we're doing it wrong.