It’s always fun to speculate about what the next big trend will be in brewing in Canada. Over the last two years, the trend has been to higher alcohol beers with huge, powerful hop bills that achieve an aggressively pleasant bitterness.
For much of this year, there has been a tendency towards using Belgian yeast to create various kinds of beers running from saisons to Belgian pale ales. These tend to have the spicy yeast esters that let you know that you’re drinking something mildly exotic, if not completely authentic.
While it’s always delightful to see new and interesting products on the market, both of these trends can become a little exclusionary. You might be standing in the liquor store or gazing furtively at a tap line up and think to yourself, "I'm not sure that I want to drink something that’s 8.0% alcohol." It was not so very long ago that something in that range would have been referred to as extreme beer. As that normalized, it became de rigeur for bars serving craft beer to have something big, brash and brawling available.
Maybe I’m just getting old, but the mantra that has been running through my head, while watching the standard ABV (alcohol by volume) creep slowly upward is, "Beer is meant to be drunk. You are probably not."
For that reason, I think that session beers will be the next big thing. There are loose definitions of the term floating around, but realistically, it’s a catchall term, which means anything under 5.0% alcohol that you can have more than one of, without ill effect. Because the term doesn’t specify a style of beer, a session beer can be just about anything as long as it’s easily quaffable.
There have been some steps in this direction already. Toronto’s Great Lakes Brewery, for instance, have recently been playing around with beer in the Grisette-style which satisfies the criteria. The two examples they have had on offer are between 3.8% and 4.0% alcohol. Originally, it was a style of beer that was consumed by miners.
One of the best Canadian beers of this type is Cheshire Valley’s Mildly Amusing, which sits at about 3.7% and manages to pack a surprising amount of flavour into its tiny frame. Its mild roastiness and chocolate flavour are so satisfying that you’ll almost certainly want a second one, and at that percentage, you can easily do so without pangs of conscience.
I think that as Canadian craft brewers get more experienced, they’ll be more willing to experiment with session beers. A lower alcohol beer requires a deft touch and some subtlety that comes with years of knowledge. I expect to see many of them at this year’s Cask Days festival in Toronto, which acts as a signpost for the next year in brewing.
Jordan St.John writes about beer at saintjohnswort.ca. This week he’s writing about a number of British things.