Beer Buzz: Say “Yes” to “Boring,” Low-Alcohol Craft Beer

Written by Andy Ingram for The Republic and azcentral.com

Beer Buzz columnist Andy Ingram says to say yes to 'boring,' low-alcohol craft beer. Photo by David Kadlubowski.
I’m not very technically savvy, so when things go a little haywire, like an iPhone or my son’s Xbox, it’s nice to push reset and start over.

It seems to me that this is happening with craft beer as well. And, although I like the experimental and the crazy, it’s nice to see some brewers hit the reset button and get back to what started this whole beer revolution: clean, lower-alcohol, session beer.

There’s been a little spat on the beer-geek blogs and websites about what exactly is a session beer. These folks tend to have an insatiable desire to label and categorize, to micromanage with specific alcohol ranges and distinct flavor profiles.

Maybe the idea of a session beer is lost on these people.

I say that you’ll know it when you drink it. It is what it is: a beer that can be consumed several pints in a session, that has plenty of flavor, but won’t knock you for a loop. It doesn’t necessarily have unusual ingredients. In fact, the simpler the better.

This is how craft beer used to be.

Seventeen years ago, when I was working for Coyote Springs Brewing Co. (now defunct), we had a cream ale, a stout, a brown ale, a pale ale and an amber ale on tap. This was considered exotic at the time, and none of them topped 5.5 percent alcohol.

Now it’s not uncommon to see a 10 percent alcohol double IPA, or a Belgian sour ale aged in wood over currants, or, well, whatever Dogfish is doing. I love all of it. But it seems that in the race to have the biggest, the hoppiest or the strongest, we forgot what got us here: the drinkable, the mild, the session beer.

I’m glad to see that most Arizona brewers haven’t gone completely over to the weird side, although we’re all a little guilty of dabbling in the strange beer category (we once made a coffee-infused, smoked Imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels).

If you’re eager to sample a true session beer you can always try Evan Hanseth’s Lumberyard Red Ale in Flagstaff or Fred Krause’s Oak Creek Nut Brown Ale in Sedona. In Tucson, you could easily while away an afternoon drinking Dennis Arnold’s Red Cat Amber at the Barrio Brewery. And here at Four Peaks, spend a happy hour drinking 8th Street Ale.

The common thread in all these beers is that they all are at, or below, 5 percent alcohol. They are all traditional, approachable styles. Best of all, they’re all local.

If you are into extreme beers, that’s great. But seek out some of these mighty-mite beers. You know, the one’s your beer-geek friends call “boring.” You’ll find they’re far from it, and you may come to realize that the sublime can be found in the simple.

Andy Ingram is owner and brewmaster of Tempe’s Four Peaks Brewery. Read Beer Buzz each Wednesday at nightlife.azcentral.com. Contact Ingram at andy@fourpeaks.com. Follow him on Twitter (@fourpeaksbrew) or Facebook.