Welcome once again to Drunkspin's Sub-Five-Percent Friday, wherein we recommend a low-potency beer to keep you in the mood but out of trouble. Remember, it's a long weekend, at least as far as the government is concerned, which means court's not open Monday—if you get arrested for something stupid this weekend, you risk putting yourself on the Cheese Sandwich Diet till a Tuesday-morning arraignment. We don't want that, which is why this week we've taken the extra precaution of recommending a beer that is not only low in alcohol, but also too expensive to fuel the sort of bender that can lead to big misunderstandings and/or jail.
Let's start with a couple of quick definitions. "Best" in this instance means "the first beer I drink on my birthday every year," with "every year" meaning "the three or four times I've remembered to." "Session beer" means one that won't get you too loaded too quickly. The Brewers Association says a session beer must contain between four percent and five percent alcohol by volume; that's on the high side for an upper limit (many people cap "session" at 4.5, which seems about right; the main reason we go to five on Drunkspin is to make it easier to weasel a beer into this slot every Friday), and why on earth is there any lower limit at all?
The Brewers Association seems not to understand even their own weird standard: Karl Strauss just won gold in the session category at the BA's Great American Beer Festival with their 5.5-percent-ABV Mosaic Session Ale. So maybe the BA really defines a session beer as being one that either a) is between four- and five-percent-ABV, or b) calls itself "session" right there in the very name, in which case, who are they to argue? Let's get out of here.
Sessionable beers are big in the United Kingdom, because drinking beer throughout the entire glorious goddamn day is big in the United Kingdom. Not as big as it used to be, and not as big as it should be, but still bigger than it is here. We don't import a ton of British beer to the U.S., due mostly to logistical and economic restrictions, but also because we like bigger, louder beers than they tend to produce. This is a shame. We do bring over a decent supply of Coniston Bluebird Bitter, though, and we're a richer nation for it.
At about $5 for a half-liter bottle, Bluebird Bitter is a touch pricey for anyone looking to get drunk. Coniston thoughtfully dials the export version's ABV up from the standard 3.6 to a more American-friendly 4.2, but that still means you're dropping $20 before even the gentlest part of a buzz takes hold. It's worth it.
This is a bottle-conditioned "real ale," meaning it's packaged with some live yeast still kicking around (along with residual sugar to feed the yeast), so you should pour this one into a glass. It's a deep, orangey gold, and it smells like apples and tea. The high dose of English Challenger hops adds a spicy, floral edge to the distinct Maris Otter and crystal malt character of light caramel and fruit, creating a deceptively complex beer that starts off very light and almost sweet before turning bitter at the end. (We're talking about the British version of bitter, remember, and since they have the decency to drink beer all day, they don't go in for gigantic, face-hurting American-style hops.)
Consiton Bluebird Bitter is perfectly suited for a nice 60-hour session, even if you have to blow the bail money to pay for it.
This is Drunkspin Daily, the Concourse's adequate source for booze news, reviews, and bullshit. We'll be highlighting a beer a day in this space; please leave suggestions below.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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