Low Octane: Session Beers, Suppressor Cocktails, & Low Alcohol Wine

In the worlds of beer, wine AND cocktails, dialing back is the new amping up. Those pumped up, roided out monsters may still have their fans, but it’s amazing to see the similarities striking forth in the worlds of potent (and not quite so potent) potables when it comes to crafting drinks that deliver maximum enjoyment, which can often mean less-than-maximum ABV. In an eerie parallel, even¬†Carrot Top himself¬†is taking up this cause and has committed to a steroid-free life of balance in line with this whole movement. THAT is proof positive that this thing has legs!

Wine? Jon Bonn√© really pushed the¬†conversation about paying attention to alcohol levels in wine¬†with his piece in the San Francisco Chronicle almost a year ago, and has continued to keep the topic top of mind for readers and drinkers. Overblown 16% syrahs and cabs and zins are out; reeled-in pinots are in like Flynn (so says me). That’s not to say that wimpy or delicate are the end goal, but rather that flavor and balance can and do coexist in wines that are more in line with what wine looked like before the evil influences (and I mean EVIL!) pushed many winemakers to pump, pump, pump things up in the past two decades or so.

In beer, the term “session” is raging, both as a blowback to the ridiculously powerful craft beers that have dominated the scene for so many years now AND as a recognition that people simply like beers that allow them to have more than one and not be physically impaired for the night. It’s true. The 4% session beer that delivers on flavor and enjoyment seems to be the holy grail du jour, and I’m a seeker. Wild Heaven‘s recently released Let There Be Light is just another example of a craft brewer who had previously focused on beers that topped out at 8-10% ABV now turning towards the lighter end of the spectrum. Let There Be Light clocks in at 4.7% – not quite a “session beer” technically, but darn close, and a whole lot more hangover-friendly than their 10.5% Eschaton.

As for cocktails, Atlanta is ground zero for a movement that is all about lowering the octane level of craft cocktails, and Greg Best from Holeman & Finch is the maestro at the front of the orchestra of bartenders playing along. Starchefs.com just wrote about the movement today (dang, they beat me to it! and nice job, too), but it’s one that has been bubbling up for the past few months and is now picking up steam. If you’re a fan of vermouth or Sherry or Madeira as a base for cocktails rather than the sidekick (and I am), this is something to get excited about. And if you’re simply a fan of carefully considered cocktails, the cause is equally compelling. The suppressor movement is on, and I bet it will take hold in great cocktail bars from New York to Portland and back again. Put a bird on it.

So what does this all mean? What is this crazy convergence in the worlds of wine and beer and cocktails and insane Las Vegas comedians? I have no idea. But I think it is a sign of good things to come. A sign that moderation and the middle ground may yet hold sway in this extremist world we live in. A sign that reason and virtue will prevail over bombast and¬†boastfulness. Or, maybe, it’s just a sign that we can simply enjoy one more drink and feel good about it. Yeah… that.

One Reply to “Low Octane: Session Beers, Suppressor Cocktails, & Low Alcohol Wine”

  1. Great article. I’m glad to see that low ABV beers are catching on this side of The Atlantic. A whole new world of flavours will be opened up to the public. I hope cask ale catches the imagination too. @Stuart_Arnold

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