CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Today, the U.S. craft beer market is booming; enjoying double-digit growth in a marketplace with stiff competition from wine and "alco-pop" style drinks.
The main demographic tends to be a younger, hipper urban crowd. These folks love trendiness, and they tend to drive the craft brewers to constantly invent something new. This has made it challenging for many established craft breweries to stay relevant (and the same for middle-aged beer writers as well).
We all love the innovation that has become a part of survival in this market, but when the dust settles, a good beer is a good beer.
A few years ago, the macrobrewers tried to win customers by claiming their beer had "drinkability," effectively removing that word from the craft brewer's lexicon. Craft brewers opted to use the word "sessionable" or "session beer" to describe what is really drinkability -- but now I am reclaiming that word for craft beer.
Whether the beer is dark or light does not determine its drinkability; other factors such as residual bitterness, alcohol content and body are the key factors. Also, some beers' drinkability will vary by season; I don't relish the idea of quaffing down a spicy winter ale in August.
Let's look at a few of the tap selections from a couple of notable local craft beer establishments to discuss drinkability.
Pies and Pints: The taps at this venerable (yet only a few years old) craft beer and pizza joint in downtown Charleston feature a majority of very trendy, delicious beers, but all too often, many of them tip the scale above 7 percent ABV, and some are on the "highly bittered" side of the taste spectrum.
To me, this is odd and is seemingly not in keeping with seasonal drinking norms. I'm not really looking to quench my summer thirst with a "Hoptimum" Imperial IPA weighing in at 10.4 percent ABV. Don't get me wrong: I love this beer, but it's "one and done" for me. PNP always has Pabst on tap, and recently has beefed up its lower-alcohol (drinkable) lineup. Crux is an American take on the German Kolsch-style ale, brewed by West Virginia's very own Bridge Brew Works. Pies and Pints now features a few great beers from Charleston Brewing Co. as well.
Charleston Brewing Co.: CBC brewer Ryan Heastings always seems mindful about offering a balanced tap selection with a few "big" beers, but there are always several easy-drinking yet flavorful beers. Heastings sums it up this way: "With specific regard to our list, I do indeed try for an overarching sense of balance. One aspect of this is with ABV ratios. I hate going to places, usually in situations where I have to drive, and the lowest thing they have on the board is 6.5 percent ABV."
Heastings has been able to keep eight house-brewed beers flowing from their taps for some time ranging from his double IPA Hurricane with 7.6 percent ABV, to the Belgian white ale Moonbeam at 4.6 percent ABV.
Drinkability is subjective to the occasion, the season and the particular beer drinker. I find it refreshing that we have a few places in town that are continuously trying to provide the West Virginia beer consumer with a variety of tasty choices and letting us decide.
For more on the craft of beer, see Rich Ireland's "Beers to You" blog at thegazz.com.