Just the other day, I got an email in the morning and then saw a friend later in the afternoon and both wanted to know what my objection is to “session beers”.
About six, eight months ago, a couple of tedious “authorities” from somewhere back East – guys whose names I had never heard or read before and had no knowledge of at all – had, apparently, taken me to task for a passing reference to the fact that I don’t like session drinking, that term that was invented in England for sitting down to pass a lovely evening with friends and a good ale – or twelve. Having consumed my first beer in a famous old pub in the London ‘burbs, way back there in 1970 or so, I not only knew what session drinking was, I had done it, right there at the cradle of its creation. Back there, it was a relatively harmless practice, as almost nobody involved in it drove to the pub. In the 70s-era Great Britain, people tended to do their imbibing at pubs that were right around the next corner or five from their own houses and then stumble home after. The only real hazard to that is the occasional night in the nick for drunkenness, getting busted for public urination, or in an extreme case, walking into what passes for traffic there and getting mowed down, after which a good English lad simply relocates to whatever pub is handy in Heaven…or the Other Place, where, presumably, the taps only feature Bud and Coors Light.
It’s not the same here.
This is my last word on this subject. I don’t care now – and didn’t care then, either – what anyone else thinks of my views on this and have heard or read absolutely nothing that would make me vary what I think one millimeter. In fact, much of what I did bother to read made me even more worried about those who advocate “sessioning” because the level of rationalization and self-deception is far more extreme than I had thought.
This is EXACTLY what I think and no further discussion of it is necessary:
A. My remark that I didn’t like “session drinking” was immediately misinterpreted as meaning that I don’t like all those beers that sessioners have claimed, apparently, as their own personal property, namely low-alcohol lagers and ales that are lighter in color and lighter-bodied. NOTHING could be further from the truth. I did a two-part review series last summer – “A Summery Judgment” and “A Summery Judgment, Part Two” – extolling the multitude of virtues that these beers – now property, I guess, of sessioneers exclusively – that I drink and enjoy regularly, not only in the summer but year-round. I have two objections to “session beers”:
1. If it’s bad beer, I don’t like it, just the same way I don’t like Porters, Stouts, Strong Ales, Barleywines, or any other beverage that’s poorly made, flawed, or flavorless.
2. I object to anyone other than the brewery pigeon-holing any beer as a “session beer”. If the brewery wants to call their product that, that’s their right as the creators of it. In the case of Full Sail’s wonderful Session Lager and Session Black Lager, it leaves no doubt about their intent and the beers are so good and so satisfying that they could call them polio vaccine and they’d still be a pleasure to drink. Ghettoizing a beer to the realm of sessioning co-opts the brewery’s objective. In the case of 21st Amendment Brewing’s gorgeous “Bitter American”, the objective was to make an American version of an English bitters, not simply to make a session ale. I doubt that Shawn Sullivan cares if you “session” Bitter American, as long as you like it, but the choice of how to present it is his and Nico’s, not yours and your buddies’.
B. For most of my life on this planet, the NIH, National Safety Council, AMA, law enforcement everywhere, and our public schools have been hammering home ONE primary message: DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE. It’s not fuzzy and not equivocal. Don’t drink and drive. How many simple, direct, un-ambiguous messages do we get from the government, safety organizations, and schools? In a world that’s a veritable tapestry of shades of grey, there’s a black ‘n’ white: DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE. And the miracle is that it’s…sorta worked. Teenagers still have a beer or two they sneaked out of their parents’ fridge and wrap cars around trees but that’s unavoidable, given human perversity. In my own view, ONE teenage death due to alcohol is just as bad as a million. And just as avoidable.
But now, along comes a whole sub-culture of people who have latched onto a trendy, convenient term that they use to legitimize the idea of spending an evening drinking four, five, six, or however many beers because, hey, we’re not drinking to excess! We’re Sessioning and now that is a whole different thing!
The arguments conveyed to me in defense of this practice are, I have to say, the single largest crock of bulls__t I’ve ever read and heard – and I’ve now lived through fifteen presidential elections. One yoyo even went to the extreme of telling me that he could pretty much guarantee that every session drinker in the US was responsible enough never to get into their vehicle and drive home after having a couple too many. When someone resorts to making a statement like that, so utterly ridiculous and supported by absolutely zero logic and understanding of human nature, that’s when I know that a self-serving Agenda is at work. And, sure enough, the buddy of the guy who wrote that runs a website for which the entire rationale is the promotion of…drum roll, please…Session Drinking.
Let me make this absolutely crystal clear: My objection to session drinking has nothing to do with the beers involved and it has nothing to do with a bunch of friends who get together on a camping trip or in a beach house or at a sleep-over weekend with buds that doesn’t involve driving around in cars or operating boats, jet skis, or any other apparatus that involves interaction with strangers. My own family’s males (NOT including me) go on what is known as their annual “Redneck Weekend”, where there is a prodigious amount of drinking but it’s done in a rented condo on a secluded beach in the middle of a remote river, where even the innocent act of “just running to the store for more ice” is not an option. Have fun, I tell them, and I don’t worry about it past that because if one of them should fall in the river drunk and get washed away, he’s not taking innocent bystanders with him. It won’t make my grief any less real but it will let me go on seeing my loved ones as responsible and well-intentioned.
What I object to is someone who goes out and “sessions” with friends and then gets into his car and genuinely believes that he just fine to drive because he was “sessioning” and that means he’s not getting hammered. The effects of alcohol on somebody, anybody, is variable depending on a multitude of factors: medications, fatigue level, what they’ve eaten that day and when, how quickly they drink, basic tolerance – we all know some pal who can down beers all night and still remain lucid as Margaret Thatcher and we all know someone who has one and wobbles like a loose tooth – and the influence of anything else consumed before the “session”. In response to a query I sent to a doctor at the NIH, I also learned that successive ingestion of alcohol is, in effect, taking a booster shot that doesn’t allow what’s been drunk before to to metabolize out. You are actually MORE likely to remain impaired for longer by repeated drinking over a period of several hours than by drinking everything early and then letting it follow your body’s natural mechanisms for removing alcohol from your system.
In a nutshell: I love many beers that session drinkers refer to as “session beers” but I prefer to let the brewery decide if it should have that handle. I do NOT like “session beers” that are poorly-made and taste bad. And I regard “session drinking”, in the way it’s normally constituted in our devoutly auto-dependent society, as an irresponsible rationale siezed upon by people looking for a justification for going back to “the good ol’ days” when a man could drink as much as he freakin’ well pleased, with no social stigma attached. As every Mom on the planet has said at some time, “Oh, yeah, it’s all just fun and games…until somebody gets hurt.” You want to grant yourself this pass to behave in a manner that directly seeks to undo every message we’ve all received, from cradle to grave, for the past fifty years about the perils of alcohol, well, it’s a free country…but you run your car into one with me, my family, my loved ones, a friend, my neighbor, or anyone else I know riding in it and you can count on me hounding your sorry ass through every court in this country, making sure you receive the punishment you so richly deserve. If, as all the sessioneers keep insisting, the act of sessioning really IS all about the friendship and conversation and camaraderie involved, why are there websites devoted to session BEERS? If it’s all about camaraderie, why is the beer even a factor? Is camaraderie impossible without beer? And why does a chance remark by me snowball in to an infinitely tedious commentary on how “Steve Body doesn’t get it“?
They’re right. I don’t “get it”, if getting it means agreeing with their silly notions of unfailing personal responsibility, in the face of what we all know of human nature. No need to state the obvious again: I DON’T GET IT.
I don’t want it. I have no wish to get it. You keep it all to yourselves…
And you make damned sure you use it responsibly.