First, let’s stipulate that what you’re about to read comes from a very unapologetic Beer Snob. MAJOR beer snob. I’m not a snob about wine or Whiskey or Vodka or anything else I review and, even in beer, I’m a snob about ONE thing: cheaply made, cynically conceived, watery, insipid, mass-produced adjunct Pilsners like BudMillerCoorsPabst. That’s it. That and anything else made along those dumbed-down lines.
I’ve had people who took this to mean that I just don’t like Pilsners; some even extrapolated that to include all Lagers…which is crap. I adore a well-made Pilsner but, until the past eight or ten years, most Americans had never tasted a well-made Pils. My own fave is Pinkus Ur Pils but there is an ever-increasing number of American craft breweries that have taken to making Pilsners and the results have ranged from wretched to stunning – leaning strongly toward “stunning”.
What these light, crisp, uber-refreshing Lagers do, in craft beer terms, is to serve as a near-foolproof way to wean friends and family off our century-long, irrational addiction to Budweiser and all its many wannabes. That’s NOT a trifling task. As a product of relentless and occasionally vicious marketing and an unceasing campaign of backroom deals, buy-outs of any brewery whose sales seemed to pose even a remote threat, and routine choking off of competition at retail by sweetheart deals and even outright bribery, Budweiser’s dominance of the American beer market went virtually unchallenged – until craft beer became entrenched. Our societal fascination with this flavorless, flat-lined style of beer has been nothing short of a national neurosis. All of Anheuser Busch’s marketing chicanery and underhanded business practices undoubtedly worked but what they were selling was something that really, literally was – and was intended to be! – a cheap, flaccid knock-off of the fabled Czech Pilsners. When Adolphus Busch started Anheuser Busch, he deliberately took a great Euro Pils recipe, cut every possible corner, substituted cheaper grains for expensive ones like barley, and sniffily announced, “This will be good enough for Americans. They don’t know beer, anyway.”
This is what we turned into a national icon.
So, this long-winded exposition brings us to Full Sail’s approaching-iconic sub-brand, “Session”. Session Premium Lager was the first of this celebrated series…and when I say “celebrated“, that is exactly what I mean. Almost from Day One of the Session era, these beers – now eight or ten of ’em in the series – have struck a chord with younger craft drinkers, first here in the PNW and now as widely as Full Sail’s entire distribution network. The whole idea of the line-up was to produce beers that combined properly made, British-tradition and German/Czech-inspired brews with a price point that makes a cynical lie out of BudMillerCoors’ continuing claims that craft beer is all about charging more $$$ for artsy beers. That message resonated, big time, as proven out by booming sales and critical acclaim. Here is the list of awards that this remarkable, unassuming little Lager has already racked up…
- Beer Army Beer Wars 1st Place, International Pale Lager, 2017
- Great International Beer & Cider Competition Gold Medal, 1st Place, Premium Lager, 2016
- World Beer Awards, USA’s Best Helles/Munchner, Helles/Munchner, 2016
- World Beer Championships Gold Medal, Munich-Helles, 2015
- World Beer Awards, USA’s Best Helles/Munchner Lager, 2015
- Colorado State Fair, Gold Medal, Light Lager, 2015
- World Beer Awards, Gold Medal, Munich Helles Lager 2014
- World Beer Awards, Gold Medal & The Americas Best Helles/Munchner Lager, 2014
- Colorado State Fair, Gold Medal, Light Lager, 2014
- U.S. Open Beer Championships Gold Medal, American Lager/Pilsener, 2014
- World Beer Awards, Gold Medal & The Americas Best Helles/Munchner Lager, 2013
- World Beer Championships Gold Medal, 93 Points 2013
- World Beer Championships Gold Medal, 2012
- U.S. Open Beer Championships Gold Medal, 2012
- U.S. Open Beer Championships Gold Medal, 2011
- World Beer Awards Gold Medal & America’s Best Premium Lager 2010
- LA County Fair Gold Medal, 2010
- U.S. Open Beer Championship Gold Medal, 2009
- Great American Beer Festival® Gold Medal, International Pilsner Category, 2008
- World Beer Awards Gold Medal and World’s Best Premium Lager, 2007
- North American Beer Awards Gold Medal, 2007
- West Coast Brewer’s Festival Gold Medal, 2006
- LA County Fair Gold Medal, 2006
- World Beer Championships Packaging Gold Medal, 2005
- World Beer Championships Gold Medal, 2005
- World Beer Championships Silver Medal, Munich-Helles, 2016
- World Beer Championships Silver Medal, Munich-Helles, 2016
- Los Angeles International Beer Competition, American-Style Lager, Silver Medal, 2014
- Best of Craft Beer Awards, Silver Medal, Helles Lager, 2014
- US Open Beer Championship Silver Medal, 2013
- Los Angeles International Beer Competition Silver Medal, 2013
- Great American Beer Festival® Silver Medal, Munich-Style Helles Category 2012
- L.A. County Fair Silver Medal, American-Style Premium Lager 2011
- Colorado State Fair Silver Medal, 2nd Place 2011
- Denver International Beer Competition Silver Medal 2011
- US Open Beer Championship Silver Medal, 2010
- World Beer Championships Silver Medal, 2010
- World Beer Championships Silver Medal, 2009
- World Beer Championships Silver Medal, 2008
- LA County Fair Silver Medal, 2008
- LA County Fair Silver Medal, 2007
- World Beer Championships Silver Medal, 2007
- Brew NZ Awards Silver Medal, 2007
- World Beer Championships Silver Medal, 2006
- Denver International Beer Competition Bronze Medal, 2013, 2014
- World Beer Championships Bronze Medal, 2011
- World Beer Cup Bronze Medal, 2006
- SIP Northwest Magazine, Best Lager of Northwest, 3rd Place, 2015
- Colorado Craft Lager Festival, Third Place, 2013
- World Beer Championships “Best Beers of 2012”
- Colorado Craft Lager Festival Second Place 2009
- Draft Magazine Recommended 2008
- Pacific Brew News “Perfect Summertime Beer” 2007
- Men’s Journal Magazine “One of the Best Beers in America” 2006
- Pacific Brews News Highest Recommendation 2006
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t do some PR firm thing like that and post somebody’s puff material but I am deadly serious – bordering on evangelical – about how Full Sail Session Premium Lager can and should be the gateway beer that let’s you address your stubborn pal’s or entrenched uncle’s fixation on Bud’s pompous facade of all-American manhood and rejection of “bitter, foofy beers“. Session Lager is what a Lager is actually supposed to taste like. Full Sail, of course, is a brand you already know but you probably know them, primarily, for their ales.
It may even seem counter-intuitive, in a region of the country that boasts national-class Lager-dominant breweries like Heater Allen and Bayern and Chuckanut and Orlison, that good ol’ Full Sail; would turn out to be, here in 2017, maybe the best producer of Lagers in the Northwest (and maybe America) but here we are and yes they may well be. The evidence is all over their roster: the LTD Series, an ongoing experiment in Lagercraft that has not even one beer in it that’s not at the top tier of its style; Cascade German Pilsner and its big brother “Capsize” Imperial Pils; their annual Dopplebock, which has been arguably, with Boundary Bay Brewing’s version, the West’s definitive Dopple; their basic Full Sail Pilsner; and six of the ten Session offerings. On a simple, one-off quality basis, other breweries may equal what FS is producing but, IMO, only Chuckanut really surpasses them…but then Chuckanut surpasses everybody the in US but you’ll have one hell of a time trying to find Chuckanut if you live anywhere outside WA/OR/ID. For practical purposes, Full Sail is one of the top two or three makers of lagers anywhere in this country.
Session Premium Lager actually IS, in every aspect, a premium Lager. Calling Session a “premium” is not some PR gimmick or the sort of self-aggrandizing hyperbole it becomes when it’s Pete Coors using the term, while bitching about people turning away from his swill to craft beer in Denver’s Westword Magazine: “We have a lot of bar owners who are enamored with craft beers. They are beginning to take off the premium light handles and putting bottles behind the bar instead and replacing the handles with craft beer handles...Having a premium light brand, whether it’s Coors, Miller or Bud on tap actually improves the economics of their business.” Yes, having an actual “premium light brand” would improve the economics of a tavern. If only any of the brands he mentioned made one. Full Sail does.
If you’re a veteran craft beer fan and occasionally run into this same conflict with hide-bound BudmillerCoorsPabst drinkers, the trick is not to antagonize them, as is always my first impulse. I found that it doesn’t work because if they’re gullible enough to believe Bud’s omnipresent advertising BS, to begin with, they’re going to think that all craft beers are bitter and weird. I learned, back when I had my beer shop in the Seattle ‘burbs, that you have to woo them away; actually put tangible proof in their mouths that refutes that Bud propaganda, clearly, in the only way that really matters. Back then, from 2005 to 2008, I didn’t have ANY real craft Pilsner or other light Lager that would serve as that rebuttal. Today, there are easily 100+ bottled or canned Pilsners out there that do the trick…and the leader in the clubhouse, both in terms of quality and availability, is Session…so why had Session Premium Lager not conquered the universe?
Bottles. Session Lager was only available in bottles.
Not any more…
This handsome, eye-catching can is the newest addition to the Session roster and it neatly solves the problem of the Six Pack Joe’s traditional preference for cans (because, **groan**, they’re “more manly”…y’know, chug the beer, smash the can on your forehead, etc., etc.) The new Session Premium Lager, canned version, offers all those advantages of cans that make them such a far superior vessel to bottles – no breakage, no light damage, no oxidation, better storage, easier recycling, better for traveling, a firm base in a cooler, waaaay faster chilling, and easier opening – and DO NOT, no matter what your know-it-all pal says about canned liquids, cause the beer to “taste metallic“. Modern canning technology and the materials used for it make today’s cans every bit as an inert a material as glass.
(NOTE: The ONLY drawback to cans that I have ever found is that the flat tops DO offer a far better surface for the accumulation of dust, germs, and animal hair than does a bottle top, but that problem is easily addressed by the use of can packs like the ones used for Session, the full-lid cover that is attached during packaging and keeps the lids as clean as they are before the can is assembled. You can chill a six-pack of Session, pop one out, and chug to your heart’s content. Whatever you do, DO NOT – For the Love of God!! – EVER drink from a can without that sort of full-lid carrier without washing the top first! I cannot stress this enough. You don’t have to get anal about it but you wouldn’t lick a banana peel or your bread packaging or the can your tuna comes in, so why would you put a can lid in your freakin’ mouth(!), without making sure that lid is free of germs and dirt? You can get sick from sticking things exposed to dirt and grime into your piehole. So, WHY would anyone risk it when water is there in your tap, melted ice is in the bottom of your cooler, and even raccoons wash their food first? Ate you smarter than a raccoon? If so, wash your goddamned can. Please.)
Full Sail Premium Lager has been, from its inception, one of America’s best Lagers and now, with this new canned edition, every hesitation about buying it versus mass-produced swill has been addressed. Session’s six-packs – according to a quick Google search that I did of prices versus Budweiser – showed this brand running within ten cents, at ten different listed retailers, of what a six-pack of Bud or Bud Light will run ya. There is simply NO REASON LEFT why you should not start nudging your friends and family off the watery adjunct Pilsner teat, when you have a better beer that costs the same and is just as convenient. They get the cachet of drinking craft beers versus industrial plonk and get far better flavors, to boot. Win-win.
If this reads like a commercial for Session Lager, I apologize but I’d do it again, and really for my own very selfish reasons, not to benefit Full Sail. I want Budweiser and Coors and Miller and all those shameful relics of our dysfunctional past as a beer culture GONE; relegated to the butt-end of the beer aisle in your local supermarket, if not erased altogether. Why? Why would anyone adopt such a radical stance about a harmless can of watery beer? Because of AB’s horrid tradition of operating at the expense of the welfare of average Americans whose workplaces got bought out and who found themselves struggling, just so the Busch family could buy another estate in Germany or Missouri. Because I watched, first hand, Bud’s reps come swaggering into shops where I worked and monopolize shelf space, literally shoving craft beers off racks and onto the floor to make room for their insipid crap, and then laughing about it when I objected, saying, “We pay good money for this space and this craft beer fad doesn’t change that!” (Direct quote) Because, since AB’s sell-out to InBev in 2008, I dislike sending perfectly good American dollars to Belgium and Brazil, when we have better beer, made right here, by actual American entrepreneurs.
So…if this reads like a commercial for Full Sail, I’m okay with that. I prefer to think of it as a public service ad against badly-made, mass-produced, crappy beer but if the day ever does come when I can’t use The Pour Fool to promote something worthy and home-grown, that will be the same day The Pour Fool ceases to exist. Screw Budweiser. Buy Session.
Pingback: Professor Good Ales » Post Topic » Full Sail’s Iconic (Canned!) Session Lager: The Craft Newbie’s Gateway Pour