Or if not the best part, can it be the thing that makes a beer extreme? [Or is it X-treme? Maybe X-treem! That's it.]
Anyway, Lew was asking again about session beers and X-treem! ones and wondered out loud if sessions are really just the lowest common denominators. Thinking about it, I wrote a couple of comments that I think are pretty damn clever...at least for a Friday night when I want a quick post topic so that I can go get the guests and go have a beer:
I think the lowest common denominator argument ignores one critical fact. Extreme beers are about pushing the importance of certain characteristics of beer - alcohol level, hop level, even roastiness levels. Good low alcohol beers push the importance of the two most important elements of beer: yeast and water quality. Without all the other sensory overload, these quiet pillars of a good beer have to shine through. And if you have a hard water stout or a sour yeasted ordinary bitter your beer is going to suck. It takes as much or more craftsmanship to achieve balance and dignity in these styles. Do not think of them as being "small canvass beers" so much as those quieter parts of the overall zymurgistic symphony.So is there anything to that? Can we ever say "mmm...good water!" I know that sometimes the wrong water profile can make a brew less that I want.
They are not junior versions but actually a means to display the finer arts. How often have you had a light ale and thought it was more refreshing than a lager as it expressed its water content in a most wonderfully watery way? If not the elephant in the room, water quality is certainly the most the ignored element in much beer making. With a session beer you can run but you can't hide. Maybe that is why there are so few - brewers lack the skill to turn the volume down.
Think of it this way, Lew. Water is the only element in beer that you can not make extreme by throwing in more. Its extreme form can only be through the relative reduction of other elements. So, in a great session beer, it is not dilution but celebration of the thing that makes up 90 to 94.5% off all beer. It is like the white space in a fine watercolour painting as opposed to the thickly layered on oil of an old master or a modern abstract that hides any glimpse of the canvass underneath. Neither is better - they really only have different goals.