When it Comes to ABV, How Low Can We Go?

Discussion in 'Article Comments' started by BeerAdvocate, May 17, 2017.

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  1. BeerAdvocate

    BeerAdvocate Founders (16,536) Aug 23, 1996 Massachusetts

    Low alcohol beer is the last unexplored territory of American brewing. To take its place in our beer-drinking culture it must transcend gimmicks.

    Read the full article: When it Comes to ABV, How Low Can We Go?
  2. Harrison8

    Harrison8 Poo-Bah (4,037) Dec 6, 2015 Missouri
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    I recently had a beer that I think defies "summer crusher" of a beer. Keep in mind, when I think of a "summer crusher", I think of a beer I can throw back after a track workout in 98F, sunny weather with 96% humidity (unfortunately, not that uncommon for a few months out of the year). I want something with flavor, but that doesn't shock my dehydrated system with alcohol. I also want something I can slug back round after round in a scorching hot parking lot while tailgating for a game.

    The beer that seems to have nailed that balance is "Hoppy Water #1" by Narrow Gauge. Hitting in at 3%, I didn't expect much flavor - but actually found the hop presence in both the aroma and flavor profile to be more robust than most of the Luponic Distortion series so far (which I've also been a fan of so far). Better yet, it was under $10 to take home a 32oz crowler of Hoppy Water. No doubt, if it was made and distro'd throughout Missouri, I'd be snagging it for any bonfires, camp outs, float trips, tailgates, and post-workout brews. It'd be nice to have some similar brews available.

    At 3%, that's the lowest ABV I've had in a beer without it being a lambic. I'd love to have more opportunities to pick up beers like these. At least from June through August.
  3. dcotom

    dcotom Poo-Bah (2,443) Aug 4, 2014 Iowa
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    Surly Xtra-Citra (4.5%) is about as low as I'd want to go in terms of ABV. That said, it's one fantastic beer that doesn't sacrifice flavor for so-called sessionability.

    Of course, there is always kvas.
    Sludgeman and Harrison8 like this.
  4. WV_Charles_Homebrew

    WV_Charles_Homebrew Initiate (69) May 17, 2017 West Virginia

    I just drank my last bottle of SN Otra Vez last night. Crisp, tart and very refreshing, with just a tiny hint of the gose salinity. And that subtle hint of cactus fruit is nice too. I need some more!
    HorseheadsHophead, Lucular and BWood like this.
  5. jhavs

    jhavs Poo-Bah (1,925) Apr 16, 2015 New Hampshire
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    I really enjoy Rally from Austin St. in Portland Maine.

    3.8% ABV but still really good flavor, aroma and mouthfeel.

    We got a keg last summer when we rented a lake house. It was the perfect brew for hanging out by the lake in the sun. Had a bit more high test stuff for evenings.

    Currently rated pretty high on here.

  6. Lochnessmonster

    Lochnessmonster Defender (617) Dec 4, 2013 Florida

    Take a vacation to Iceland, they'll teach you a thing or two about low abv beers.
    PatrickCT likes this.
  7. moshea

    moshea Devotee (464) Jul 16, 2007 Michigan

    I remember going to beer bars years ago and looking for high ABV BA beers

    I go in now and look for the lowest ABV beers on the menu

    More low ABV beers please
    Ranbot, spoony, LuskusDelph and 9 others like this.
  8. bbtkd

    bbtkd Poo-Bah (7,567) Sep 20, 2015 South Dakota
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    Lindemans Framboise is excellent and only 2.5% ABV

    Slavutych Kvas Taras is 1.2% ABV and sucks, but not because of the ABV!
    Tripel_Threat and Harrison8 like this.
  9. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,754) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
    Society Trader

    In general, it's amazing how much flavor can be packed into a low alcohol sour. There's a Berliner Weiss called Brau Backer that's brewed with brett and lactobacillus, and you'd never suspect it's only 2.5%. Of course, the price may be the thing that keeps you from pounding six or seven in a row like you'd want...:wink:
  10. surfcaster

    surfcaster Zealot (566) Apr 20, 2013 North Carolina

    I'm kind of glad that we aren't a bunch of old farts sitting on stools drinking all day--fine if you want to. :slight_smile: Maybe I will join them one day.

    All that being said- I look for the lower option routinely. Please make more good low ABV brews.
  11. bbtkd

    bbtkd Poo-Bah (7,567) Sep 20, 2015 South Dakota
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    While most of the beers I like happen to be high ABV, I don't need them to be. Particularly when I go to a taproom and must drive home, I am not looking for a 12oz 13% ABV beer. Lately I've been going for new lower ABV beers.
    MartinDoon and HorseheadsHophead like this.
  12. DrumKid003

    DrumKid003 Aspirant (244) Aug 10, 2013 Oklahoma

    Jester King Le Petit Prince (2.9% ABV) 4.75/5
    Lindemans Framboise (2.5% ABV) 4.25/5
    Evil Twin Sour Bikini (3.0% ABV) 4.25/5
    Stiegl Radler (2.0% ABV) 4/5

    These are my highest rated at ≤ 3.0% ABV.
  13. Wiffler27

    Wiffler27 Meyvn (1,295) Aug 16, 2009 New Jersey

    i've been thinking more and more about this exact subject.

    i'm weird in that I am almost always drinking something during the day. water, tea, coffee, etc. i have a bottle of water with me 99% of the time.

    so enjoying a session at home i can drink a good amount but 8%+ abv IPAs/stouts take their toll at some point. my FIFA skills really crash and burn after a few big beers.

    so something like Boat Beer (4.2%) comes into play. i can be constantly drinking/sipping without getting sloshed. for example 2 weekends ago i had like 2 Jai Alai's while playing FIFA and then i started drinking Puff. 1 I was fine, 2 started to feel it and 3-4 put my FIFA skills in the trash.

    so yes, flavorful small beers would be great
  14. donspublic

    donspublic Poo-Bah (1,854) Aug 4, 2014 Texas
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    2.9% Commercial Suicide Oaked Farmhouse Mild: Jester King
    Could drink this mild all day long
    3.2% Grodziskie: Live Oak Brewing Company
    My local bar got a keg of this Grodziskie and I think I drank more than anyone. I would go every day for a glass and 2 times a week got growler fills. They were practically giving it to me to get if off the tapline because no one liked smoked beer. Great beer and one that makes you work your way thru it because of the complexity
    ilikebeer03, Roadkizzle and Premo88 like this.
  15. Premo88

    Premo88 Poo-Bah (1,912) Jun 6, 2010 Texas

    Of the 584 beers I've reviewed, only 10 have ABVs below 4.0%.

    Clearly it's the next frontier for craft beer if only because it's the land nobody's visited yet. I've had quite a few sub-5.0% brews that are fantastic, but there's so few options under 4.0% that I generally don't try looking for them. What about the English Dark Mild? Some day the brewing world is going to tap into that style, and when it does, I hope some of the brewers go as low as they can with the ABV (BA.com's style page says 2-6% ABV is its range).

    Of what I've tried under 4.0%, Blue Owl's Little Boss is now a staple in my rotation, and, as others have pointed out, Lindeman's is tasty. Jester King's Kvass was a pleasant surprise:
  16. BWood

    BWood Defender (644) Jan 4, 2015 California

    Great beer
    Premo88 likes this.
  17. nc41

    nc41 Poo-Bah (2,411) Sep 25, 2008 North Carolina
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    I had a terrific English Mild a few years ago at Bull City Burgers in Durham a few years ago. Nicely bitter, a ton of flavor right at 3.8 abv, tap only. I'd bet if the BA world got a hold of this beer it would score in the mid 90s or so, it was that good.
    surfcaster and Premo88 like this.
  18. PatrickCT

    PatrickCT Poo-Bah (2,280) Feb 18, 2015 Connecticut
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    I'm a fan of low abv beers, particularly those styles that are traditionally lower in alcohol. I would be drinking much more Brawler if it were readily available.
    LuskusDelph and socon67 like this.
  19. WesMantooth

    WesMantooth Poo-Bah (3,041) Jan 8, 2014 Ohio
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    There are plenty of terrible (especially ipas) "session"/ low alcohol beers out there, but there are a few that I do really enjoy. I don't drink to get drunk anymore (though it still seems to happen sometimes :flushed:), and more often than not, I don't even want to get a buzz. Especially when out and about. I drink beer because I love the flavor. Any time of day, with any meal. I drink it like I do root beer, or a glass of lemonade. I have found myself thrning away a lot of 6% + stuff recently so I love the idea of more low ABV beers, as long as they taste good. Don't just dry hop water for the sake of making a low alcohol beer. Here are a few that I really enjoy, and was shocked to find out the alcohol content on some of them.

    New Glarus Serendipity - 4%
    Lindemans Peche - 2.5%
    Sixpoint Jammer - 4.2%
    Bells Oatsmobile - 4.3%
    Brewdog Dead Pony Club - 3.8%
  20. NYR-Zuuuuc

    NYR-Zuuuuc Disciple (335) Jan 1, 2013 Connecticut

    My favorite Low ABV beer "by far" is Bissell Brothers Baby Genius, at 4.0%. Wish it was available year round...
    Lonborgski and mrmattosgood like this.
  21. carolinabeerguy

    carolinabeerguy Champion (864) Oct 10, 2005 North Carolina

    Ding ding ding!
    AlcahueteJ likes this.
  22. SMH_NWI

    SMH_NWI Devotee (445) Jan 8, 2015 Texas

    Had a Berliner Weiss from Burn Em Brewery recently that is 3.6% ABV. Had good flavor still, but it did bring down my buzz so I had to catch back up.
  23. Daveshek28

    Daveshek28 Initiate (188) Nov 10, 2015 New York

    Stuck in a scene of Double IPA this, Double IPA that, I definitely plan on drinking more "low" abv beers this summer. Living in the North East, where double IPA's make up 90% of beer sold at local breweries, it's time for more Gose's, sours, berliners etc. Don't get me wrong, double IPA is one of my favorite styles, but it's not good to keep drinking these 16oz 9% beers over and over. I must say, I recently picked up a 4 pack of Burial Ceremonial Session IPA, and at 4% abv, it may be one of the best "sessions" I've ever had.
    TheMattJones88 likes this.
  24. ADuff

    ADuff Initiate (0) Aug 4, 2014 Michigan

    Well Written and Spot on Sir. Thank You for your efforts to bring this to the forefront of our culture.
    Keene likes this.
  25. AlcahueteJ

    AlcahueteJ Poo-Bah (1,529) Dec 4, 2004 Massachusetts

    "Session connotes a longer drinking experience, but Americans are drinking less, for a variety of reasons. Americans tend to drink in shorter bursts, a beer or two with friends or co-workers or more likely, over a meal. Alcohol levels during these quick drinking episodes matter less, as opposed to having four or more beers during a night out. We don’t as a culture consume and share rounds as our European brethren do. We’re just not wired that way. We’re also a car culture."

    Without fully understanding the context, I don't agree with this at all. By context, I mean is the author talking specifically about craft beer, and is "session" defined as 4% ABV or less?

    If not, than I definitely don't agree with this premise. The best selling beer in American is Bud Light at 4.2% ABV. I also believe there's many occasions Americans session beer. Football Sundays (whether at the stadium or at home), watching any sporting event, afternoon/night long BBQs...Friday/Saturday night at a bar.

    If anything, I think America has a problem with moderate drinking. There's two segments of beer drinkers I often see. Those that may have a few over the course of a week or a month, and those that binge drink. In Europe it's woven into their culture and viewed as more acceptable. This culture is taught at an early age too.

    Even in the craft segment, the best selling beers are Sierra Nevada at 5.6% (5% on draft), and Boston Lager at 4.9% ABV. Admittedly, this is trending more towards IPAs, so this could change. Although, the author mentions All Day IPA which is Founders' best seller. And it's not like Founders is lacking in heavy hitters (KBS anyone?).

    The rest of the article I agree with...the US craft scene lacking in flavorful lower ABV styles, more specifically English session ales and Pilsners. That being said, Pilsners appear to be on the rise, and not Imperial Pilsners.
  26. TheAleRunner

    TheAleRunner Initiate (49) Feb 27, 2013 Louisiana

    I've been trending toward more sessionable beers as well. It can be hard to find low-ABV beers on tap or on the shelves, and when you do find them, it is often hard to justify spending the same amount of money on a six pack of a 3.5% beer as you would on a 7% one.

    However, that's where it pays to be a homebrewer. The last two beers I brewed were an Amarillo and Citra dry hopped grisette that weighs in at 4.0% and a peach Berliner Weisse which comes in at a hefty 3.0% ABV. Both are packed with flavor, and crushable thirst quenchers. It's nice to bring a growler (stainless steel of course) to the pool and be able to drink these beers all afternoon.
  27. WV_Charles_Homebrew

    WV_Charles_Homebrew Initiate (69) May 17, 2017 West Virginia

    Although I am more about quality than quantity or ABV, I do agree with you here to a point. I have to stick to my budget by necessity, and when I see two beers side by side and one is 3.5% while the other is 7%, if they are both of approximate cost, the economical side of me tends to choose the higher ABV brew, simply because I instinctively feel I will get more bang for my buck. Even though I am no longer pounding beers and trying to get hammered like I did many years ago in my younger days, pounding AAL, that frugal side makes it hard to get past this sometimes. I am no longer drinking to get drunk (altho a pleasant light buzz does not hurt after a long day at work) but there is still that part of my brain that instinctively tells me I am paying more for less.

    You are right that it helps to be a homebrewer in this case. When I brew, I am focused on making a balanced, flavorful brew, and am not generally concerned about ABV. In fact, I only recently bought a hydrometer, because I had to order everything for my homebrew setup online, and lacking a brick and mortar store to go to, picking up a hydrometer was not a big priority, until I started shooting for more precision in my brewing practices.
    MartinDoon likes this.
  28. drh88

    drh88 Aspirant (275) Dec 21, 2005 Pennsylvania

    I don't see anything wrong with the American beer drinking culture when compared to Europeans. It's just different. Craft beer styles have evolved organically over the years. Brewers make beer that they themselves love and hope it sells. If it doesn't then they scale it back or stop making it, and try other things they like and hope they can sell. Occasionally they hit on something new, special, and fantastic. Beer geeks start loving it, write about on places like Beer Advocate, and then others start to seek it out. The more the word gets out, the more people want it. Then another brewer tries it and thinks they can make a better one, and maybe they do. We've seen this time and again with beer styles that become popular. If low alcohol beer becomes the "thing" (in whatever style it takes) it will be because somebody made something great, we love it and want more, and other brewers see the writing on the wall.
  29. WV_Charles_Homebrew

    WV_Charles_Homebrew Initiate (69) May 17, 2017 West Virginia

    I think it depends on what part of America you live in. Some parts of this country have a great regional beer drinking culture. Here in West Virginia its pretty bad, even though it is getting better. A lot of people here are either teetotalers and think anything with alcohol in it is "the cup of devils" or you have a lot of people on other end of the spectrum who are binge drinkers/alcoholics (and they tend to care more about quantity than quality). Its gotten better as craft has gained more of a footprint in the population centers of the state, but in the small, isolated communities like the one I live in, this is still kinda the status quo.

    So in this regard, I definitely wish the drinking culture of my regional subculture was more like Europe.
    TongoRad and Premo88 like this.
  30. Tamarack

    Tamarack Initiate (52) Sep 22, 2016 Massachusetts

    *Cough* Notch Brewing *Cough*
  31. Premo88

    Premo88 Poo-Bah (1,912) Jun 6, 2010 Texas

    Yes! The English mild (dark or pale) is just sitting there waiting to be exploited. I expect brewers to start cooking it up any day now.

    @TongoRad sent me a Yard's Brawler Pugilist (4.2% ABV) a couple years ago or so for an NBS BIF, and out of that entire box of goodies, that English dark mild sticks out more than any other. And I liked ALL those beers, especially Neshimany's pilsener.
    nc41, socon67 and TongoRad like this.
  32. nc41

    nc41 Poo-Bah (2,411) Sep 25, 2008 North Carolina
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    Yards Brawler is a first rate brew.
    drtth, Tucquan, LuskusDelph and 3 others like this.
  33. socon67

    socon67 Poo-Bah (2,254) Jun 18, 2010 New York

    Glad to see Yards Brawler getting some love here. Easily my favorite low ABV beer. When I suggest something for non-craft drinker to try this is one of my go to options. People are amazed at how a beer can be dark in color have plenty of flavor and yet be low ABV and highly drinkable.
  34. John_Atria

    John_Atria Initiate (0) Feb 17, 2014 California

    Over the last year or two my stomach has been getting more sensitive with regards to consuming large quantities of things. I can hardly have even one beer with dinner without getting upset stomach. I would rather have one or two higher alcohol beers than 3-5 low alcohol beers.
  35. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,754) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
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    The really cool thing about Brawler isn't that they went and made a Dark Mild in this day and age, nor is it that they pulled it off so well- it's that it managed to build a following, and is still one of their most popular beers.
    Bitterbill, LuskusDelph and Premo88 like this.
  36. Amateurbrewmaster

    Amateurbrewmaster Initiate (115) Feb 5, 2016 New York

    I'm only 22 and I'm not big on alcohol. I drink beer because it's tasty and fun and complex. I keep it at 8% or less. I would love a low ABV beer that I can forget about that doesn't taste like crap.
    MartinDoon and Premo88 like this.
  37. bubseymour

    bubseymour Poo-Bah (2,966) Oct 30, 2010 Maryland
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    Founders All Day IPA sells so well because of the marketing, packaging and economy of scale good pricing. One of the major deterants of low ABV session craft is that its not a good bang for the buck. I don't want to slug down 3 low beers in an hour and be $10 poorer. Might as well by a 30pack of a BMC product.

    Anyway, that is why Founders has cracked it.
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  38. bbtkd

    bbtkd Poo-Bah (7,567) Sep 20, 2015 South Dakota
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    It seems like the more popular and cult beers which cost more also have higher ABV. One could argue that the price is higher because of the higher ABV, though not sure it costs much more to make a higher ABV beer. I wonder if breweries are trying to make buyers feel they are getting more for their money by boosting ABV. Is it worth paying $6 for a beer that has 3 times the ABV of a Bud? Some might feel so, but I'd like more low-ABV stouts to choose from.
    #38 bbtkd, May 20, 2017
    Last edited: May 20, 2017
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  39. BeerPugz

    BeerPugz Initiate (85) Dec 4, 2016 Wisconsin

    0.01% ABV before it's no longer considered beer.

    @bbtkd I've found myself in this high abv predicament lately. In fact, for the past 2 years I've found myself laughing at BA stouts that are below 10%. I really want some fruit forward farmhouse/saison, but I'm not willing to pay $12-$16 for a 375ml under 7%. I am, however, willing to make it rain for a BA stout that is viscous, barrel forward, and high abv.
    #39 BeerPugz, May 20, 2017
    Last edited: May 20, 2017
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  40. HorseheadsHophead

    HorseheadsHophead Poo-Bah (2,127) Sep 15, 2014 New York

    I have a bunch of beers under 5% that I really like, but if we're talking about beer that's really, really actually sessionable, where you don't even have to worry much about dehydration, then under 4% is a requirement, and that's where good beer becomes hard to find. The best beer under 4% I've had was Prison City's Berliner Weiss called "Klink" which came in at 3.5% and was bracingly sour, complex, even funky. I would drink it all the time if I could. The other factor that you have to consider is expense. Low abv session beer has to be cheap. Yes, you can buy -4% lambics, but if you're going to spend $15 on a 750 mL, then, no, you're not going to choose that to session; the average beer consumer to going to go for that six pack that's $12 even if it's 8% abv. I think price is one of the biggest factors that holds back session beers. I mean, there's a reason why my coworker boasts about getting a 12 pack of Busch Light for $6 when I told him I got one bottle of BCBS for $8. Hell, All Day IPA is the perfect example of how and why they popularized session IPAs. $18 for a 15 pack of a decent IPA in cans is perfect for camping and picnics, as far as craft beers go. Price is a hugely important factor here.
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