Although I am not a compulsive camp-follower of the fashionable, I do like interesting beers. I am not always as charmed by some of the precious vocabulary surrounding them – in-group usages for which the impressionable are insatiable. Just like the much-beloved and varied hops, there is a reason for their being there, but too much can leave an unpleasant taste.

In recent years there have been beers called session ales. Never on the bottle or can do they explain what this means; you are expected to pick it up or figure it out somehow, just as you are expected to know what kind of beer a saison and an IPA are. (Linguists often lean towards IPAs just because IPA also stands for International Phonetic Alphabet, but the kind of beer – India Pale Ale is its full name – is a bit bitter for some.) Well, fine, one learns about these things. But then I started noticing beers that were not labelled session ale but were described as sessionable.

Well, now, what does that mean, then? That you can do whatever it is you do to a beer to make a session ale? Or that session ales are so called because they are sessionable? How exactly do you session a beer? Or do you session with a beer? I mean, a saison is seasonable, and an IPA is I-pee-able, but how do you session?

Oh, we can make –able adjectives with nouns; saleable and marriageable are two good examples. I suppose for a Zen Buddhist a good but knotty koan is sesshinable. (A sesshin is a multi-day meditation spree – not necessarily binge thinking but perhaps something of a mind bender.) So if you can make a sale with something saleable, you can make a session with something sessionable. Fine, then. What the heck is a session in this context?

A session, as it turns out, is – or at least shades into – what some crypto-prohibitionist literature calls a binge: several drinks in one sitting. (In the time and place I grew up, you called it a binge if it lasted several days, but apparently now if you go to a five-hour party and have five drinks, you have been on a binge. I do not think this is a very sensible and usable extension of the meaning.) The point is not that a sessionable beer is one that will keep you drinking it – sessionable is not a synonym for moreish. It’s that a sessionable beer is one that you can have several of in one sitting and not be blitzed. (Session does come from Latin for ‘sit’, after all. Not from Latin for ‘fall off your chair’.)

In other words, sessionable is another word for weak. Or, um, low-ABV, if you want to use more in-group terminology. (ABV is alcohol by volume. You know, as opposed to alcohol by weight, the other way of measuring it. Though low ABV is also low ABW, and honestly, the BV doesn’t really add anything except the ability to make a TLI – three-letter initialism – thereby allowing you to sound all technical and knowledgeable and stuff.)

So calling a weak beer sessionable is like calling some snack food dinnerable or (as has been seen) lunchable because it’s supposedly not so unhealthy that you can’t just eat your fill of it. But the intention is more like calling a song singable because you won’t hurt your voice or make a fool of yourself or get bored singing it. Stick with this beer and you’ll be able to drink all evening without having to be dragged out. It’s bingeable without being shitfaceable. If you have an insatiable thirst but are out with someone impressionable, go with the sessionable. That way you won’t end up in an intercessionable state.

3 responses to “sessionable

  1. I’m not a beer guy.

    I was rather hoping, though, when you started with an explanation of “session ale,” that we were going to discover that someone simply misread or mistyped “session ale,” squishing them together and inserting a B, and then everyone started using it. I’m not a big fan of euphemistic jargon like this, which manages to grow the English language without adding anything to it, so I would have gotten a twinge of glee from learning that a simple mistake had worked its way into insider language.

    Call me cynical.

    But at least now I know, if I’m no a bender, to avoid “sessionable ales.”

  2. Stephen Harvey

    Thank you, James. I thought I was a bit stupid not knowing right away what this term meant. I had it more or less figured out because I immediately thought of musical “sessions” in a pub where you’d want to be drinking a beer that wouldn’t leave you legless in short order.
    I think this is a hipster update of the UK term for this sort of beer which is “mild” – a beer or really ale, of low alcohol which was brewed with miners in mind. When miners came off shift, they wanted something of which they could have two or three pints to cut the coal dust, but which wasn’t so potent that they couldn’t make it home for their supper, and subsequently enjoy said meal. It didn’t always work out that way, of course.
    Thanks, as always, for the pleasure of your posts/emails.
    Stephen Harvey

  3. Chips Mackinolty

    In Queensland, Australia, liquor licensing laws restricted the number of hours pubs could open on Sundays, two hours from memory. These were known as “Sunday sessions”, or “sesh” for short.

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