Barley Mowat 

CAMRA Sessional Cask Fest

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One of my all time favourite CAMRA events was the Spring Sessional Fest of Ale of two years past (review here). Sure, it wasn’t perfect (few things are), but it was a great way to spend an afternoon. The company was entertaining, the crowd was friendly, and the sun was shining in through the London Pub’s windows (remember when pubs were required to have darkened glass? WTF was with that?) Adding to this general mood of happiness was the beer itself.

The past decade or so has seen two forms of arms race in the craft brewing world. First, there’s the “how many hops can we cram in this beer without actually turning it green” race, which has slowly morphed into the “so what, it’s green, wanna make something of it?” race. Running parallel to this is the “let’s jack up the booze” trend. A long time ago a 6% ABV IPA would have been considered quite the strong ale. These days, table IPAs regularly top 7 or 8%, with the higher Imperials reaching for (and sometimes exceeding) 10%.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t make these high ABV monsters. They high alcohol helps blend together/take the edge off some of the stronger malt/hops flavours that come with the big beer crowd. Additionally, high ABV beers tend to cellar better, and man am I ever a sucker for a cellaring ale. Plus, there are other, less subtle benefits.


Like making baseball tolerable. You thought I was going with pictures of drunk co-eds doing regrettable things, didn’t you? Shame on you; I’ve matured since my early days.

It’s just that I feel we’ve lost something by moving away from our humble end-of-the-workday table beer roots. Remember how awesome it felt to be able to crack open a bottle of beer on a Tuesday and finish it with no fear of impeded performance on Wednesday? Me neither, but my diary reports the feeling to be awesome. We’ve left those days behind, and now find ourselves in The Time of 8% ABV Saisons. (Aside: I like both beers, especially Deckhand, but Saisons were originally low ABV refreshers for the end of a long day’s manual labour)

That leads us to CAMRA’s latest event: the 2013 Spring Sessional. Sessional’s are low-ABV beers that don’t skimp on flavour. Sure, they might not punch in you in the face like their bigger brethren, but how often do you find yourself thinking “Man, I could go for a full pint of Singularity right about now.”

The goal with sessionals is to create a beer that can be enjoyed 20 ounces at a time, without fear of waking up in the bathroom stall at the Alibi Room, under a blanket, with a note to let yourself out pinned to your chest (note: not actually a thing that happened. I swear. It was a poncho). To accomplish this, they focus on more subtle flavours that build up in your mouth over the course of a pint but don’t wear you out. As I like to say with great sessionals: “This beer tastes like another pint.”

The focus of the event has slipped a bit from 3.5% ABV to 4.5% ABV, and the tasting glasses have shrunk from 10oz to 6oz, but the spirit is still the same. As well, since low-ABV beers are not exactly hugely popular, or even produced by most breweries, we are virtually guaranteed that the entrants will be interesting, novel experiments, which is what I most love about casks. Throw onto that pile of awesome-sounding-beer-event CAMRA President Adam acting as “cask police” and things get even better: many “casks” served locally are really just beer in a cask-shaped vessel–Adam will ensure that is not the case here.

Am I going? Damned straight. And you’d best too, if you know what’s good for you. I heard this AM that there are tickets still available, and for an event of this calibre, that’s been on sale over a month, that is a bloody crime. Shame on you, beer public. You call yourself beer geeks and you allow THIS to happen? Go buy tickets. Buy them all. Buy one for your dog, if you have to, he likes beer.


Okay fine. Here you go. Happy now?

Written by chuck

April 26th, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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  1. […] in the 6%+ range. The sub-4% ABV sessional style is all but lost to memory. Sure, CAMRA has a Spring Sessional festival once in a while, and everyone gets momentarily obsessed with low alcohol sessionals, but […]

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