Wednesday, July 9, 2008


I kind of forget that sometimes, maybe, not all of you know what I'm talking about. Well, quite frankly, I think that occurs more frequently that what I might suspect as I often get puzzled looks wherever I go. But, how I mean it in this context is, that I think I throw around words and assume that everyone ascribes the same definition to those words as I do. I think I do a pretty good job of providing definitions if I get too esoteric and I try to avoid industry slang. But sometimes I don't even realize that something is industry slang, or that I ascribe a definition to something that not everyone would agree with.

To wit: Drinkability

A few weeks back, I was at a bar in Boston with an old friend of mine and I mentioned that a particular beer has great "drinkability." And my friend, a PHD candidate in philosophy, so a questioner by nature, asked me to define what I meant by "drinkability." I asked him to be more specific about what he meant by what I "meant." What does mean to "mean" something? Yeah. We'd had a couple and it's sometimes fun to mess with philophers. So, I told him my definition of "drinkability."

I had forgotten about this conversation, and didn't really think much of it at the time, until I read this recent article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about Stevens Point Brewery.
"Our goal is to have someone drink our beer and say, 'That was great. I'll have another,' " Martino [one of the owners of Stevens Point Brewery] said.

That statement might seem like a no-brainer. But there are brewers that target customers who prefer beers that tend to be less "drinkable," a term used by brewers that refers to how full a person feels after drinking a beer. For example, Miller Lite is considered more drinkable than Guinness Irish Stout.
I found this paragraph interesting for two reasons: first, the implied disdain for beers that aren't, using this person's definition of "drinkable", drinkable; and second, the rather curious definition of "drinkable" which isn't at all what I mean when I say something is "drinkable."

Without knowing any better, I'd say this definition came from the owners of Point Brewery, who do make beers that you can drink a lot of. They have every incentive to confuse the precise "industry" definition of "drinkable" with the more general laymen's reference to "drinkability."

But this particular usage of the term "drinkable", the ability to drink multiple beers in one sitting, or the "fullness" of the beer, provides the definition for a different word in the brewing industry: sessionable. If something is "sessionable", or something is a "session beer", then it is said that one can drink many of them in one drinking session. A session beer is one that does not make you feel full, typically low-alcohol (4-5% ABV), and generally "lighter" in flavor - like something that Point Brewery makes.

When beers are reviewed on this site, one of the criteria we use in reviewing the beer is "Drinkability." We do not mean it in the "makes you feel full" sense of the word. In other words, we don't mean "sessionable." For this, we will either say that a particular beer would make a good "session beer" in the summary comments, or it will be implied from the aggregation of other categories. For example, we might say that the beer has a light or medium-light body or mouthfeel (body is another category for review). We might say it has a low alcohol content. And we might say that it has good drinkability.

In the context of this website, and in the context that I understand others in the brewing industry to use the term "drinkable", I mean the "desire to have another." Period. No implied time frame. I don't necessarily mean immediately. No reference to body. It is not necessarily a light beer. Just plain ol' "would I drink another one." Nor is it a quality judgment; there are many great beers that I would not to drink repeatedly.

Take, for example, two beers that we've reviewed on this site: the New Holland Existential Ale, and the Three Floyds Fantabulous Resplendence. Both of these beers are great beers, I really enjoyed them, but they have low drinkability ratings (despite being medium-bodied). But, at least for me, they are beers that serve a specific time and place. Thus, drinkability is low. I wouldn't want another one. I enjoyed them, but I don't need a second any time soon. Brewers typically recognize this, and these beers are generally limited edition or annual releases.

On the other hand, are beers like Bear Republic's Big Bear Black Stout. A highly drinkable beer, despite being a full-bodied stout. I wouldn't want to drink more than one at a time. For one thing it comes in 22oz bottles; for another, it is a big heavy, high alcohol, stout. It is not a "session" beer. But it has a great drinkability - I could drink one of them everyday until the cows come home.

Thus, with this definition of "drinkable", it is curious to me to say Miller Lite has high drinkabilty, and Guiness has low drinkability. Because, quite frankly, while I could drink more Miller Lites in one session, I'd rather drink the Guiness. So, for me at least, the exact opposite result is the case - Guiness is highly drinkable, Miller Lite, not so much. But, what's even more interesting, is that Martino's comment falls squarely within my definition, provided you are willing to accept "just not right now" as a caveat.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. Saw all the beer snobs on beer advocate using the term "sessionable" and had no idea what it meant - I appreciate the education.


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