Friday, August 7, 2009

More On Drinkability

The inimitable Lew Bryson linked to an article in the LA Times that looked at the phrase "easy to drink" in wine culture. It seems that it has become a bit of a slander in the wine universe to say that a wine is an "easy drinker", or in other words, "essentially, if you like 'easy to drink' wines, you're not up to drinking the really good wines." Lew (and the LA Times) notes that wine that is complex and bold tend to get the highest ratings.

And, one look at BeerAdvocate and RateBeer listings show exactly the same sort of bias starting to form with beer criticism as well. Of course, the best selling beers in the world are all light and "easy to drink" - Budweiser, Miller, Stella, Spotted Cow, etc.

And here we run into that stupid word "drinkability" again.

Of course, when we say that we can drink a lot of one particular beer in a session, we say that beer is "sessionable". It seems pretentious and nerdy to be so precise and use a word that doesn't really have any "real world" applicability outside of beverage criticism. And it seems counter-intuitive to say that a beer that is "easy to drink" is not "drinkable" but rather "sessionable".

But "drinkable" means something entirely different. Presumably every beer on the top of those lists that I linked to are "drinkable" - people want another one. They are great beers that people like. But, how many Pliny The Youngers, a Russian Imperial Stout, can you really drink in one session? See? Not that "sessionable", it's not "easy to drink". But it is very "drinkable" - you'd love to have another one; just not right now, thank you very much.

So, maybe the problem the wine-folk are having is that they haven't welcomed the word "sessionable" into their vocabulary. What I like about the word is that it is completely non-biased. "Easy to drink" implies simplicity, light, and unthinking. But "sessionable" beers, indeed the best sessionable beers, can be complex and interesting and full of wonderful flavors.

This is all just a reminder that there will be a lot of beer to taste in Madison this weekend. Just make sure to keep in perspective the drinkability, sessionability, enjoyability, and "easy-to-drink"ness.


  1. I've got to disagree with you on this post. Personally, I feel that drinkability and sessionability are pretty much the same thing. Otherwise any beer that one can and will drink has "drinkability." It can swallow it and enjoy it. For me the term means sessionable.

  2. There are many beers that are drinkable but not sessionable (e.g., Three Floyd's Dark Lord) and there are many beers that are sessionable but aren't drinkable (e.g., Blatz).

    I see "sessionability" as a relatively objective standard - a beer either is or is not sessionable (low alcohol, light weight, etc.). On the other hand drinkable is subjective - a beer that is drinkable to me may not be drinkable to you and vice-versa. So, you may like Blatz and find it both drinkable and sessionable. On the other hand, I wouldn't disagree that it is, in fact, sessionable, but frankly, I wouldn't call it drinkable.

    They may be different sides of the same coin, but they are not the same thing.


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