Some brewers have even calculated the costs and the benefits of releasing a session beer and chosen not to. Alan Sprints, founder of Hair of the Dog in Oregon, is a fan and brewer of mostly strong beers. Though he makes a few “small” beers in the 3 percent range using the leftover dregs of his well-known bigger beers—like Doggie Claws, Fred and Adam—Sprints only serves them on draft. On the retail shelf, he thinks they would just lose him money. Factoring in packaging and distribution, a low-alcohol beer can wind up nearly the same price as a strong beer, he says. “And the fact is, a lot of consumers calculate alcohol into their choices, and if you have a 10 percent beer for the same price as a 5 percent beer, a lot of people will go for the 10,” Sprints explains.
At Marin Brewing Co., Arne Johnson also believes that many customers weigh their options as they calculate “bang for buck,” more often than not leaning toward the stronger side of the beer list. Johnson has made session beers at his brewpub in Larkspur, just north of San Francisco, but they have sold only moderately well. He says he “would love to make more session beer,” but he doesn’t foresee ever bottling one. Johnson says that Marin Brewing’s clientele seems content to session on beers in the 5-6 percent range. At Lagunitas Brewing Co., in Petaluma, CA, strong beers are the backbone of the company. Founder Tony Magee is frank about the reality of what his customers want, and what he intends to sell them: “For what craft brewers need to charge for what we do, the equation wouldn’t work out, meaning, would you pay nine bucks a six-pack for a light beer?”
Of course, some of us would. At Deep Ellum, in fact, many pints and bottles of super-sessionable light beer go $9 or more—and Toste says the price isn’t stopping anyone.
“I’m not just selling session beer,” he says. “I’m selling the shit out of it.”