Nick Nunns, owner and founder of TRVE Brewery, with a glass of Prehistoric Dog.
Nick Nunns, owner and founder of TRVE Brewery, with a glass of Prehistoric Dog. (Jordan Gonzalez, The Denver Post)

Craft beer is known for boasting many flavors, high alcohol levels and a hefty price tag, all factors that can turn off the average beer drinker.

But sometimes, even craft brewers want cheaper, less alcoholic beers in the heat of the summer.

Dave Thibodeau and his team from Durango-based Ska Brewing said they were "closet" Mexican lager drinkers for years, sneaking Pacífico and Tecate behind the scenes during the hottest of summer days.

Seeking more flavor, Thibodeau and his crew decided to make their own low-alcohol lager, the Mexican Logger (5 percent alcohol by volume, or ABV) in 2001.

"We were trying to brew a really drinkable beer that still had flavor so it wasn't like a premium American lager," said Thibodeau, co-founder and president of Ska. "It's like the craft-brewed version of a Mexican lager."

The term "session beer" wasn't in use in 2001, but that's what the Mexican Logger is, said Thidobeau. Session beers, which feature a lower ABV percentage and reasonable price tags, still boast the interesting flavors of craft beer, said Steve Kurowski, operations director for the Colorado Brewers Guild .

"I think it's the beverage of moderation," Kurowski said of session beers. "It's sensible, it's a good message, and something we all want to do on a hot summer day is drink more than one beer and have it be refreshing."


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Many local Colorado brewers are brewing more session beers, and Kurowski said it's often the brewers, like Ska Brewing, that drive the market.

Nick Nunns, founder and owner of TRVE Brewery, agrees.

"To me it seems like it's less a consumer-driven thing than it is an actual brewer-driven thing," Nunns said, adding that many other brewers come into TRVE for their session beers.

TRVE has offered session beers since its inception in 2012. Their most popular session beers are the Hellion (4.4 percent, described as an "American table beer") and the Prehistoric Dog (4 percent, Wheat beer).

"I like to be able to sit down and have a couple of pints of something and not have to worry about getting completely obliterated," Nunns said. "I think people are recognizing you can still cram a lot of flavor into a beer without it necessarily having to be 8 percent [ABV] or above."

There isn't an official definition of a session beer, although most brewers usually agree that the ABV percentage should be five percent or less. Festivals like Sesh Fest  have a 5 percent ABV or below rule, said Kurowski.

But there is still plenty of experimentation with session beers, a fact that Kurowski has no qualms about.

"I think category definitions are pretty loose in American craft brewing," Kurowski said. "To me it doesn't matter if it's a little bit out of style as long as it's well-made."

Controversy surrounds "session IPAs," which are accused of not truly being an IPA (a hoppy style that traditionally has a high ABV) or a session beer. Nunns sees them as a marketing ploy, but Thibodeau embraces the idea, and will be releasing the Rudie, a less-than-5 percent session IPA, at Sesh Fest Aug. 2 in Denver.

Other styles fall into the session beer category unintentionally, like Breckenridge Brewery's Vanilla Porter (4.7 percent ABV porter) and Agave Wheat (4.2 percent ABV wheat beer). Neither were intentionally brewed to be a session beer, said Todd Thibault, marketing director at Breckenridge Brewery.

Breckenridge embraces the session beer movement, however.

"We like our beers pretty sessionable not only in alcohol content but in flavor," Thibault said. "Because quite honestly, we want people to drink more of them."

The success of the session beer movement is dependant on the consumer, said Kurowski. He thinks it will survive because it fits the nature of the average craft beer consumer, who is "very diverse" and always wants new styles. Session beer also fits the active Colorado lifestyle, he said.

Overall, Kurowski sees the movement as a sort of revival of European historic beers, which featured great flavors with low alcohol.

"It's not about getting drunk," Kurowski said. "It's about a lifestyle, sharing experiences with friends and family, responsible drinking and a lot of it's about food."

Jordan Gonzalez: 303-954-1395, jgonzalez@denverpost.com

Sesh fest

What: Dozens of breweries serving session-style beer, with art, food, lawn games and music.

When: 3-7 p.m. Aug. 2

Where: Sculpture Park, 1101 13th St., Denver

Tickets: $20 at events.imbibedenver.com.