Beer Man

Avery Brewing experiments with low-alcohol "session" beers it plans to can

"We're really well known for our strong ales and our forays into that genre," says Avery Brewing spokesman Joe Osborne. "But we're always innovating, period." And innovating will take the Boulder brewery in the opposite direction from the massive, high-alcohol beers that it has specialized in when, probably sometime next year, Avery will release the first of what could be a trilogy of low-alcohol beers. The brewery is experimenting with a couple of those beers right now, a hoppy ale called 3Point5 Session -- the fourth iteration of this beer is currently available in the taproom -- a small stout and a "something else," Osborne says, possibly a weiss beer.

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"We're trying to find sub-4 percent ABV beers with a lot of flavor. The end goal is to can them, but we're still in the proving stage of 3Point5. And as for the small stout, they haven't even let anyone out of the tasting group try it yet," he adds.

Avery started down this path last spring after brewery owner Adam Avery and his management team traveled to Germany to look at equipment for the new five-acre brewery campus that the company plans to build next year in north Boulder.

"They went and drank and said, 'Holy crap, this stuff is so good and it's so low in alcohol, I can literally drink all day. It's awesome,'" Osborne explains.

And while Europeans have mastered the low-alcohol session beers -- as have American mega-brewers like Coors, Miller and Bud -- it's something new for craft brewers, especially when it comes to bottled and canned beers. (Many local breweries and brewpubs make session beers for draft only.)

"It's hard to get something with a lot of flavor out of low ABV beers and to do it well and do it consistently, so you're starting with a challenge right off the bat," Osborne notes. "But great brewers are always going to challenge themselves."

He also acknowledges that several craft brewers in Colorado (like Great Divide and Breckenridge) and around the country are trying out low-alcohol beers: "It may be part of a trend, but it's also because people don't always want an 11 percent beer. I think a number of brewers are hitting on that at the same time."

At the moment, there are no sub-4 percent ABV packaged craft beers on the market in Colorado (excluding the 3.2 versions that New Belgium and Boulder Beer make for sale in grocery stores). The closest are Breckenridge Brewery's Agave Wheat and Ska Brewing's Mexican Logger, both at 4.2 percent.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes