Keith Madaras and John Mankes are beer guys. They love drinking it, love homebrewing it, but a few years ago, they noticed that after just a couple of pints at a bar, they’d find themselves fairly drunk.
“For the last few years, the [beers’] gravity has been getting higher and higher and higher,” Mankes says. “You go to a place that might have 30 taps, but the vast majority would start at 7% ABV and go up from there. I love a good, big, resiny IPA but I don’t need it every time. So we said ‘Why don’t we take this whole 80/20 split of super-huge beers with just a few sessionables, and flip it on its head?'”
They plan to answer that question with Sessionable, a coming-soon bar on Division Street in Portland, Oregon, that focuses primarily on beers between 2.5% and 5% ABV. It’s on track for a spring 2017 opening.
“There are only a few places in the country where you could do this. Portland has so many diverse beer fans like us,” Madaras says. “There’s a lot of folks that are getting to our age, around 40, who are into drinking beer but don’t want to feel like absolute crap tomorrow.”
The duo says the time is right for a session beer-focused bar.
“Milds, table beers and goses are becoming more common and a lot of these fall right in [our ABV range],” Madaras says. “The concept is viable.”
Not to mention, Mankes adds, that the U.K. and other cultures have served comparatively low-gravity beer for hundreds of years without making a fuss about it.
“The social component of that is that when beer falls below 5% ABV, you can have a conversation, hang out for two or three and actually spend that time with your company talking,” Mankes says.
Sessionable’s co-founders say they’ve received an enthusiastic response from neighbors and especially from brewers who are eager to brew lower-ABV beers—and to drink them. But some critics on social media have, they say, misunderstood what session beer is.
“A lot of porters and stouts fall into this category. Most people don’t think about that when they think sessionable beers,” Madaras says. “They think it’s all pilsner. Some initial response to some of our social media is ‘Oh, it’s going to be a lot of wheat beer.’ But there are many styles that can be brewed at a lower alcohol content. You can’t really have a double IPA at this, but you can definitely have a sessionable IPA and a lot of people are making those right now. I like brown ales, which you haven’t seen many of in a long time. There’s a whole lot of cool things out there.”
There’s also a perception among some critics that these lower-ABV styles aren’t worth their pint cost due to their reduced alcohol content. Sessionable plans to offer beer by half-pours and imperial pints, with a 20-ounce pour coming in somewhere around $6. Madaras and Mankes say they’ll work with both local, national and international breweries to source interesting, small-batch and specialty beers that represent the diversity of the session side of the beer spectrum.
And, if you absolutely, positively, must have a beer above 5%, Sessionable will have a few “after session” specialty beers like barrel-aged one-offs and blended sours to scratch that itch. But the goal is to offer flavorful, well-constructed beers that can be enjoyed more than once.
“A challenge we have is people just not necessarily understanding what a lower ABV beer can offer,” Mankes says. “It doesn’t have to be thin or like Bud Light. I think we as a beer drinking society here in Portland are beyond that.”