Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Craven Arms and the power of Twitter or Things to do in Birmingham when you aren't dead.

Hello again, nice to see you.  Here's some advice, which you can apply generally in life and more specifically in Birmingham (UK).

While I'm out and about doing stuff for my day job, I occasionally get the odd evening to myself in a strange place.  There aren't many stranger places than Birmingham, and I found myself there this week attending a conference at Aston University.  Technically, Birmingham is the UK's second city, but arguably there are others ahead of it in the queue - but I had to go, so what did I do?

It did require an overnight stay, so that left me with a few options.

Option 1 - The Conference Dinner

Frankly, any invitation that says 'dress to impress' gets short shrift from me, so that was right out.  Plus who wants to see a whole bunch of people getting tipsy on 'champagne' (poor quality sparkling white) and then getting leathered on whatever rubbish, overpriced booze is in the hotel bar before shuffling off to each others rooms for some kind of tragic, and largely ugly, nasty shag-fest.

Option 2 - Try and meet up with old chums

Whilst you are younger, there is a strong possibility you might get to do this, in fact I managed to do this last time I went to Manchester (I'll write about that another time), but the sad fact is that when it's 15 years since you left Uni, trying to get your diary to fit with your chums is almost impossible, especially when stuff like finding babysitters comes into play.  No chums available in Birmingham.  Not an option really.

Option 3 - Sit in my hotel room and watch telly

Come on, you don't seriously think I was going to do this did you?  Shame on you.

Option 4 - *This is the option to choose*

So, if you find yourself in the same boat (and this applies to any city), make use of social media.  I'm lucky that I've got quite a few other bloggers who subscribe to my twitter feed (and I to theirs).  One quick tweet just asking "Decent pubs in Birmingham?  Or a decent bottle shop?  Going this afternooon to our third(?) city" was all it took.

Within minutes, I had recommendations from two excellent (and more prolific) bloggers (Matthew Curtis and Andy Parker , they were swiftly backed up by some other people with whom I am less familiar - and then by the actual pub that was leading the recommendation list. (and they flashed a few indicative beers at me by the way of temptation - Evil Twin and Brodies)  The pub was The Craven Arms in Birmingham.


This, this my friends, is what a boozer should look like.

So, after actually attending the conference, I made my way into central Birmingham.  It's slightly off the beaten track, but only about half a mile from New Street Station, Upper Gough Street B1 1JG if you need to set your navigation tool.  If you are visiting Birmingham, even if it isn't for a conference, I can highly recommend this place.

It's not a huge pub inside, but the place is set up so that it sort of feels bigger than it is.  There are shielded areas with tables so you can pop yourself into a corner if need be.  There's even a nice little section for the solo traveller with a selection of books, left there on a take one/leave one basis.  I opted for the bar, I wanted to scout out what beer they did have on...and boy did they have some beer on.

Salopian Sentinel for starters on cask!  8.4% of superbly conditioned beer.  I had a half of one of these poured before I even clocked the abv or indeed anything else in the bar.  It was totally worth it.

This is tasting notes done right

Whilst sipping on my first drink, I took the liberty of writing down (actually, tapping into my phone so that I didn't look too much like the anorak I clearly am) some of the fancier beers I could see behind the bar, here is a non-exhaustive list:

Buxton, Summer Wine, Brew by Numbers, Siren, Hopped Duvel, Orvel, Schneider Weisse, De Molen, Weird Beard, Magic Rock, Le Chouffe, St Bernardus...the list could go on.  Sadly I'd already eaten, but they also had some locally sourced pork pie that looked so good it made my mouth start watering.

What a joy it was to see was that this pub is clearly celebrating good beer in whatever form it comes. Bottle, keg, cask, there were even some cans in the mix.  The brewery that owns the place deserves some of the kudos for this, so well done Black Country Ales for having the confidence to allow their pub to be expertly managed by Chris and Sharron Sherratt.

The owning brewery - pumps front and centre and keeping the more traditional crowd happy

I was lucky enough to spend an hour or so with Chris and Sharron who explained to me some of their background and how they came to be running a pub in central Birmingham.   Making the shift from being a pair of teachers, they have clearly turned to drink (I can't imagine a profession that would make me more likely to do the same) in a positive way, turning a love for good beer into creating the kind of pub that any discerning drinker would be pleased to have on their doorstep.  Their enthusiasm is the infectious sort - and they are creating something special.

They've only had the place 18 months and they've already starting winning awards...they'll probably never win round the die hard CAMRA people, but I think their philosophy of the beer having to be good, rather than being tied to a method of storing beer is the one that will eventually win the game.  Although, I would note that Chris personally does an expert job looking after the beer that needs looking after - I didn't have a single off note all evening.  The population of the pub was a healthy mix of old and new, seasoned and unseasoned, unkempt beards did not abound.

Whilst we were talking, I got my gums around the Stardust by Tigertops Brewery, the Not Too Robust Bob by the 4T's brewery, the Mosaic Plus by Hopcraft and the Pale Ale by The Kernel.  Every drop was delicious, I didn't dare tackle the 13% IIPA from Evil Twin brewing although I wanted to - I had stuff to do the next day.

Chris and Sharron are very friendly and even consented to a photo!  Thanks guys for the warm welcome.

Chris and Sharron - Landlord and Landlady extraordinaire

So - in conclusion, if you are at a loose end in Birmingham, you should dash in here.  If you are at a works conference, option 4 is the only way.

As a post-script, I should note what I observed on my way back to the hotel.  The last of the conference dwellers were in the bar, and I spotted what could only be described as a beast of a swamp donkey dragging an incoherent bloke towards her room.  I shuddered, chuckled, and silently congratulated myself on making a great decision then went upstairs to sleep the sleep of the slightly tipsy yet righteous.  

Thanks for reading - and remember, harness social media for your pub recommendations.  You know it makes sense.

Until next time.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Judge not, lest thee be (beer) judged.


I'm writing this whilst I've got an experience fresh in my memory, although not so fresh that I am still refreshed (although I reserve the right to refresh myself either during or immediately after I have finished this writing activity).   As is the fashion, I'm not going to write about process, it's more of a reflection, or maybe a musing.  Frankly I can't be arsed to do a Google: define thing.  This should not diminish any enjoyment you may draw from this post.

Yesterday, I went along to the Ludlow Beer and Food Festival in Ludlow Castle.  It's the third year that I've been invited to judge at this wonderful event run by the Society of Independent Brewers Association (SIBA) - for those who weren't paying attention to YouTube at the relevant moment, here is a link to my first appearance there in 2012 with the ever lovely Charlie and Cheryl who work with SIBA and Quantock Brewery respectively Ludlow 2012 ).

Clearly I was a bit tipsy that first go around, but judging was very new territory at that point for me. Having the discipline to get through thirty odd beers and retaining your wits as well as your palate is bloody hard going.

So anyway, back to the action.

It's 2014 and @realalein140 is making his way to Ludlow solo, no Real Ale Craft Beer to hold his hand this year (he was in Poland, brewing with a Pole), just a book, a camera and some diaoralite (for dealing with any potential hangover on the train home) - and it's this experience of flying solo that's given me inspiration for today's drivel.  You see, the SIBA events are great in terms of the panel of judges they assemble (as well as the beer they have).


Who did I meet?  I'm not going to name names (mostly because I'm awful at remembering names), but I am going to consider some of the 'types' that I have met in my three years of attending.

Type 1:  The Happy Brewer

These guys are the best.  They know their beer, they are enthusiastic about their beer, they also know their science and their sanitary conditions.  As long as you demonstrate some knowledge of what they do and an interest in how they do it, they'll be happy to talk malts and hops, yeasts, off-flavours and mash temperatures - for me, having taken up a little bit of wholegrain brewing as a hobby, this is brilliant.  These guys are a wealth of interesting stuff, they'll also generally make the best recommendations as to what is behind the bar in that happy window of an hour or so when the beer is still gratis (before the public enter).   They will be happy to get a little bit tipsy with you once the results are out.

Type 2:  The Miserable Brewer

Despite the title, I like these guys.  Often northern for some reason, maybe I'm mistaking northern-ness for miserableness.  I don't think so though - I did live in the north for some time, so I've got a handle on the difference.  Think Fred Dibnah, but interested in brewing rather than industrial history.  Once you've got the twinkle in their eye going, and not shown yourself up by being loud (in a southern way), or flashy (again in a southern way) and again shown some knowledge and interest, these guys are pretty good value.  There are some that I've found to be impenetrable though, and that's down to either me or them being an unsociable arse.  I couldn't possibly prejudice your thoughts on this.

Type 3:  Young-ish CAMRA bloke

The 'young' is slightly misleading, but I hesitate to use the word 'new' because it isn't quite right.  These are the CAMRA people that understand that maybe the CAMRA acknowledged definition of what is real ale was probably a reaction to a particular kind of culture and set of circumstances some time in the mid '70s. These are the people that will happily accept that a good beer is a good beer, regardless of the journey it has undertaken to get in their belly.  These are good people to drink and natter with, they'll have an open mind and understand what you are doing as a blogger, hell, they might even appreciate it - or even be doing it themselves.

Type 4:  Old-ish CAMRA bloke

The 'old' again is misleading, it relates to attitude.  I have undoubtedly cheesed off a number of these guys. When you enter into conversation with them, woe betide if you are a blogger or a 'product of the modern age' as I was referred to as once.  It's like you can't possibly compete with them unless you had a flat cap and remember Watney's Red Barrel when it was still nice (I don't know if it was ever nice - in a sense I don't care either - it's not been sold in my drinking lifetime).  These guys don't want you in their special club, no matter how big your beard.  If anyone can think of any sensible reasons for this, answers on a postcard (or in the comments box).  Maybe they just don't like anyone, maybe their prostate is playing them up, you can never tell.

Type 5:  Other bloggers

Pleasingly, I've yet to meet another blogger at a festival with whom I felt anything other than an immediate camaraderie.  These guys understand the struggle.  We have reputations to try and maintain, so doing these events is a serious business for us.  You've also got immediate common ground and probably some recommendations for each other.  A quick hello here to the Ormskirk Baron and Christopher R (whose excellent work can be found here .

Type 6:  Industry people

These people are sometimes very interesting.  They'll be selling scientific aids or peculiar widgets or things that go pop or bang (or stop things from going pop or bang), or an app or some-such.  Often they are in attendance as their company has sponsored an award.  Whatever they do, they'll probably have some insider information about who is buying what or who is doing things a particular way - information that will be recycled after an appropriate amount of time as knowledge - and bloggers like their knowledge.

Type 7:  General public

Only one minor difference between them and the bloggers really, these people are in this for the pure pleasure and hedonism of trying a dozen ales before lunchtime.  I've been to festivals in this guise - it's bloody great.


So there, a quick round-up of attendee categories.  I'd be interested if you've got any others to suggest.

Until next time.


Friday, 23 August 2013

Beer Hero - Cardiff

This is the first of what will be a short series of occasional, vaguely entertaining posts relating to some individuals I would like to nominate as a Beer Hero.

What is a Beer Hero realalein140?  I hear you cry (note for new readers: artistic licence is employed to the full on a regular basis in this blog, it has to be or I'd just be asking myself questions, which gets a bit boring after a while).

Loosely defined, and lets face it, loosely is about as good as it gets around here - it's a bit like being a superhero.  Except I don't require anyone to wear their pants outside of their normal clothes, or indeed actually have any super powers.

What a Beer Hero does have in common with a superhero, is that they have to have a clear link with a place. Batman has Gotham City, Superman bosses Metropolis, Spiderman dosses around New York, and Supergran I think is probably drawing her pension in Edinburgh.  Frankly, I can't be arsed to double check that last fact, so if it is wrong (and how many of you are googling it already, shame on you, your attention span is rubbish), please don't bother letting me know in the comments.

I'm not sure if there is a precedent for superheroes living in the same city, but I'm presuming it leads to some sort of ruckus.  Again, I'm not taking this to extremes and so will not be employing this as part of the criteria.
Wow, I've really weakened the superhero analogy here.  Anyway, I've started typing now, so you'll have to bear with me, no matter how tortuous it gets.

Ok, so maybe a dictionary style definition would help?

Beer Hero 
/bi(e)r/ /h'(e)ro/
A person that Realalein140 has nominated to be one.

Phew, well, I'm glad that cleared that up.

Anyway, onwards and outwards (you may have noticed from my videos that upwards isn't a thing with which I have every really engaged).

Today's beer hero is a Beer Hero for Cardiff.

Ladies and Gentleman, I present to you Ali, the proprietor of Discount Supermarket in Roath, Cardiff.

It's an unassuming looking place from the outside - and I don't think enough is made of the fact that there is beer inside.  That's not a criticism by the way and clearly I'm biased, but the point I'm making is that you might walk past without incident if you didn't know what was inside. 

Ali has created a little beer haven.  In this shop in the last few months, I have rekindled my love of finding something new, from what might be a fancy London brewery, one of the brilliant west-country brewers (e.g. Bristol Beer Factory) or an established northern one (Saltaire), but there is a massive range, I've even started working my way through the saisons and various Belgian brews.  To top it all, there is a brilliant range of American beer available, with brewers like Ska Brewing, and Anchor making regular appearances.  You want Danish beer?  Icelandic beer?  Jamaican beer?  Welsh beer? He's got them all.

I've had my first tastes of Beavertown, Brodies, Partizan and Weird Beard from this place.  They are all sublime, and I can't believe it took as long as it did to get them in my belly.

So - the man himself?  Who is this masked crusader?  Is he a bird?  Is he a plane? (Ok, I'll stop)  This is him...

The final piece of the Beer Hero jigsaw is that he knows his stuff and he remembers the regulars.  What more could you ask of a Beer Hero?  Especially one who is only only 8.5 miles from my doorstep.

This photo was taken under duress and on the hop, I will be filming at some point soon with him, so you'll get to see the shop and Ali almost live and on Youtube if you keep your eyes peeled.

Ali, I salute you, and all who buy beer in your shop.  

Until the next blog post, cheers.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Beer, social media and 'community'

Well.  It's been a while.  Nice to see you again, or if it's your first time here, welcome.

Today, I wanted to touch on the beer community as experienced by a a thirty something white male with a couple of years worth of blogging/vlogging under his belt.

People often stop me in the street and say 'Hey Chris, what's it really like out there on the edge of the cool gang in beer world?' (They don't say this, but hey artistic licence).

So, my answer to all of these (admittedly imaginary) people that you meet through social media?

First:  Facebook

It's just like real life.  Except, well, in real life I choose friends differently.  I have 'added' people to my facebook who in real life I would never tolerate.  Maybe in their mind they are like Gumbo in ID or Begbie in Trainspotting.In reality they are probably just a dick.  The worst part is when these people club together.  Imagine a self validating Gumbo/Begbie combo.  Not nice is it?

The difficulty is that a group of individuals tend to settle around the lowest common denominator and it isn't long before they are threatening to hit people in the face with bricks.

These are people that wouldn't understand hyperbole if it literally jumped out of a pint glass and poked them in the eye. 

Blokes in my experience, generally rub along ok together (oo-er).  If there are differences between men these should be resolved between the two men.  Not through a test of strength, 'flaming' - aka being a dick for imaginary internet points or armwrestling (hard to do virtually), but through an open and honest dialogue unencumbered by drooling halfwits on the sidelines who are effectively shouting 'fight, fight, fight' from their vantage point. 

I applaud those bloggers/vloggers who haven't got involved in the latest public spat.  The dispute is between two men.  Leave them resolve it.

Facebook is a nightmare for this.  It seemingly has turned men into caricatures of Dynasty women (sorry girls), with incredibly bitchy behaviour becoming the norm.  Don't like what someone did?  Ban them from your group and talk about them incessantly (be sure to check for all alter-egos before you do this).  Also, pick on their hair, this might help your self esteem.

Anyway, onwards and upwards.



This is the place to be.  Compared to the Tesco experience that facebook offers, this is a veritable Waitrose of tidy people.  I don't think I've talked or managed to follow anybody who is even a bit rude (even accidentally).  If they even were accidentally rude, they were probably mortified before I even noticed.  Okay this is slightly idealised but you get the whole juxtaposition thing I'm driving at yeah?

Arguments (as in the intellectual process of argument) are settled with facts and gentle coercion.  Differences of opinion are allowed.  I've never seen a Twitter campaign that wasn't publically available to the person being assailed (so avoiding the schoolgirl bullying mentioned above). 

I was welcomed on Twitter.  I've talked to some great people and built up a modest count of followers.  My feeling is that people take you seriously if you can communicate. 

What's the difference?  Does the ability to form a coherent opinion in 140 characters help you find civilised people?  Probably.  Actually, no, definitely.

Is there more?

This is the new boy on the block for me. I think it sits between the two sites mentioned above.  Largely the community is American but there are some interesting sub/reddits that are relevant to beer fans.  Still a bit cliquey but early days yet.  Check it out, quite interesting.

So.  Back to the point.  What is the beer community like?  I suppose you could liken it to pubs.  Facebook is the Dog & Handgun (probably a Wetherspoons) on one of our less salubrious estates.  Twitter is a lovely old thatched pub that serves real ale, the pub has a dog.  Redditt is a trendy wine bar with some fancy bottled beer. 

Thanks for reading and remember there is a real community out there, go buy some beer and enter it.


Thursday, 28 June 2012

In Support of Deaf Beer Fans

Sometimes, you happen on something that you didn't know was there before.  This is a short tale of when that actually happened to me.  It was this evening, so not a long time ago, but it moved me to get off my lazy arse and actually write another blog post.

The title may seem odd and it is ever so slightly tongue in cheek, but if you think about it, (which I did, however briefly), you realise how cut off deaf people can be from the world that we all take for granted.

I was doing some admin type bits on my Youtube videos (which can be found  HERE) and wanting to check what I had said about a beer I had had before, (I'm not a computer or Hopzine and don't have instant recall of every tasting note I've ever made).  As I was doing this, the cursor lazily hovered over a button I hadn't really had sight of before.  It's a little icon that looks like a cc.  As it hovered, words came up on the screen, it took me a few seconds to realise they did bear relation to at least some of the words I was saying on the screen.  

What I had come across was the Beta version of Youtube subtitles.  What I had also come across, was a source of amusement.  So, in part to raise awareness of how some people are left outside of the brave new digital world, and partly for some cheap laughs, here are some choice quotes on beer, as interpreted by this service.

Here is a quote from my review of Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye:

'theres not stempel, asking this is just what kind of boja peninsula cannot simply be strip for me, is not their because its a strong god wants it and a half percent'

Makes perfect sense, no?  I thought it was maybe me, with my lazy, west-country accent and my occasional tendency to use slang and colloquialisms.  So, I thought I'd better confirm this by watching some of my fellow beer chums on their reviews.

So, Mrs Real Ale Guide Mrs Real Ale Guide on Brooklyn Brewery East India Pale Ale, she's the poshest person I know, so it should turn out great, yeah?

'probably, its gonna make me back useless equipment, uh, now its not as good as some of that America during peacetime...basically kidnappings arms'

Insightful stuff, I'm sure you'll agree.  I didn't know Mel was so keen on international relations.

So, what happens when Somerset Real Ale Reviews gets in on the act with his review of the excellent Thornbridge Wild Swan?

'tonights fix it takes a lot this topic of nation and is a very call culmination, congregate colours that too, but you get all of these qualities are so for every death for his release'

Just for a second, it made sense, then it started getting all Lord of the Rings.

It was getting serious at this point, so I thought I'd better find a cockney accent, everyone can understand those, yeah?  Eastenders is a kind of cultural touchstone that everyone in the world understands, even googles robots...yeah?  So, to the Urban Viking and his review of Stone Sublimely Self Righteous :

'at this hour, chocolate fruit, heres whats on your time, sprout, you know its completely finished on this'

Now, I've not had this beer, but I doubt that Stone were looking for sprout as the thing that you would take away from that particular beer experience.  Also, I'm not sure Dave was going for the rap style middle to that section.

Anyway, enough ramblings.  There is a serious point to this blog and it is so serious, it isn't even evading me.  Youtube have a lot of work to do on this service, but I'm glad they are doing it.

Until next time.  Cheers.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

An Open Letter to UK Brewers - Social Media


I'm new(ish) to the blog/vlogosphere, and I've got some observations for you based upon my short active time as a blogger and a long-standing fan of beer.  They relate particularly to how social media can open up doors for you and conversely how it can backfire.

To give you some background as to my expertise in this area, I work in education.  I've been lucky enough to work on some interesting social media related developments and had some exposure to consultants in the area.  The university sector is starting to catch up with Social Media as a concept, but for most people it's kind of a blind area and although I don't blame you for not being up to speed (after all, for most of you, social media is not your main field of expertise, brewing beer is), I think some of you could do with some help.

So, below are some propositions and ripostes for you to consider:

1)  Social Media is where it's at - I must do whatever I can to gain exposure via it or I will fall behind the competition

In part this is true.  Social media does look to be the dominant area for exposure in the future and finding a way to get yourself exposed through it probably is quite important.  However, it is up to you to do your research.  If you are contacted by a blogger or a vlogger tapping you up for some free beer, work out what the value of their goods and services are to you.  It's the same as paying for an advert.  Do your research.

Would you pay anything for an advert that was full of poor grammar, ill informed or that came from a less than reputable company (possibly with a history of stealing underwear from washing lines)?

Check out the person on the internet, read their work, watch their videos.  Check out their viewing figures.  Look at what other people in the beer community make of them, either by studying Twitter, Facebook or Youtube (or get someone conversant with social media to do it for you if you aren't).  You can tell a lot from what is available in the public domain and very easily and quickly too.

2) If I send this guy some beer, it'll get me a good review on the internet

All publicity is not good publicity.  The men (and women) of beer world know their stuff, they are very often geeks.  This is not a crowd that will be impressed by a disingenuous reviewer, particularly one that is talking complete nonsense.  If they suddenly see a beer that they know is not great being proclaimed as the greatest thing in the world since, err, the last beer that person did, the penny is very quickly going to drop.

You are better off with a genuine reviewer who will, if your beer is not awful, (and why do you make it if it is?), do their best to pull out the style, flavours etc that will mean that their rating, whilst personal to them, may be irrelevant to the person watching who may still go out and buy it because of what has been described.

3)  Wow, this guy is writing a book (probably the oldest form of social media), I've got to be in that

Seriously, are you really going to fall for this one?  Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get a book deal?  See also my comments about literacy above.  If someone says this to you, ask to see confirmation from their publisher that this is true.  Ask to see some of their writing.  If they can't produce both of these...tell them to cock off.

Here endeth the rant.  I just don't want to see you guys taken advantage of.

Now, I'm not going to pretend that I haven't been slipped the odd free beer (5 at the last count).  I am grateful for each one and do my best to do them justice.  For me though, I'm new.  I wouldn't ever expect to receive anything for free unless I had something genuine to exchange.  If someone checks me out and decides I'm worth a punt, well, that's pleasing.

Thanks for reading


Wednesday, 11 April 2012

That tricky word beginning with S...

In my last post I touched on how long a session might be.  Ignoring (on purpose) the tricky question of what is the ideal ABV for a session beer.  Forgetting briefly (and conveniently) that I haven't yet defined for you what I take to be the meaning of the word, I'll carry on typing.

Given the recent 'Session Beer Day' in America (which Chad from Chad'z beer reviews tipped me off about), I thought I'd tackle the subject here and pass on my lack of received wisdom.

I'm going to be controversial and say, there is no ideal ABV for a session beer.  I'm going to continue down the road of controversy briefly stopping at the realms of surprising town and say that the ideal ABV for a session beer for me is absolutely not any lower than 4% and I would consider something up to 10% to be 'sessionable'.  Does this make me mental?  Maybe.

I am not an enormous fatster, coming in under the 9 stone mark (and never have been over).  I don't have the capacity these days to continue for half a day, so a session for me is locked around the the 4-ish hour mark.

Does this mean I drink a 10% beer at the same rate as I do a 4% beer?  No, that would make me a complete moron and probably dead (if for no other reason than my wife would give me a good hiding for drinking like that).  However, I might sup 2 10% beers for 4 hours when I might have 5 4% beers in the same time period the next day.

As well as the ABV consideration, I have to take into account the body of the beer, I simply couldn't stomach  drinking beer that was heavily carbonated for too long without ending up like that scene in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory where Charlie and Grandpa Joe fly up to the ceiling and have to burp to make their way back down.  Similarly a big heavy stout (which would end up the next day with a scene similar to the demise of Augustus Gloop  - actually I'll stop the Wonka comparisons now, it's getting disgustingly clinical), would sit too much on my stomach and stop me having fun.

So - as well as the complex equation I drew your attention to last time, there are more factors to introduce.  namely, abv, body and carbonation.  Or if you like A, B, C.  It's as easy as that.

So, what have I learned from writing these companion pieces?

1.  A 'session' is a period of time when you can have a drink, no more, no less.
2.  I definitely don't think that ABV should be considered the defining quality of a 'session beer'
3.  The term 'session beer' should only apply to those beers that you think you could have more than one of (dependent on ABV) in a given amount of time

Let me know what you think