I once had a private tour of a prestigious Sonoma winery. The proprietress was the former girlfriend of my friend’s nephew, which made the occasion informal. She let us know about an attribute of their products that the vintners like to rate when the tourists aren’t around:poundability. As in, how does the taste and enjoyment hold up when you have more than one glass?
Not that I’m advocating this, necessarily, and many complex wines demand to be sipped and savored at a snail’s pace or you are committing a crime against the grape. But you know what I’m talking about here…. we’ve all experienced a red that tastes perky at first sip, but becomes bitter and overly minerally as you continue. Or a white that is pleasant to begin, but gradually fades to something resembling tap water. The opposite of this is the inexpensive Black Box 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon I have on my shelf this moment which surprises you with a sophisticated chocolate berry nose for such a cheap wine, tastes like a treat, and upholds those characteristics over an extended time. It’s a poundable wine.
Brewers have a similar concept in the “session” beer. Publicly, this is a beer with low alcohol content…. “the beer to have when you’re having more than one.” Mild, easy drinking, lightly hopped beers may be described as session beers as an excuse for their lack of taste and personality, but that doesn’t make them poundable. In fact, a visit to any college bar district (mine is located on Caroline Street, in Saratoga Springs, New York) will demonstrate that when the beer tastes like nothing you don’t notice you are drinking and therefore you may well have more than you should. (20 light beers with 4% ABV will deliver a payload of 9.6 ounces of alcohol, the equivalent of guzzling better than a pint of Scotch.)
I would say that any true session beer should have enough personality that you want to pace yourself. This doesn’t mean higher alcohol content automatically, although the ingredients used in beer do tend to turn into alcohol or else it tastes like some other kind of beverage, or like food. But there will be a balance. You will notice what you are drinking and you won’t want to drink too fast because you don’t want to miss the flavor and the pungency of the hops. Most decent IPAs fall into this category.
One final though on this subject: a poundable beer or wine is not going to give you a hangover unless you drink so much that you deserve it. Overindulging can always give you a bad morning after, once you have reached the point where you take in more than your body can process. But you are going to feel extra bad if cheap sweeteners have been used to boost the alcohol level (typical of malt liquors) or from cheap wines that use chemicals in processing (I once tasted a wine, at a Basque winery east of Los Angeles, that generated a hangover as soon as you started drinking it).
Here’s to poundability. In moderation, of course.