Nice that the Wall Street Journal dedicated this piece--"The Connoisseur's Light Beer"--to session beer. Shame that all its picks are mainstream strength, from 5% to 5.4% abv. As I've argued before, the "session" mark has got to be set lower than that if it's going to mean much.
Lew Bryson's 4.5% mark seems low enough to be meaningful but high enough to be reasonable.
Meanwhile: Andy Crouch neatly sums up the marketing problem facing session beers, if they're to gain wider traction:
Our drinking culture is goal oriented: have a beer to accompany a meal or fill a short window of time after work and before a commute. Most drinkers don’t sit around and have a half-dozen beers before heading home and with craft beer prices in many markets approaching $7, 8 or even $10 a pour, regular ‘sessions’ would be bankrupting.Thoughtful stuff from Andy as usual, and he hits upon an important truth there. But it's not the whole truth. The reality of the U.S. beer drinking market is that people are drinking loads of 4.2% light lager. Considering the steady growth of craft beer, there would appear to be market opportunities for light beers of greater flavor.
But as far as craft goes, I agree with Andy that "American beer culture has a long way to go before lower alcohol drinking gains a true foothold." Despite all the buzz about session beer, there is not yet anything other than anecdotal evidence that it is becoming a true trend. (I tried to make this point last month using Ratebeer data-- problematic, although I still believe that new beer entries on that site are a solid indicator of American craft beer trends.)
As far as fighting to "redefine American beer culture"... I'm no Lew Bryson, mounting an explicit awareness campaign, but I am a writer and drinker (is that redundant?) who often enjoys the lighter stuff in quantity. I can't speak for all sessionistas but I suspect most of them have motives as selfish as my own: to find more, better lower-alcohol options in our locals and shops.