Hang out with beer geeks talking beer and the subject of session beers is bound to come up. Session means low-alcohol and it harkens back to British Pub days when a pint of Bitter or Mild was about 3-3.5% ABV* and having a few in a session wouldn’t leave you crawling home. While the traditional BJCP definition puts session beers below 4% ABV, the market is pushing up to 5%.
Session IPAs are low-alcohol, but full-flavor, versions of their big brother, American IPA. It is a recent style development that has caught on in the mainstream. It did not make it into the 2015 update of the BJCP Style Guide, which was last updated in 2008. Maybe in seven more years, Session IPA will make the cut.
I love this style. I would wager half the beers I’ve consumed since warm weather arrived in Tennessee are Session IPAs. (The other half is mostly sours.)
There is no solid definition of Session IPA, but the wide variety of Session IPAs on the market share many characteristics. Big hop aroma and flavors are present in all of them and the ABV* ranges from 4.5 to 5%. Session IPAs have all the flavor of IPAs, but at a more manageable alcohol content. The heart of the session IPAs is the hops. These are low ABV beers but they have huge hop aromas and flavors.
Session IPAs have a SRM* range of 3 to 5, with straw to gold coloring. They are still IPAs, so perceived bitterness can high, but hop aroma is more prominent than hop bitterness, with IBUs from 35-60, comparable to many hoppy American Pale Ales.
There are so many good Session IPAs available. It seems most breweries are brewing good ones. One of my favorites, and widely acclaimed, is Founders All Day IPA. At 4.7% you can literally drink it all day. Its big aroma of pine and citrus reveals the flavors you’ll taste in this clean IPA.
Besides All Day, I’ve got three other Session IPAs that I rotate through. Oskar Blues Pinner Throwback IPA is on tap at the Nashville Sounds new ballpark. I’ve put away several watching baseball this summer. Rich hop flavors shine in this balanced beer that is so good on warm summer evening. At 4.9%, it’s the biggest of my favorites.
Lagunitas Daytime Fractional IPA has a dank hop aroma similar to other Lagunitas beer. It smells a lot like an illegal substance, or at least that’s what someone told me. At 4.6 ABV you can enjoy several. Daytime has bold hop flavors, exactly what you expect from Lagunitas. And that aroma, is, umm… also exactly what you expect from Lagunitas.
New Belgium Slow Ride has traditional pine and citrus, yet is completely different than All Day. Of the four, it is the most “average” IPA, but that’s average in every great way possible. A really enjoyable Summer beer. It weighs in at a crushable 4.5% and is very balanced, crisp and easy drinking.
Session IPAs pair with outdoor summer activities like the beach, out on the boat or watching a baseball game, so drink them with your favorite summer foods. Bring a cooler to your next cookout and enjoy it with burgers, brats, steaks and veggies on the grill.
Session IPAs, like all IPAs taste (and smell) great in a Spiegelau IPA glass. And if you are heading to an outdoor activity and want to avoid the red Solo Cup, grab some B Cups plastic IPA cups from Fermented Reality. They work nearly as well as the Spiegelau glass and are shatter-proof.
*Standard Reference Method (color)
*International Bitterness Units (hop alpha-acid utilization)
*Alcohol by Volume
Style specifications are from the BJCP Style Guide, 2015 when available. Session IPA Style specs are based solely on my opinion.