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What (exactly) is a Session Beer?

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As I found myself enjoying more and more session IPA’s lately, I decided I should probably learn about what a session beer actually is. It turned out the story behind this popular style of beer was pretty interesting. So here’s a little beer lesson for those of you who don’t already know, and if you do, here’s a refresher.

I used my handy friend Google on my quest for information and found a few pretty interesting articles about Session Ales. Beer advocate defines (loosely) a session beer as: “ session beer (n.)  Any beer that contains no higher than 5 percent ABV, featuring a balance between malt and hop characters (ingredients) and, typically, a clean finish – a combination of which creates a beer with high drinkability. The purpose of a session beer is to allow a beer drinker to have multiple beers, within a reasonable time period or session, without overwhelming the senses or reaching inappropriate levels of intoxication. (Yes, you can drink and enjoy beer without getting drunk.) “

This definition cleared things up a bit, but I still wanted to know more. I found a pretty interesting article by AmericanCraftBeer. Com called “What The Hell is a Session IPA?” This article centered on Session IPA’s, since these are the most popular of the session ales. From this article I learned that one of the most common explanations goes all the way back to the World War I era in England, where workers were actually allowed to drink on the job, even while working with weapons! What an awesome idea! Anyways, workers were allowed to have two drinking “sessions” of 4 hours each workday. Wait, can we start that back?

Because of these drinking sessions, they couldn’t sit around and drink a bunch of 10% ABV porters and stouts, or DIPA and then go back to work, with again might I repeat, sometimes weapons. Therefore, they would drink what they would call “Session” ales, which would be no higher that 3 or 4 percent ABV. These days it’s more so around 5% to be considered a true session ale. Believe it or not, this law remained in place until 1988!

These articles did clear up what I initially wanted to find, but I also found that there are a lot of different thoughts about the term Session IPA, some good and some bad. Some people do find the style it sort of oxymoronic, that a beer shouldn’t be called an IPA if the ABV is so low. I find it kind of cool that there’s a beer that has the same amount of hop goodness and flavor that you’d find in a normal IPA, but is something you can still sip on all day without going overboard. All the taste, without the headache, literally and figuratively!

Some of my favorite Session IPA’s I have come across are:

Evil Twin Citra Sunshine Slacker (4.5 ABV)
Founders All Day IPA (4.7ABV)
21st Amendment Down to Earth (4.4%)
Lagunitas Daytime IPA (4.65ABV).


Cheers to Session Beers!