All the IBUs. Half the ABV. Welcome to the world of session IPAs. Emerging styles always generate some controversy as to their proper nomenclature. (Maybe it’s an Amero-Anglo-style bitter?) Whatever these nimbler hop bombs are, the result is a flavorful beer that won’t knock you on your keister the way a pint too many of the big IPAs or bigger Double IPAs might.
Stone Brewing brewmaster Mitch Steele, who literally wrote the book on the IPA style, IPA:Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale, loves this new direction.
“[Session IPAs are] kettle hopped (for bitterness up front) and dry hopped (for flavor and aroma after the boil) using similar quantities and varieties as a standard American IPA,” said Steele. “The brewers challenge here is twofold: first is achieving a good flavor balance in a beer that is so low in alcohol that there isn’t much else to balance the hop character with, and second, ensuring that the dry hop character doesn’t become overly vegetal, due to the lower alcohol content of the beer.”
Session IPAs allow you to safely enjoy hiking, biking or other outdoor activities—yes, that includes just enjoying a beer outside. While the definitions for this style vary, for the sake of this article, I’m considering them to be IPAs under 5% ABV. Here are a few excellent examples of session IPAs from around the country.
Even Keel | Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits | San Diego, CA
Coined as a San Diego Session Ale, this draft-only summer seasonal is built with ten different malts and six varieties of hops including Ahtanum, Magnum and Cluster for a lemony finish. Brewer Colby Chandler said it was inspired by a local homebrew recipe that became a regular around the brewery’s homebrew supply store because it “didn’t prematurely put me to sleep on the couch.” (3.5% ABV, 50 IBUs)
Alpha Session | Drake’s Brewing | San Leandro, CA
Dubbed a NorCal Bitter, the malt bill consists of two-row Marris Otter and some Caramel-45, but again, it’s the hopping (Simcoe, Citra, CTZ) that gives this lightweight beer a powerful pine n’ grapefruit punch. You can enjoy this on draft and in bombers all summer long. (3.8% ABV, 50 IBUs)
Boat Beer | Carton Brewing Co. | Atlantic Highlands, NJ
Boat Beer from Carton Brewing Co. is the result of a unique mix of Kolsch yeast and German malts supported by a combination of eight American hop varieties. Served in cans and on draft in New York and New Jersey. (4.2% ABV, 35 IBUs)
Trader Session IPA | Uinta Brewing Co. | Salt Lake City, UT
Leave it to a brewery in Utah, notorious for its limiting alcohol laws, to devise one of the few year-round session IPAs. The profound hop bill results in floral and piney aromas with a smack of zesty citrus in each sip. It’s a perfect pint for a state that’s a massive outdoor playground. (4.0% ABV, 42 IBUs)
Pinner IPA | Oskar Blues Brewery | Longmont, CO
Instead of “session,” Oskar Blues calls this a “throwback IPA,” not in the retro sense but in that it’s all too easy to throw back several of these. The hop bill yields all the citrus and other tropical fruit salad notes you want for any outdoor setting (4.9% ABV, 35 IBUs)
All Day IPA | Founder’s Brewerying Co. | Grand Rapids, MI
It took Founders’ brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki three years to develop this beer, but clearly he was on the right path from the get-go, as an early rendition called Endurance IPA, Jr. medaled at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival. Since its release (as All Day IPA) in 2012, it has become one of the best-known examples of the style. The citrus peel and resinous features replicate even non-session IPAs. (4.7% ABV, 42 IBUs)
Super Session #2 | Lawson’s Finest Liquids | Warren, VT
Super Session #2 is the newest beer to be offered in cans by this small but mighty brewery founded by veteran homebrewer Sean Lawson. Super Session packs a flavorful Amarillo hop bitterness from late kettle additions and dry hopping, while still coming in at only 4.8% ABV.
Other Notable India Session Ales
- Easy Jack (4.5% ABV) | Firestone Walker Brewing Co. | Paso Robles, CA
- Time Bomb (4.3% ABV) | 7venth Sun Brewery | Dunedin, FL
- Down to Earth Session IPA (4.4% ABV) | 21st Amendment Brewery | San Leandro, CA
- Sunshine Daydream Session Ale (4.9% ABV) | Fat Head’s Brewery | Middleburg Heights, OH
- Jibe Session IPA (4.0% ABV) | Green Flash Brewing Co. | San Diego, CA
- Demento (4.7% ABV) | Ale Asylum | Madison, WI
- Lil Heaven Session IPA (4.8% ABV) | Two Roads Brewing Co. | Stratford, CT
- Go To IPA (4.5% ABV) | Stone Brewing Co. | Escondido, CA
- Suicide Squeeze IPA (4.5% ABV) | Fort George Brewery | Astoria, OR
Red, White, and Brew by Brian Yaeger, pursues the roots of brewers who brought their craft with them from their homeland and investigates how the tradition is faring today and where it may head in the future. Covering everything from fifth-generation family-run brewing companies to first-wave microbreweries, this book is a travelogue, guide, and genealogical study of beer families and homebrewers from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon. It is filled with eclectic characters and shrewd businesspeople who populate an industry as old as the New World, and who produce liquid philanthropy, one keg at a time…