7 India Session Ales for Summer

By Brian Yaeger

All the IBUs. Half the ABV. Welcome to the India session ale (ISA). 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.”

With spring upon us and summer feeling as if it’s arrived early, ISAs free you to safely enjoy hiking, biking or other recreational activities. Yes, that includes enjoying a session in a beer garden. While this is not an officially recognized style in most circles yet, for this article I’m considering them to be IPAs under 5% ABV. Here are a few excellent examples of ISAs 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)

Southtown Session ISA | Claim 52 Brewing | Eugene, OR

This brand new brewery in the hop farm-rich Willamette Valley didn’t debut with an IPA, but instead made this their flagship, though brewer Trevor Ross would’ve preferred to call it an American Hop Ale. Hops are added entirely pre-boil or as late additions, which Ross says is “antithetical to building a great IPA.” It’s an impressive beer that tastes like an imperial pint’s worth of hops in a half-pint’s worth of booze. (4.2% ABV, 60 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)

All Day IPA | Founder’s Brewing 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)

Hoppy Hobbit Session IPA | Wrecking Bar Brewpub | Atlanta, GA

This Southeastern brewpub certainly adds big American hops for bittering through to mid-boil, but finishes with New Zealand hops to give this chewier than average session IPA a grassy, dry taste and sweet, citrusy aroma almost to the point of marmalade. (3.8% ABV, 61 IBU)

Spring Fever Session IPA | Lawson’s Finest Liquids | Warren, VT

To commemorate the brewery’s fifth anniversary this spring, Sean Lawson concocted two IPAs at his small but mighty brewery. However, these beers could not be on further ends of the IPA spectrum. The antithesis to Peril Imperial IPA (over 10% ABV) is Spring Fever, a third as heady, though seemingly just as bitter. There’s even a double dry-hopped version of Spring Fever out there on draft if you happen to be in Warren. (3.5% ABV)

Other Notable India Session Ales

 /> alt=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…