The season of good will and good cheer is almost upon us. There will be lots of parties and festive fun to be had over the next month so with that in mind I decided to focus this week on session beers.
Session beers came about due to British government restrictions on strength of beer during the First World War. Under those same wartime restrictions, munitions works were allotted two periods during the day in which the pubs would open, one at lunch time and one in the evening. But it was far later that the term ‘session’ came to describe the beer itself.
To be honest ‘Session beer’ is a pretty loosely defined idea, not so much a style itself but more of a descriptor. Primarily it should have a lower alcohol strength. However, what the threshold of alcohol is depends on who you ask. Traditional British ale drinkers would regard it as an abv of less than 4% but with the constant pushing of the boundary’s in craft beer this has raised to 5% abv as the upper limit.
So, we are talking about lighter alcohol beer that can be enjoyed over the course of an evening. However, enjoy is a big factor here. You want a beer that is a pleasure to drink but also one that will not overload you tastes, be that with high bitterness or with strong flavours. An easy drinking beer with enough depth of flavour to keep it interesting and a pleasure to drink. The Americans, of course, took it up a notch with “session IPA’s” lower in alcohol but retaining those punchier fruit notes and bitter finish. However, as with all beers, there needs to be balance and character. Below are a few of my go-to session beers. As they say, life’s too short to drink bad beer.
Founders All Day IPA at 4.7% is classic American session IPA and deservedly so, with big hop notes yet restrained and easy drinking.
New from O Brother is The Preacher, another session IPA at 4.6%. With crisp citrus and juicy tropical fruit this is definitely one to seek out.
As a style, Irish red ale fits very well into the session category and you would be hard pressed to find a better example than the excellently balanced Costellos The Red at just 3.8%.
Berliner Weisse has always been a session beer of sorts with an abv ranging from 2% to 5%. Siren’s fruity, hoppy take on this sour style, Calypso, comes in at very respectable 4.0%.