If you are new to the world of beer and you would like to ease in gently, Session beer may be just the thing! This beer is light on alcohol and is not too bitter or yeasty, making it eminently drinkable.
What Is Session Beer?
A Session beer is broadly defined as a beer with a low alcohol content (ABV), usually 4.5 percent or lower so Session beers span several beer varieties. The label ‘session beer’ is often associated with crisp-flavoured, light-coloured beer such as lagers, pale ales and pilsners. However, there are dark beers like stouts or dry porters that are also defined as ‘Session beers’ because they have a low ABV.
There are 6 types of Session beer:
- Session IPA: These beers are lighter-bodied and lower in alcohol than their India Pale Ale counterparts
- Kettle sours: These tend to be extremely sour but low in alcohol, as well as relatively light-bodied.
- Craft light beer: Brewers can produce sessionable versions of low ABV beers like lagers and pilsners while retaining flavour.
- Belgian sessions: Most Belgian varieties tend to be on the heavier side, some like witbier qualify as a session beer because of the low ABV.
- Stouts and porters: These beers can pack a good amount of flavour even into a surprisingly light beer. A number of stouts have a low ABV.
- German sessions: older styles such as Kolsch and Gose, have a low-enough ABV to fit the requirement, combining great flavour with easy-drinking accessibility.
In the United States, a recent session beer definition has been proposed by beer writer Lew Bryson who states that Session beer should have a lower ABV than 4.5%, while The Brewer Association has adopted a new category within their Great American Beer Fest competition which states a “session beer” must not exceed 5.1% ABV. The BeerAdvocate website has a more delineated definition, describing Session beers as having an ABV of no higher than 5% and allowing beer drinkers to have many beers within a reasonable time or session without reaching inappropriate levels of drunkenness.
What is the History of Session Beer?
The word ‘session’ for beer came about when during World War I there were two permissible drinking periods imposed on production workers. The licensed periods were between 11am-3pm and 7pm-11pm and during these two sessions, artillery shell production workers were allowed to drink low-ABV beer.
The intention of this was that they could still focus on work and not get too disorderly while being a whole lot happier on the factory line. At the time, the cask-conditioned beer contained no more than 3% to 4% ABV so patrons may have drunk upwards of 8 pints during a session and remained sober.
Why Do They Call It a Session Beer?
The purpose of a Session Beer, historically, was to allow the beer drinker to have multiple beers, within a reasonable time period, or session, without reaching inappropriate levels of intoxication. Session beers are the type you can drink a lot of without getting drunk.
There is still dissension regarding the classification of Session beer: most people insist that ‘session’ refers to beers with ABVs below 5%; more inclusive types say that up to 6% should qualify too, while others are adamant that the maximum should be 4.5%.
Is Session Beer a Lager or an Ale?
There are 3 primary beer types:
Beer is not classified according to flavour, ABV or colour but by the fermentation technique and yeast used in brewing. Ales are fermented at warm temperatures with top-fermenting yeast and lagers are fermented at cold temperatures with bottom-fermenting yeast. Because of their warm fermentations, ales can age in a relatively short period of time whereas lagers take longer to ferment.
The only difference between an ale and a lager is the presence of esters in ales due to their warm fermentation. Ales tend to be fruity and ‘estery’, while lagers are clean-tasting and often described as ‘crisp’. Simply put, lagers use a totally different type of yeast during fermentation. With hybrid beers, brewers use a combination of brewing methods.
Session beers can be defined according to the production process.
Hefeweizen, a Bavarian wheat beer, is a Session beer that is made using the top-fermentation style so it is an ale. In contrast, German pilsner, also referred to as a Session beer, is a bottom-fermented lager. Both are crisp and have a slightly sweet taste, with pilsner’s sweetness attributed to malt and hefeweizen’s, to wheat
What is the Difference Between Session Beer and Session IPA?
A Session IPA often combines the hoppiness of an IPA with the lower alcohol content of a Session beer.
What Does Session Beer Taste Like?
Session beers are not too filling and they are neither too bitter, too malty or too hoppy, however, they are not without flavour. According to BeerAdvocate, a Session beer has ‘a balance of malt and hops that displays a clean finish and high drinkability’.
What Are the Best Session Beers to Try Right Now?
According to the Gear Patrol website, these Session beers are worth tasting:
- Anchor-Steam-Gear-Patrol – high in malt, this beer is great for matching with a burger
- Evil Twin Bikini Beer – very low ABV of 2.7%, a beer that has a pretty can and notes of citrus
- Firestone Walker Easy Jack – a beer that contains notes of resin and citrus and malt
- Superfun – strong notes of orange zest, citrus, hops and yeast, a beer that is sweet and dry but not bitter
- Flying-Dog – a high-malt, low-hop beer with a slight sourness
- Founders All Day – a highly recommended beer that is flavourful and light
Other Session beers worth trying are Blindman River Session Ale; Session Golden Ale; Summer Session Ale; Two Tides India Session Ale and Wals Session Citra.
What Foods Can You Pair with Session Beer?
Light lagers are well known for their crisp and refreshing taste and are not often too hoppy or bitter so they can be paired with spicy dishes and just about any other type of food. Try pairing Session beers with fried fish, noodle dishes, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries and buffalo wings. Other foods that will pair well with Session beers include barbecue ribs, mozzarella sticks, steak, burritos and fajitas.
Hefeweizen, a popular German Session beer, goes well with salads, seafood, sushi, goat cheese and with desserts such as strawberry shortcake, fruit trifle or key lime pie.
A Wonderful Drinking Session
People agree that Session beers can be imbibed one after the other without making you drunk. They are also great accompaniments to meals because they do not overwhelm your palate and they complement almost all types of food so, when next you are enjoying a meal with friends and family, drink Session beer.
Jake has been a craft beer and homebrew enthusiast since his college days. He loves scouring Europe for unique and unusual hops to add to his beers.
Founder of Jake’s Brew Haven – he currently hosts beer-tasting sessions at select local pubs in Baltimore.
Jump To a Section Below
- What Is Session Beer?
- What is the History of Session Beer?
- Why Do They Call It a Session Beer?
- Is Session Beer a Lager or an Ale?
- What is the Difference Between Session Beer and Session IPA?
- What Does Session Beer Taste Like?
- What Are the Best Session Beers to Try Right Now?
- What Foods Can You Pair with Session Beer?
- A Wonderful Drinking Session