What Is a Session Beer?

You’ve heard of a beer-drinking session, but have you heard of a session beer? It’s quite a controversial term in the adult beverage world. More than anything, it’s a confusing phrase because there is a lot about session beer that people disagree about. 

And we mean a lot. 

We’re going to do our best to explain the baseline of what people agree on and explore conflicting opinions, so you can have the full picture. We’ll also have a brief history session and some suggestions, because, let’s be honest, you’re going to want a beer at the end of this article. 

A Session Beer Is…

A session beer is a beer with a 5% alcohol by volume (ABV) level or lower. You can have a drinking session (get it?) without getting wasted with this style of beer. 

It’s a perfect balance of alcohol amount and flavors. It can’t be too bitter or too sweet. 

To sum it up, people agree it’s a low alcohol content, simple flavored beer. It’s one that you’ll enjoy sipping over a long period of time.. 

There is a difference between a session beer and a light beer. While both have a low ABV, light beer will have more flavors than a session beer. 

If you want a more formal definition, The Brewers Association has its own guidelines. Some of these include that the color, clarity, malt aroma, and flavor should mimic what the average beer is based on. However, the fermentation and body can vary in style. 

Modern Session Beer

So, everything we just told you… throw it out the window. 

We told you it could get complicated. 

Like anything else, this style of beer has evolved over time. Depending on the brand and style, modern session beers can be full of flavor or carbonation. What stays the same is the low-level ABV. 

Origins of the Session Beer

It’s thought that session beer traces back to World War I, where in the UK, factory workers were allowed to drink on the job in two separate sessions.

Talk about the good old days.

Being drunk and factory work isn’t the best combination, so these workers needed a beer that would make them happy, but not drunk. So the creation of low-level ABV beers ramped up. The usual choice was beer under 4%. 

Brewing Session Beers

It’s a mistake to think a session beer is simple to make because it has a low alcohol level and (mostly) balanced flavor. 

In fact, all that makes it more difficult. Brewers need to create enough flavor to keep you interested, but the flavor can’t be too wild (most of the time) because you’ll want to drink a few of them in a single session. 

When someone creates a session beer for the first time, they’ll probably have to try over and over again. Any mistakes in flavors will be easily recognizable because it can’t hide behind a high level of alcohol.

This attention to flavor detail and balance is what separates session beers from light beers.

You Can’t Tell a Session Beer By…

Color.

It’s often assumed that any beer with a dark color means a higher alcohol level and that a lighter color means a lower alcohol level. That isn’t the case. 

In fact, color doesn’t have anything to do with alcohol content. Color is based on the malt that’s used in its creation. 

Foods That Go Well With Session Beer

Because of its drinkability, sessions are often paired with meals. The different flavors mix together for an elevated dining experience.

Grilled Food

Like any session beer, grilled foods are full of flavors. Depending on the food you grill, you could end up having one of the greatest dining experiences of your life. 

Some delicious options to choose from:

  • Hamburgers
  • Hot dogs
  • Steaks
  • Chicken
  • Grilled eggplant
  • Bratwurst
  • Fish

Cheese

Everyone knows the classic combination of wine and cheese; the same goes for a session beer. 

Some cheesy favorites:

  • Pizza
  • Mac N’ Cheese
  • Hard Cheese
  • Grilled cheese

Snack Food

Sometimes you don’t want to have a full meal. Sometimes you want just enough to get you through the afternoon.

Some session beer pairable munchies:

  • Pretzels
  • Chips
  • Nachos
  • Crackers
  • French fries

Our Favorite Session Beers

All this talk about session beer has us thirsty. How about you? You should try some of our top session beer picks to quench your thirst. 

All Day IPA

Maybe the most well-known session beer, All Day IPA is brewed with a mix of malts, grains, and hops. It has a clean finish and a pleasant aroma. It features an ABV level of 4.7%. 

Tiny Juicy IPA

This light-colored IPA is full of flaked oats and hopped with Mosaic, Simcoe, and Cascade for fruit and pine flavors. It has an ABV level of 4.2%. It’s perfect for people who want their beers with a little more taste and less bitterness. 

Run Wild IPA

If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic option, look no further. This IPA is brewed with a blend of five Northwest hops. It’s bitter, but not too bitter, to match its malt body. It has an ABV level of 0.4%. 

GSB Watermelon Session IPA

Is there anything more refreshing than a good slice of watermelon? Maybe only this session IPA that’s brewed with actual watermelon. It features an ABV of level 4.5%.

Fly Like: Lime & Sea Salt

This session beer tastes more like a margarita than a beer. It’s sour, limey, and salty and has hopped Azacca. It’s brewed with Pilsner, Munich, and wheat malt. It has an ABV level of 4%. 

Therapy Session 

This IPA is a lot less expensive than its name’s sake and tastes a lot better too. It’s full-bodied and brewed with Mosaic hops. It features an ABV level of 4.9%. 

Ta Moins Forte

This IPA is excluse to TapRm! It features Mosaic, Citra, and Ekuanot hops, giving it a citrusy and tropical flavor. It has an ABV level of 3.8%. 

Are You Ready for a (Responsible) Drinking Session?

Now that you’ve learned all the great qualities of a session beer, some fun history, and have plenty of options to choose from, are you ready to give it a try? Call some friends up and share this pleasant brew style. 

 

Sources:

2021 Brewers Association Beer Style Guidelines | Brewer's Association 

The Surprising History of the Session IPA | Beer Advocate

What the Hell Is a Session IPA? | American Craft Beer  

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