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Session IPAs: Yay or nay?

Nick Trougakos Published: July 14, 2014

Over the years, we have seen many beers trends arrive. Some tail off, some keep going strong.

Several years ago, the big deal was aging on oak. Then oak chips and spirals weren’t good enough, it had to be oak barrels. Then the barrel-aged craze really took flight, with whiskey barrels. Then whiskey barrels were replaced by rum, cognac, wine and all manner of other barrels.

Along the way, sour and wild fermentation beers started picking up steam — and that trend is still going strong.

Now we have what appears to be our next full-fledged beer movement: Session IPAs.

For the uninitiated, a session beer is a beer of lower alcohol content meant to allow the consumption of several such beers in one session. Generally speaking, they check in at the 4% to 5% level. The session IPA is a beer that presents the apparent bitterness of the IPA, but lacks the alcohol content/malt profile generally associated with an IPA. The bitterness of a session IPA generally isn’t on par with that of a regular, full-bodied IPA. Brewers will ramp up the hop schedule with late additions meant to drive up the hop flavor and aroma and, in a sense, trick the palate into thinking more bitterness is present.

Done correctly, you can have something rather enjoyable and easy-drinking. Done incorrectly and the session IPA ends up — like Gail White at The Brew Shop described to me the other day as we described the topic — like “hop water.”

I’ve tried probably five or six different breeds of session IPAs, and somewhere along the way, I started to form a strong opinion on the style. For me, too many of them trended too far to the hop water side, or even resembled a radler or fruit beer.

But don’t just take my opinion for it. I polled the Facebook community and figured I’d share some of the responses:

-Justin Morgan: They remind me if a hoppy budwieser, not impressed.

-Doug McNiven: Like them a lot. Had a Founders All Day IPA yesterday. Love my hops!!

-Matthew Meyer: I like them. Most beer movements seem to be for stronger beer, except this one.

-Dana Swanson: I’m not an IPA person, but I do like Founder’s All Day IPA.

-Kevin Bryars: They are hit and miss but it also depends on the person.

-Seth Hoover: It really depends on my mood. I’ll usually go for the extremely bitter IPA’s, but from time to time, I’ll catch myself drinking session IPA’s as well. I guess it depends on the time of day, too. Haha.

-Nathan Marchese: They have their place (at the lake), but not a fan

-Mike Byrne: Session IPA = West Coast Pale Ale…. I think it’s a marketing ploy to sell more beer. By definition the main difference between a Pale Ale & an IPA is the hop profile difference and ABV. More hops usually means more ABV. To lower the ABV and create a “session” they have to use less hops or use hops that create a more aggressive flavor. So couldn’t you say they are just rebranding Pale Ales?

-Bill Funke: Most of the time I would rather have one good full-flavored beer as opposed to 2 watered-down version of the same style. That’s why I started drinking craft beer in the first place instead of the ‘Big Three’. I’ve come across a couple session IPAs that I do like. Most recently founders All Day IPA. Nice to have Founders in Oklahoma.

-Chad Medford: I like them. I’m a fan of founder’s all day IPA. Sometimes I’m working outside and want a beer that I can easily throw a few back and not be hammered. Session IPAs are perfect for that.

-Jeff Raymond: If I’m going to drink an IPA (and I’m not the biggest fan of them, so don’t hate on me), I want it to get a kick from it. So I definitely prefer the real thing. I just don’t see why you’d drink an IPA-lite.

-Brian Kaiser: I usually go for bigger IPAs like F5 or Sierra Torpedo, but Founders All Day is a must for lake trips.

-William Jones: Still in the fence with the style but I’m loving the examples from the big guys like Founders.

-Mary Beth Conner: Session IPA’s (are) great palate cleansers during beer tasting events or at the lake or for a post run beverage. They do have a place in the beer hierarchy.

-Matt Conner: Session IPAs are a great vehicle for showcasing hops. Malt character is minimal. That’s a great combo for a hop head like me. Stone Go To IPA is one of the best smelling beers I’ve ever had. They are also great beers for the lake. Sure beats BMC.

-Casey Mooney: Session and IPA do not go together. IPA should be hoppy enough to not be sessionable. If it is sessionable, it is not an IPA.

So there you have it. Thanks to everyone who shared their three cents on this important matter. It seems people are definitely taking sides on the issue, and if it weren’t for Founders All Day IPA, there may be a lot more people on the con side.

For me, I would have to agree with the group that Founders All Day is probably the best of the lot I’ve tried. And in the end, it definitely is better than BMC. Still, given the choice, I’m going for a full-bodied IPA first in most circumstances.

Pints and Pins

-How about the lineup of today’s Monday pint nights at the McNellie’s pubs? It’s Goose Island Ogden at Oklahoma City; Smithwick’s at Tulsa; Green Flash Hop Head Red at Tulsa-South; and Sam Smith Winter Welcome at Norman.

-Just an FYI: Marshall Brewing will be pouring this weekend at the Great Arkansas Beer Festival in Little Rock.\

-The American Homebrewers Association suggests five sugar adjuncts you should use in your next homebrew.

-The Brewers Association reports the U.S. brewery count has topped 3,000. They speculate this is likely the first time the U.S. has reached such a mark.

-Interesting read here on a test of Jim Koch’s theory that eating yeast prior to drinking prevents him from getting drunk.


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