What is a Session Beer?

With the New England Real Ale eXhibition starting today I feel this is an appropriate time to post this.

Disclaimer: Not all real ales/casks are sessionable, please drink responsibly 🙂

I was reading the recent All About Beer Article on Session Beers and it got me thinking about my own thoughts on the topic.

Recently the Session Beer has been a hot topic among the beer world and is continuing to be under scrutiny for the very nature of the beer. A Session beer is considered a beer you can have more than one in one “session”, or sitting. While the beers everyone is used to drinking is about 5%, the session beer levels usually fall lower than that, so you can enjoy more over a long period of time.

Where do I come in?

I got my first entry into a session beer by going a the NERAX North Cask festival. This was also my first entry into the cask world. Nevertheless there where plenty beers from overseas there marked at mind boggling low 3.5% – 3.9%. I hadn’t had a beer with this much flavor at such a low alcohol percentage. I believe there is a great tie between cask and session, so this event was a big win for me. I was intrigued. Ever since I looked for more and frankly there weren’t many immediately accessible to me. Enter Notch Brewing Company.

Chris Lohring set out to produce an entire portfolio of Session Beers because he is a fan of them. While the beers are not available in NH (like most beers) it is an easy drive to MA to pick up some of his beers. One of his flagship beers, Session Pils, came in right at 4% and was more flavorable and drinkable than any beer around in the same range of abv and many above. You can find a beer from Notch as low as 2.8% and a lot of great casked one offs.

By the Numbers

What do I consider a proper session beer? 4% or lower. I don’t see myself changing that definition, but I ask myself, as beer itself gets bigger, more extreme in the ABV department, will the definition of Session Beer be driven up to 5%? 6%? At the end of the day, should we be defining a Session beer by its ABV , when everyone has different tolerance levels? My opinion is yes. While people’s tolerance ranges, there is science that says how alcohol affects your motor skills. On one hand, some say “you sacrifice taste”, I say that if you know where to look you will be able to find something you will be able to appreciate and enjoy what I consider a proper session beer. Don’t just listen to just me, I asked a bunch of beer writers who know a thing or two about beer to let me know what they consider the proper ABV of a session beer. Check it out:

Sean Jansen 2Beerguys
< 4.5%
Norman Miller Beer Nut
James Sanborn Insurance Guy Beer Blog
< 4%
Chad Lothian If My Coaster Could Talk
3.5 – 4%
Josh Dion Lost in the Beer Aisle
< 5%
Alan McCormick Growler Fills
< 5%
Mike Umphress PDX Beer Geeks
4.7 – 4.8%
Heather Vandenengel Honest Pint
< 4%
Charlie Herrin Beer Traveler
< 5.5%
Jay Ducote Bite & Booze
4.5 – 4.9%
Rebecca Millette MA Girls Pint Out
< 4%
Carla Companion The Beer Babe
< 6%
Adam Meuse BrewEngland
< 5%

What Really Matters

Across the board, from the writers I asked, the number one thing that should make a really good Session beer is flavor. Lower ABV doesn’t mean anything if the beer doesn’t have a great taste. Session beers shouldn’t be a contest of “how low can you go?”, but more an appreciation for creating and drinking great tasting beers that you can have multiple without the side effects of their higher abv counterparts.

When in Doubt, Try More Beer

There are many options out there in regards to session beer. The best part about trying many session beers is you can try alot more in a given time frame than most beers of a different style, so try multiple.

What is your go to session beer?