What Is A Session Ale?

 During my visit to Westbrook Brewing last weekend, I found that beers under 5% actually made-up the majority of their tap selection, which had me asking myself “why is this a thing all of a sudden?”

The concept of session beer is not new.  In fact, it’s been around for quite a while.  The term comes from England, around the time of WWI.  Back in the day, workers were permitted to throw-back pints of beer and socialize during allotted “sessions” throughout the workday.  The beers they drank were low in alcohol, as to not interfere too much with their work.  For a long time, the American beer market has been dominated by low-alcohol, low-calorie (and low-flavor) lagers produced by large commercial breweries.  Just like the session beers enjoyed by English workers, these beers are good for one thing: drinking in excess!

With the rise of craft beer, micro-breweries changed the way people looked at beer by producing something very different from what the big guys were making.  We’re talking strong, intensely flavored beers – quite the opposite of what you would chug at a tailgate or a frat party.  These higher-gravity palate tantalizers are what put breweries like Founders and Dogfish Head on the map.  Because of this intentional separation from the mainstream, however, the idea that light, low-ABV beers cannot be “craft” became a common misconception.

Luckily, with more time came more awareness, and nowadays consumers are much more informed about what “craft” beer actually means.  As a result, we’ve seen more and more breweries pushing the envelope and opening consumers’ minds to all sorts of exciting styles (even the light ones), and showing that low-ABV beers can still be full-flavored.  A perfect example of this the Founders All-Day IPA, a 4.7%er with quite a reputation, which has become one of their best-sellers.

Ok, so we’ve established that less alcohol doesn’t necessarily mean less flavor, but when might you choose a session beer over a “standard” or high-gravity one?  Good question! Besides being a refreshing option on a hot summer day, session beers are an ideal choice in a number of settings.  Perhaps you’re on a date, or at a business meeting, where you want to drink socially and still conduct yourself in an intelligible manner.  While alcohol in moderation may boost confidence, too much could spell disaster!  A session beer is also a great selection for someone who can’t stay long and is worried about driving under the influence.  Safety first, people!

If you’re interested in exploring “session ales,” but don’t know where to start, here are a few that are sure to impress:

Bell’s Oatsmobile (a session pale ale)

Oskar Blues Pinner IPA (they call it a “throwback” IPA)

Lagunitas Day Time Ale (“Fractional IPA”)

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