Session IPA comparison
I once heard the term “session” explained as taking a sip, and being ready for another once you’ve swallowed the first. I don’t entirely agree with this explanation, but it’s one of the better I’ve heard. It conveys the idea that session beers are not heavy, but I also disagree with the implication that one doesn’t need to pause and think about a beer, or that session beers are flavorless with no lingering notes.
But “lawnmower beer”? No. Have you ever wanted to mow your lawn while sipping a low ABV porter? Plus, I don’t have a lawn and hate mowing. The term also implies that session beers aren’t for winter, and that’s not true.
Session IPAs are defined as beers with low alcohol content. How low? The general consensus is less than 5% or 5.5%, but my opinion skews far lower. Lower ABV beer impresses me more than moderately alcoholic ones for a number of reasons.
On the other hand, the recent appeal of session, especially session IPAs, has been explosive.
About a year ago, I first expressed my frustration with the loose use of the word sessionable, but also discussed the definition offered by Beer Advocate : “Any beer that contains no higher than 5 percent ABV, featuring a balance between malt and hop characters (ingredients) and, typically, a clean finish – a combination of which creates a beer with high drinkability.”
With drinkability in mind, let’s examine a few session IPAs. These beers were chosen because the call themselves session IPA, or IPA at the very least, (so Summit’s Hopvale was out) and meet the ABV criteria.
The first duo, Evil Twin’s Citra Sunshine Slacker (4.5%) and Boulevard’s Pop-Up Session IPA (4.3%) was tasted after a long day of work. Session IPAs are perfect for an evening when you want something easy to enjoy. The Citra is a new to Minnesota but is listed as a year-round offering from Evil Twin. It is beautifully citrusy and bold in flavor with substantial body. The qualities of pine and resin were almost entirely missing, which caused it to be perceived as less bitter and more drinkable. This gave it the victory over Pop-Up, which is in its second year. The Pop-up was a favorite of mine last summer with its Fruit Loop notes and punch of mixed fruit flavor. This go-around it was basically a boring pale ale. It almost tasted old and faded.
Try these session IPAs at the beach: Oskar Blues Pinner (4.9%) and New Belgium Slow Ride (4.5%). Pinner is mild enough to be enjoyed several times over. There is mild toasted bread and tropical fruit notes with some pine notes, too. Its high carbonation makes it very refreshing, but overall it was fairly boring. The Slow Ride was our preference, displaying more depth of hop flavor including melons and tropical fruit thanks to Southern Hemisphere hops. Additionally, aroma was more pleasant and the body was more appropriate for warmer drinking.
Must try beers for this summer include Citra Sunshine Slacker and Even Keel. Go ahead and skip Pinner and Pop-Up.