By Steve Hawk
A guy walks into the bar and says to the bartender….
“What do light beer and making love in a canoe have in common? They are both f***ing near water.”
When you think about a light beer, what comes to mind? For some, a light beer is just like this old joke. There’s very little flavor so it’s like drinking water. Now suppose it’s a hot Saturday afternoon. Friends are coming over for a backyard barbeque that might end after the sun goes down. No one’s watching the clock. There is plenty of food and enough time to enjoy a few beers without fear of getting a DUI. You’re in the mood for beer that is low in alcohol, but not low in flavor. Light beer? Nope. What you really want is a session beer. Better yet, you want a crushable session beer.
A well-balanced, low alcohol beer – usually below 5% is a session beer. But a crushable session beer is all that, and more. It’s a tasty, low ABV beer that has the kind of flavor that makes you want to go back again and again. Session beers are available year-round. They’re not just for fun-in-the-sun. So let’s take a look at some stand-outs.
First up is Hoppy Table Beer from Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine. It’s a beer inspired by Belgian tradition, but it’s clearly a hybrid American style. Hoppy Table Beer features a hop-forward aroma, notes of grapefruit and the flavors of pine, citrus and stone fruit to round out its finish. It is brewed with four different hops (Chinook, Cascade, Comet and Azacca), then dry-hopped again, which gives the beer its piney citrus notes. “A huge part of Belgian tradition is using different ingredients and brewing methods to create new flavors,” said Allagash Brewing Company founder Rob Tod. “That’s exactly what Hoppy Table Beer is.”
Another great choice is the new GFB from Green Flash Brewing Company in San Diego, California. GFB is a light, refreshing, crushable blonde ale with hints of honey and orange peel, complemented by a mellow malt character. When asked what the appeal of a session beer is, Green Flash Brewmaster Erik Jensen had a ready reply. “If you like to drink beer… sometimes a lot of beer, you can’t always do that with an IPA, Belgian tripel or barrel-aged stout. With GFB, you get a lower-alcohol, high-flavor beer in line with other great Green Flash beers of the past that have been easy to drink and keep you coming back for more.”
If you want to have a beer from a local brewery, Delco Lager from 2SP Brewing Company in Aston, Pennsylvania is a wonderful, sessionable lager. Delco Lager incorporates smooth malts, clean hops and a crisp finish. It is a classic, everyday beer, updated for today with premium ingredients.
A few months ago, Michael Contreras, Director of Sales and Marketing for 2SP predicted that session beers, and lagers in particular, would be a big trend in the Philadelphia area this year. And apparently he was right. “It seems each region has their own style,” said Contreras. “In Colorado, New England and California, they favor various versions of IPAs, but our top two selling beers are Delco Lager and 2SPils, a German lager. As session beers become more popular, we look forward to having a strong identity in the region.”
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California offers a variety of sessionable beers. Sidecar Orange Pale Ale is a pale ale with a twist. It’s brewed with Cascade, Equinox and Mandarina hops, which all have a bright, citrus-heavy character. There’s also a hint of orange peel from additions in both the brew kettle and the fermenter that tweak the classic hop profile and add a zesty pop of bright orange flavor. Also from Sierra, Nooner Pilsner is a crisp, hoppy take on a classic German-style pilsner, one of the original session beers. Nooner is easy drinking, yet packed with the big flavor of spicy and floral whole-cone hops. And for a true artisan experience, Kellerweis is the brewery’s hazy wheat ale, inspired by traditional Bavarian techniques. This brew has a full, fruity aroma with notes of spicy cloves and banana bread.
Bottom line, a session beer simply needs to be lower in alcohol, but NOT low in taste. What’s fun about trying these beers is that there’s so much flavor you almost can’t believe they are low in alcohol.
Now get out there and start crushing.