Slideshow: Ask a Cicerone: What's Your Favorite Session Beer?

Professor Fritz Breim 1809 Berliner Weisse
Professor Fritz Breim 1809 Berliner Weisse
"Professor Fritz Breim 1809 Berliner Weisse. Like most Cicerones, I might answer this question differently depending on the day, the weather, the direction the wind is blowing, there are so many influences that make me say 'this beer is perfect.' Like most Berliner Weisse, this one is lower in alcohol by volume, has a serious tartness from lactic acid, is effervescent, crisp and refreshing. Its flavor is subtle yet complex with a hint of wheat, lemon, green apple and even some barnyard funk. I found this beer at a little German bar in town when the weather was a little too warm. A friend and I ducked in for a quick one and got lost in conversation with the proprietor. Even after a few hours at the bar we still had our wits about us and I had a new favorite." —Gabriel Boden (Revolution Brewing)
Jester King’s Le Petit Prince
Jester King’s Le Petit Prince
"When I want to drink all day and still be able to see, I drink Jester King’s Le Petit Prince. This beer is light in color and body with a green, grassy hop character, the slightest touch of funk, and is clean and satisfying. The game winner? It’s only 2.9% ABV. That’s right: what the uninitiated call “near-beer,” I call refreshing and delicious." — Justin Bonard (The Meddlesome Moth)
Aecht Schlenkerla Helles
Aecht Schlenkerla Helles
"Aecht Schlenkerla Helles. Light (4.3%), pale, refreshing, and subtly smoky. Superb crushability, especially during the warmer months." — Jack Van Paepeghem (Meridian Pint)
Firestone Walker's Pale 31
Firestone Walker's Pale 31

"Historically speaking, session beers would typically refer to English ales under about 4% alcohol by volume. More recently, the craft beer community in America has taken some liberties with the term "session beer" and expanded it to include any easy-drinking beer under 5% ABV or so. However, in today's beer environment, where every other beer seems to be an "Imperial" variant, some would argue that anything under 6% ABV could be considered a session beer. For the sake of Serious Eats, I'll take the middle number, and pick a beer no more than 5% ABV. 

I'd have to go with Firestone Walker's gold-medal-magnet of a beer, Pale 31. At 4.9%, it's been summed up as having the body of a pilsner, with the hop profile of a West Coast IPA. Effortlessly drinkable, and with flavor that can stand up again pretty much any food (or for that matter any other beer) you can throw at it, Pale 31 defines what an American session ale should be." — Chris Quinn (The Beer Temple)

Eagle Rock Solidarity Dark Mild
Eagle Rock Solidarity Dark Mild

"I’m going to stay relatively local here because, in my humble opinion, session beers don’t take kindly to long voyages. Eagle Rock Solidarity Dark Mild is great with its toasty, nutty, roasted, and chocolate tones all playing nicely in a beer that is still refreshing and lighter bodied. 3.8% ABV." — Kelsey Williams (Drake's Brewing Co. & Triple Rock Brewing)

Revolution Poetic Justice
Revolution Poetic Justice

"Here in the Windy City, we've had a pretty chilly, slow start to spring, so that makes my decision a little easier. In fact, now that you mention it, I've been drinking quite a bit of Revolution Poetic Justice on cask, lately. It's an American spin on a special bitter, using 100% Sonnet hops. So we're talking a beer here with awesome restraint when it comes to alcohol, 4.4%, with tons of character. It starts with a wonderful toffee notes, which give way to dried stone fruit, spiced pear, and a touch of black tea, all the while maintaining a soft profile. The presentation on cask allows yet another step of session, as the lighter carbonation keeps me from getting so full on gas, leaving more room for beer!" — Elliott Beier (Owen & Engine)

Kona Brewing Co. Big Wave Golden Ale
Kona Brewing Co. Big Wave Golden Ale
"I would have to go with a nicely hopped Golden Ale with a subtle bitterness and most of the hopping done towards the end of the boil such as the Kona Brewing Co. Big Wave Golden Ale. It only has 20.5 IBU's but packs a substantial hop wallop in the aroma and flavor. At only 4.4% ABV, you can drink multiple at a beer garden or if your mowing the lawn, it makes the perfect thirst quencher." — Troy Zitzelsberger (Reilly's Taphouse & Brewing Co.)
Death and Taxes or Wimpy's IPA
Death and Taxes or Wimpy's IPA

"For several years now "Death and Taxes" from Moonlight Brewing in Santa Rosa has consistently been the best beer at 5% ABV or under available in this market.

"'Wimpy's IPA,' a one time collaboration between Marin Brewing Company and San Diego's 'Green Flash' is the best beer I have tasted yet in this current trend toward 'Session IPA' or what I tend to refer to as 'Contemporary American Session Ale.' 'Wimpy's employs two newly cultivated hop varieties, El Dorado and Columbia, as well as a healthy portion of rye malt, and some genuinely innovative brewing techniques. All of this imparts abundant aroma, subtle flavor complexity, and a satisfyingly robust mouthfeel to a beer of only 3.1% ABV!" — Sayre Piotrkowski (St. Vincent Tavern and Wine Merchant and Beer and Soul)

Bright, Aromatic Low Alcohol IPAs
Bright, Aromatic Low Alcohol IPAs
"My current favorite session beer (or beers) are the bright and aromatic low alcohol IPAs. Lagunitas Daytime (a “fractional IPA” as they call it), is a fantastic example. It’s heavily dry hopped and it sort of tricks you into thinking you’re drinking a bigger beer than you are, but with an ABV of 4.7% it’s great for the long haul." — Anne Becerra (The Ginger Man)
Guinness
Guinness
"Guinness. It's such an original and classic beer, and it is so full flavored and low alcohol. If I could only drink one beer for the rest of my life, this would be it. There are always a lot of men at my bar hanging out, for hours at a time, just drinking Guinness. It's the best session beer there is, nothing beats it." — Matt Eggers (Dog & Duck Pub)
Half Acre Gossamer
Half Acre Gossamer
"My favorite session beer is Half Acre Gossamer. It is a beautiful golden ale coming in at 4.2% abv which means I don't feel guilty having one when I wake up on a warm summer morning! It pairs beautifully with fresh foods like salads or fruit." — Sarah Huska (Eureka! Burger)
Bell's Oarsman Ale
Bell's Oarsman Ale
"My favorite session beer at the moment is Bell's Oarsman Ale, a 4% take on a Berliner Weisse. The beer is unfiltered, has what I would call an introductory level to acidity—interesting enough to tempt the expert and yet approachable enough to be enjoyed by someone testing the waters. I really like that it's reserved in the banana-like fruitiness associated with the style, and it's a fantastic food beer as well—pairs well with salads, seafood dishes." — Chris Elford (Saison)
Avery Joe’s American Pilsner
Avery Joe’s American Pilsner

"I go to Avery Joe’s American Pilsner every time. It is a full flavored, hoppy pilsner that plays well with food and never overwhelms with alcohol." — Ryan Conklin (Old Major)

American Pilsner and Kolsch
American Pilsner and Kolsch
"Now that baseball season has started, I'm all about American takes on Eastern European classic light beers. Generally speaking, American versions are slightly hoppier, and I like the little extra hop snap that many American brewers add to pilsners and kolsch-style ales. When the weather gets a little colder, nothing beats a dry Irish stout. Or, you know, six." — Adam Sivits (Whole Foods Beer Room (NYC))
Guinness
Guinness
"I wish that I could talk about some cool new beer but when it comes to a session beer I’m going to have to stick with old faithful, Guinness! Guinness is low in alcohol, low in carbonation, light mouth feel but creamy enough that you don’t want to pound it. If Guinness had caffeine, I would probably start my day off with it. Cheers!" — Patrick Callahan (Bouchon Bistro)
Schlitz
Schlitz
"There are many beers that are self consciously intending to be quaffed, and the clear champion of them all is Schlitz. It is, as all American lagers go, subtle, but subtlety is a perfectly valid trait when intended and well executed. The real trick to Schlitz is to avoid the temptation to drink it directly from the container. Just because you're in a session mood doesn't mean you have to skip the formalities. Pour it into a tapered pilsner glass to allow the flavors to expand. Give the beer a moment to allow the aromas to collect, clear your mind, and voila, hops! And what's more, the malt also asserts itself, as in the soft white center of a baguette. The body straddles the gap between the fizzy American non entities and the heavier Czech Pilseners. It carries a tad more bitterness than the average American lager, but balance is maintained. The finish is clean, dry, and doesn't linger." — Alex Crowe (The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College)
Allagash White
Allagash White
"Any time I’m afforded the luxury of sessioning with beer, I immediately look for Allagash White. I adore skillfully brewed Belgian and Belgian-inspired beers, and Allagash is one of the finest brewers in business today. But most importantly, the White comes in at 5% ABV, a key factor when settling in for the long haul. Additionally, Allagash White, in all its citric and zesty glory, is uniquely suited to quench thirst as much as it satisfies a craving for malt and hop goodness." — Eric Hobbs (Penrose Brewing)
Stone Levitation and Bier Brewery Sessie
Stone Levitation and Bier Brewery Sessie

"Two Favorites. First, Stone Levitation. This is the ultimate full body session beer! Tons of malt and hops (Columbus / Crystal / Amarillo). While it's low in alcohol (4.4%) it is not low on flavor.

Bier Brewery Sessie: Everything I have had from Bier in Indianapolis is very true to style and this is no exception. Sessie is a Belgian Pale Ale that comes in at 4.5% abv. It is slightly bready with very low hop profile. I could easily put down 6-8 of these hanging out at the lake." — Chris Karl (Yogi's Grill & Bar)

English Bitter
English Bitter

"A good English bitter always does it for me. I love flavour and I love long conversations and I love drinking beer. I don't like ending up on the floor trying to hold on. The British really have North Americans beat on "light" beers. My father was British and I've spent many happy hours in English pubs drinking low abv beers with tons of flavour and character. It's a huge part of the culture over there and it's one of my favourite past times. Coniston Bluebird and Timothy Taylor Landlord are old favourites." — Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern & George Brown Chef School)

Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier
Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier

"For me, what makes a beer a great session brew is its ability to keep the ABV down, stay refreshing, while keeping me interested with a full body, and a complete range of flavors that still gives you a beginning, middle, and end. There are a number of brews out there that simply come across as “lighter” versions of previously heavy styles, and don’t show off the care and craft that all great beer should have. My favorite session beer would have to be the Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier. Generally considered the king of German hefeweizens, I believe it is a perfect example of the style, and one to which I compare nearly every wheat beer I drink. The beer is refreshing, has a great mouth-cleaning carbonation all while staying simultaneously “smooth” throughout the entire session. The beautiful banana, clove, and bubblegum that comes through is all done through a wonderful understanding of the yeast that is being used, and it is a great example of how to coax all sorts of beautiful complexity out of a beer, without adding any fruit or spice adjuncts, or taking the beer to less sessionable ABV level. Two of these beers are usually better than one." — Jonathan Whitaker (International Tap House)

Warsteiner Dunkel
Warsteiner Dunkel

"My personal favorite session beer is Warsteiner Dunkel. This beer is refreshing and it has a profile filled with chocolaty flavors, yet it is not cloying. This beer is perfect for a Friday evening with friends, a picnic, or even at a barbecue. This beer will hold up to just about any meat that might be fired up. The lightly sweet flavors reminiscent of caramel will connect with the meat flavors nicely." — Gilbert Perez (Terms of Enbeerment)

Anchor Steam
Anchor Steam

"The session beer is the default beer; it’s the one you reach for when you are tired of being adventurous—when it’s time to push the reset button. It’s comfortable and familiar, like your favorite shoes. The sixpack that lives at the back of the my fridge, hidden behind 750s of newer, flashier beers, is my old friend, Anchor Steam. This beer pairs well with practically all foods, and, hey, it’s even good by itself!

Anchor Steam seems to walk a tightrope between two different worlds. It possesses a reserved fruitiness, with a caramel butter character found in some ales; yet, like a great Pilsner, it is restrained and crisp, with a brisk hop assertiveness. Both complex and reserved, Anchor Steam gives you plenty to think about; yet it’s just plain drinkable during those times when you just want to tune it all out." — Anne Conness (Simmzy's & Tin Roof Bistro)