Professor Fritz Breim 1809 Berliner Weisse
Jester King’s Le Petit Prince
Aecht Schlenkerla Helles
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
"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
"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
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
Half Acre Gossamer
Bell's Oarsman Ale
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
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)
"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)
"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)
"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)
"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)