What's Your Session Beer?


[Photograph: Robyn Lee]



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I recently tasted a sample of Founders Brewing Company's first new addition to their year-round sixpack lineup in six years. It's called All Day IPA, and they're marketing it as a sessionable ale "with significantly lower alcohol" than most IPAs.

It's tasty beer, with a tropical fragrance that hints at tangerine and pineapple, and a brisk hop-forward flavor. There are pretzel-like grain notes and a little fruit but what's commanding here is grassy hops and a lingering bitterness. If you like both pilsners and IPAs, this beer will be right up your alley.

But is a 4.7% ABV IPA really a beer you can drink all day?

The alcohol arms race in craft beer in general seems to have eased a bit (it turns out not that many people really want to drink The World's Strongest And Most Expensive Beer in front of a football game or at a barbecue) but IPAs do tend to be pretty boozy. Bell's Two Hearted is 7% ABV (as is Bear Republic's Racer Five and Ballast Point's Sculpin), Stone IPA is 6.9%, and Dogfish Head's 60-Minute is 6%. The top 50 American IPAs on Beeradvocate are all 5.5% ABV and above, with most in the mid-sixes and sevens. So compared to its competitors within the style, Founders' new offering is, in fact, relatively low in alcohol.

And technically, most folks would say any beer at 5% ABV or below counts as a session beer—a beer you can drink for several hours in a row, whether you're watching the Superbowl or working in a munitions factory during World War I. But should the definition of session beer include a clause about style, about bitterness and the potency of the hops?

What do you drink when you want to have more than a couple? Do you reach for bitter, refreshing IPAs? Or are you more of a O'Hara's Stout or hefeweizen type? Do you buy sixpacks of Stone Levitation (4.4% ABV), Goose Island Honker's Ale (4.2% ABV) or stock up on cans of Pork Slap (4.3% ABV)? Or do you ignore the numbers altogether?

About the Author: Maggie Hoffman is the editor of Serious Eats: Drinks and coeditor of Serious Eats: Sweets. You can follow her on Twitter @maggiejane.

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