When craft beer really began to take off in the 90s, the focus (beyond the obvious upgrades in flavor, texture, and variety) was the noticeable boost in alcohol content. Nowadays, craft beer is reaching herculean heights when it comes to strength, making the notion of a Session, or lower alcohol beer, especially attractive to those who love craft beer. Because sometimes some of us still have to look and act like responsible members of society.
There are many takes on how the term “Session” and the styles that accompany the word originated. From everything I’ve read, the best explanation comes from the restrictions imposed by the British government on those making armaments during World War I. Apparently, there were two allowable drinking sessions for the workers – one from 11 AM to 3 PM and one from 7 PM to 11 PM – that were actually imposed until the Liquor Licensing Act of 1988. Originally, a Session beer was one described as mild or bitter and somewhere between 3% and 4% ABV. Today’s Sessions are generally defined as beer under 5% ABV that exhibits well-balanced malt and hop profiles, thus allowing someone to have multiple helpings within a reasonable time without getting hammered.
With the recent explosion of craft beer styles, it’s nice to know there are now hundreds of beers that fall into this sessionable classification. There are the standard lagers, Pilsners, and ale styles you’ve come to expect, yet there are now even more old-world styles coming out of the clockwork, such as the Berliner Weisse, English Style Bitter, Kölsch, Gose, and Belgian Blonde. There are plenty of standouts from all over the country: Anchor’s English Bitter Small Beer, Bell’sOarsman Berliner Weisse, all of Notch’s beers, Deschutes’River Ale Blonde, Surly’sBitter Brewer, Joe’s Premium American Pilsner from Avery, The Bruery’sHottenroth Berliner Weisse, Dogfish Head’sFestina Pêche, Goose Island’sHonkers Ale, 21st Amendment’sBitter American, Odell’sEasy Street Wheat, Stone’sLevitation Ale, Full Sail’s Various Session Lagers (Black, Fest and Lager), Founders’All Day IPA, Two Brother’s barrel-aged Long Haul, 10 Barrel’s Berliner Weisse/grapefruit Radler Swill.
These Session beers only scratch the surface of the abundant choices now available for those looking to turn down the ABV from 11 to something more manageable. With major craft brewers featuring one or more sessionable styles, even the most picky of craft connoisseurs can now have their cake, eat it, and get back to work… if that’s really necessary.