What Is A Session Beer?

Have you ever said to yourself, “Gee, I really want to have more than one beer, but the ABV is just too darn high!”

Well, have I got a solution for you! It’s non-alcoholic beer!

It’s also session beer!

Continuing my ongoing series of diving deeper into the different styles of beer, today I want to cover the session beer. 

Spoilers: session beer just means a beer with less alcohol.

Session Beer: A Brief History

Class is in SESSION, time for some history!

Tracking down the history of the session beer was both difficult and easy. This task was difficult because there is no conclusive evidence on the history of a session beer, and with there being no reliable information, the research was easy!

Most tales point to the term ‘session’ coming from either:

  1. People who wanted to drink beer during a break (or session, I guess) at work but couldn’t get drunk.
  2. People who wanted to have more than one beer in a sitting (or session, I guess).

Either answer is correct in a way, because what makes a session beer unique is its low ABV.

What Makes a Session Beer a Session?

If you’ve ever had a sessionable beer — and odds are that you would know, since brewers often include the term “session” in the name or beer style — then you probably noticed the relatively low ABV. I say relatively because there’s really no set in stone ABV requirement for a session beer.

Also, remember how there’s no real history for session beers? Well, there’s no real definition for them either! So, I get to use my amateur knowledge to create a definition that, in my humble opinion, I think is pretty good:

A session beer is any style of beer brewed to have 25-50% less alcohol. 

How’s that for a definition?!

Really, any type of beer could be sessionable, though it seems like IPAs and pale ales are the most common. For example, while an IPA might run a 6.5% ABV (give or take), a session IPA could be as low as 3.5%. 

Another aspect of session beers that I did not include in my definition is that they’re super refreshing and perfect for the summer. But that’s mostly just an opinion shared by me and pretty much everyone who has ever had a session beer.

What Does a Session Beer Taste Like?

I usually wrap up these “Let’s Learn” articles by talking about the flavor profile of the beer I’m discussing, but it ain’t so simple with a session. Recall that a session can be any beer, meaning pretty much any flavor.

Session IPA? Yup. Session Saison? Sure. Session Imperial Stout? Flying too close to the sun.

Maybe the only flavor profile consistent across all session beers is the smooth, almost crisp, quality. No, that isn’t a flavor, but it’s the best that I can do.

Thomas Short
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