Guide to session beers
Today's only goal: enjoy yourself. High on charm and low on alcohol, session beers are your loyal sidekicks for the chillest of occasions.
April 19, 2021
You know the kind of day we’re talking about: maybe it's the first warm one in forever. Magically, nothing on the agenda. A couple friends come together with a couple beers. A few more show up. A dog is present. A frisby floats into frame. Suddenly you’ve got something going, but how do you make today last, well, all day? Enter the session beer; beer built to help you perfect the sacred art of wasting time.
What does session beer mean?
“Session” beer sounds like some kind of radical therapy, but it’s not. It’s really pretty simple. Session beers are low on ABV (usually dipping well under 5%) and high on drinkability. It’s easier to beat the throw to first base with a nice crisp session beer in your belly than a 9% lactose milkshake double IPA sloshing around in there. You won’t find any sweet beers here today.
What kinds of beers are session beers?
These days, many are labelled as “session” or “table” beers so you know what they’re about. Some session beers have been around forever, hiding in plain sight. We’ll take a sip of both.
Are session beers low calorie or low carb?
Lower alcohol usually translates to lower calories, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. The really low-cal or low-carb session beers will generally let you know in LARGE PRINT.
These beers are big business. If you can design a beer that’s bustling with hop flavor and keep it under 5%, it’ll fly off the shelves. If you get it wrong, you’re stuck with something of a watery downer. We won’t lead you astray.
What’s a good session IPA?
Well, there’s no lack of options. If you’re new to session IPA’s, Founder’s All Day IPA is a great place to start. It’s crisp and clean with a nice citrusy aroma and flavor. The can art suggests that it pairs well with camping; we can confirm that. ABV is a manageable 4.7%.
Some breweries have adapted session IPA’s from their bigger recipes. Tampa’s Cigar City has a winner with Jai Low IPA. Quite “sessionable” at 4% ABV, it’s citrusy but has a nice malt backbone that keeps it from feeling too thin.
Another new classic is Easy Hearted from Bell's. Surely you've downed your fair share of legendary Two Hearted, right? Easy Hearted is only 110 calories and about half the alcohol content of its famous sibling; a lifesaver for when the ballgame goes into extra innings (is it good pitching or just bad hitting?).
Founders All Day IPA, Session IPA Beer769
Cigar City Jai Low IPA15
Bell’s Light Hearted Ale Lo-Cal IPA69
Bell's Two Hearted Ale IPA641
Are lagers session beers?
Indeed most are; that's part of their massive appeal. Sneaky, right? The two titans of Czech lagers, Pilsner Urquell and Czechvar, are 4.4% and 5.0% respectively. The central figures of the light lager wars, Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite, are all only 4.2%. All these breweries tout the drinkability of these beers, and it’s true they’re ideal for long, hot summer days, whether you’re swimming out at the lake house or just eating hot dogs in a kiddie pool on your front lawn.
Are sour beers session beers?
Several styles of sour beer fall into “session” territory.
Gose is an old-school german-style sour ale with a touch of sea-salt and coriander. Craft brewers have gone way beyond coriander, though, It’s technically pronounced “goes-uh”, but usually just “goes” for pun-making purposes.
What flavors of Gose are there?
There are enough gose flavors to fill two sessions. Anderson Valley’s Briney Melon is a good place to start; it’s got savory tartness and bright melon flavor at a sessionable 4.2% ABV. Another of our favorites is Seaquench from Dogfish Head. another one that’ll go the distance. This beer recently won the exclusive Drizly award for "best beer to drink while trying to hit a whiffle ball with the other hand".
Anderson Valley Briney Melon Gose24
Dogfish Head SeaQuench Ale Session Sour Beer377
What’s a session Belgian style?
We know the Belgians love strong, complex beer, but they’ve got a session side, too. Witbier ABV occasionally pushes the 5% ABV session boundary, but never by much. The sheer amount of flavor packed into a silky “wit” is remarkable. World-famous Hoegaarden, sitting pretty at 4.9% ABV, has notes of soft wheat melded with citrus and coriander in balanced proportion.
Following their Belgian-style tradition, Allagash River Trip harnesses the spicy character of Belgian yeast and adds some dry hops to give it melon and grapefruit notes. That’s all packed into a 4.8% beer. PS: it comes in 16 oz tallboys…
Allagash River Trip73
Are there any dark session beers?
Indeed there are! Schwarzbier is a very drinkable black lager from Germany. It's a little toasty and roasty, but oh so smooth. It's a great camping or hiking beer. Would the Germans make you a beer that wasn't drinkable? Köstritzer, at 4.8 ABV, is a german classic.
Lowest alcohol beers: Radlers and Shandies
If you're really trying to make your session last, grab yourself a radler. This is a blend of fruit juice and beer that really perks you back up. The juice addition often brings the ABV down under 3%, into the ultimate session zone. Stiegl's radlers are very well balanced and sessionable.
Shandies are similar to radlers, but tend to stick to a lemonade theme. If you like a smooth blend of beer and lemon zip, shandies are your ticket. Leinenkugel made shandy a household name, but there's a whole lemonade stand of options now. Grab a few and find your favorite!
Stiegl Lemon Zitrone Radler16
Leinenkugel's Original Lager Beer2
It's clear that there's no wrong way to pull off a session. The main idea is to chill, put your phone away and forget about the time. It only takes a few seconds to order here on Drizly, so put on your flip flops and let's get your session started!