by Mark Dredge Beer and Travel Writer of the Year 2016
Session IPAThe must-have style
It’s the style of the year, the flavour of the week, the soup du jour. Session IPA is the little version of the biggest thing in craft beer, jumping from non-existent to ever-present in the time span of a couple of hop harvests.
It’s not a Full Fat IPA, nor is it a Pale Ale, nor a British-styled sessionable pale beer, instead it fills in the middle of a hoppy Venn diagram of those three beer types. Reduce the strength in an IPA, lose some of the maltier middle of a Pale Ale, load up the hops on a golden ale, dry it all out and give it a pokier bitterness and you’re in the Session IPA zone. Given their rate of growth and their now-ubiquitous presence in bars and bottles shops, we’re all in the Session IPA zone.
Session of drinking
The name Session IPA references the ‘session’, that fine British way of drinking many lower-alcohol beers over an extended period of time. It’s not a conscious let’s-have-a-session kind of thing, it’s more just the long-standing cultural approach to drinking. We enjoy a session of drinking. The beers are sessionable. They’re session strength. A big American IPA is not sessionable in the six-pints-tonight kind of way that Brits enjoy socialising, and that inspired the name.
Session IPA is ostensibly an American invention. I say ostensibly because I reckon Brit brewers actually invented Session IPA, or the earliest version of it, but they just didn’t feel the need to hyperbolise it with a cool new name. Those British breweries combined elements of classic English ales, they made them lighter and brighter and added lots of citrusy American hops late into the brewing process to maximise their aroma, making 4% pale beers with a big American characteristic.
Session IPA - more notable examples
Moor’s Revival is a defining beer here. Maybe not the first but certainly one of the best proponents of that magnificent mix of Englishness, of sessionability, then with all of the Americanness loaded on top with the fireworks of fresh hops. It’s ultra pale, clean and dry, pithy and tropical; it’s been around for years now and deserves a tagline of modern classic.
There are other great examples, too. Beavertown's Neck Oil is super fresh and ridiculously hoppy. This is a real powerhouse. The joy of Thornbridge AM:PM is the dry, clean crispness in the body – a character reminiscent of lagers and the hops of an IPA. Those hops give ripe stone fruits, some tropical freshness and citrus juice, but there’s a tautness to how it’s all held together, a grip of hop and a quench at the end.
Magic Rock Inhaler combines lower alcohol hoppiness with juiciness, a perfect coming-together of trends. It’s fruity and tangy, lush and crushable. Gypsy Hill Hepcat gives us a little more malt richness than others in this style. It’s a jammier body, rounder and more toasty, with all of the peachy, citrusy hops on top.
Session IPA vs IPA
Session IPAs have become a go-to, a delicious and flavoursome alternative to a regular IPA. They are the light must-have on taps, the fridge-filler you always have cold and ready to go. They are the defining style of craft beer right now, perfect for beer drinkers who are more conscious about their drinking habits. Ultimately, session IPAs are for those drawn to the flavour of hops but who actually want to be able to drink a few of them. Light certainly doesn’t need mean lighter on flavour. They combine the hoppiness of an IPA but with a lower alcohol content.