Berrong on Beer - Now in session: lower-alcohol beers
May 17th, 2013
02:00 PM ET
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Nathan Berrong works at CNN's satellite desk and writes Eatocracy's beer column, "Berrong on Beer." He Tweets at @nathanberrong and logs beers at Untappd.

American Craft Beer Week has come to a close but it’s not the only beer holiday on tap. May has been deemed Session Beer Month, a month-long beer celebration of...restraint.

American brewers have trended toward the extremes in recent memory. Session Beer Month seeks to change that and remind imbibers that beer can be low in alcohol and still maintain the desired complex flavors and aroma of craft beer.

There is a somewhat lively debate that rears its head in the craft beer world from time to time: what exactly is a session beer? For some, it’s a beer defined by strict alcohol by volume guidelines. For others, the definition is more fluid, and drinkability – or how easy it is to consume multiples of the beer – trumps a predetermined ABV limit. One thing both sides agree on though, is that session beers are intended for mass consumption (over several hours) without causing drunkenness.

The hard liners shout from the rooftops that session beers must contain no more than 4% ABV. This interpretation of session beer has its origins rooted in British “bitter” and “best bitter” styles, where 4% ABV is the dividing line between the two. But others allow session beers to clock in at 4.5% or even 5%. And then there are the crazies who go overboard and call anything under 7% “sessionable”.

For my purposes, I’m going to use beer writer Lew Bryson’s interpretation of session beer, which is 4.5% or lower. Lew is so passionate about the subject that he started The Session Beer Project, which aims to bring awareness to lower ABV craft beers and encourages more brewers to produce them.

But enough beer nerdery. Here’s what you came for, seven American Session Beers that are worthing seeking out:

Odell Loose Leaf (pictured)
Odell calls this an “American Session Ale”, and I imagine they added the American moniker to satisfy folks on both sides of the debate. “Session beer” would be those adhering to the British standard of 4% and “American Session” referring to the more common Session Beer Project standard of 4.5%. Loose Leaf is a crisp 4.5% golden ale and everything a session beer should be: flavorful, low in alcohol, and leaves you wanting more.

21st Amendment Bitter American
21st Amendment also uses the “American” signifier when describing this 4.4% session ale which drinks like a hoppy English Mild. Bitter American uses Warrior and Cascade hops and as 21A puts it, “give one, or three, a try.”

Short’s Prolonged Enjoyment
Short’s really proves that sometimes less is more with their flavorful session IPA, Prolonged Enjoyment. The beer is a lowly 3.5% and is the lowest ABV of the bunch. At a time when American brewers are going overboard with hops, barrel-aging, and kitchen sink-like ingredients, it’s refreshing to see a classic style and low ABV beer like this one.

Uinta Baba
Uinta’s Baba is an organic Black Lager that with an impressive resume, racking up several best-beer awards in 2012. This 4% Schwarzbier is pitch black in color and is available on draft and in bottles and cans.

Anchor Summer Beer
Anchor’s innovation in the history of American craft beer is well-known and they prove it with offerings like Summer Beer – the first wheat beer of modern times. First brewed in 1984, this seasonal release is clean and refreshing and at 4.5% it makes a perfect outdoor beer for those hot summer days.

Drake’s Alpha Session
Drake’s Brewery out of California has been pumping out quality craft beer for over 20 years. Their Alpha Session ale satisfies the British interpretation of session beer, clocking in at a mere 3.8%. Drake’s refers to this beer as a NorCal Bitter and it’s dry hopped using the popular Citra hop variety.

Terrapin Easy Rider
Easy Rider is a beer that Terrapin proclaims is “made for the long haul”, alluding to the beer’s sessionability. The beers packs in five different hop varieties and clocks in at the maximum 4.5%. It’s golden in color and if you’re looking for a hop-centered session beer, this is it.

What is a “session beer” to you? Sound off in the comments below and happy Session Beer Month!

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soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Turner

    Did we miss where some of the session beers originated from? That bit of beer nerdery would have been nice to add. I love Belgian Saisons. In true form, they typically run at session beer levels (although avoid telling Boulevard Brewery that with the Tank 7). Saison DuPont is absolutely wonderful, quite sessionable, and has a nice spicy characteristic to it. I actually have a home-brew clone using their dregs that I am about to dump to secondary fermentation this weekend.

    July 2, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  2. JT

    wish I had seen this when it came out (speaking of which, why are there so few beer articles these days?)

    Lately I've been drinking a lot of sours, and the last two varieties I tried were Gose and Berliner Weiss. Both of them were around 4% abv and delicious! The tart taste made you not want to put it down and the low abv obliged

    June 28, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  3. Pippa

    Americans don't know how to drink. Period.

    May 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • Jason

      Non-Americans know very well how to generalize Americans. Period. News flash... We're not all the same just as not all of us think non-Americans are all the same. Pass it along. Thanks.

      May 20, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
      • mrbadabing

        Freakin' Amercans... we all look the same... can't tell us apart!

        May 26, 2013 at 1:26 am |
  4. Robbie

    If i am going to have 2 or 3 beers, high ABV and tons of flavor is fine, but if I am planing on drinking for 8 hours (lets say an afternoon bbq that goes into the night, or tailgating, event etc) 10 high ABV beers = trouble. A nice session is a tastier alternative to a 12 pack of Miller Light, and lets me catch a buzz without worrying about over imbibing. I vote yes on sess.

    May 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  5. Greg

    Lower alcohol content will lead to more revenue for the states and more people turning to drinkin harder liqiors instead !! Solves nothing and iun alot of ways makes it worse . Yep, thats the answer alright. jerks

    May 20, 2013 at 6:58 am |

    No thanks bro. Your article is fail.

    May 19, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
  7. bubba

    I really don't understand what is the point of drinking expensive beer ( for the taste) if it has a very low alcohol content...which only encourages you to drink more!....which is really flattering for the waistline. Beer isn't wine isn't meant to be artsy drink it to get drunk.
    This lower alcohol content beer will only encourage people to drink and drink and drink some more till they get hammered......

    May 19, 2013 at 9:49 am |
    • ToldUSo

      You poor child, you just don't get it. Stick to your Bud Light so we won't have to.

      May 19, 2013 at 10:09 am |
      • gummyballz

        Took the words right out of my mouth... he probably doesnt know the difference between bologna and a porterhouse...

        May 19, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • Will

      Gee, I hate getting drunk in most situations. It is no fun to get DWIs. It is a pain in the butt to have to take a cab to go out, or pick someone who has to drink non-alcohol. A session beer lets you enjoy the flavor without the stupidity of drunkenness. If you like food, beer pairs very well with many dishes. Wine doesn't go with everything.
      If your objective is to get drunk craft beer is more expensive than some other techniques. If you want to enjoy life, food, and drink then open your horizons to selecting the right combination for the right situation.

      May 19, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • jimmy jenkins

      You really don't understand. The higher the abv, the higher the calories. That is why miller 64 has only 64 calories, it is only 2.8% abv. Also has no flavor and created by scientists, not brewers. A Sierra Nevada IPA has 231 calories at 6.9% ABV.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • Chris

      Bubba, bubba's everywhere are embarrassed you share their name. Your ignorance is unparalleled.

      May 19, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Different Strokes

      "beer isn't wine" is correct, however your narrow mind on the subject prevents you from understanding that craft beer drinkers are already well aware beer is not wine, and are also well aware that craft brewing can employ a near endless combination of flavors, styles and methods to create unique and tasty beers that would understandingly confuse the Budweiser-minded swill drinker who doesn't realize there are beers to drink purely for the TASTE. Who would've known? Just enjoy your wine.

      May 19, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • Turner

      That comment is like saying, "Eat the food with the most calories in it because it obviously will taste the best."

      July 2, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
  8. bubba

    I really don't understand what is the point of drinking expensive beer ( for the taste) if it has a very low alcohol content...which only encourages you to drink more!....which is really flattering for the waistline. Beer isn't wine isn't meant to be artsy drink it to get drunk.
    This lower alcohol content beer will only encourage people to drink and drink and drink some more till they get hammered...

    May 19, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • Different Strokes

      But speak for yourself.

      May 19, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  9. bbrouwer

    Reblogged this on mottled memes.

    May 19, 2013 at 9:46 am |
  10. Don

    Chris – I am with you on this one. I used to drink light beers (Mic Ultra, Blue light, Corona light), but once I tried craft beers, they are just soooo much better I can't go back. Now I'm drinking 5-7% ABV beers instead of 4% but still drinking just as many (or more, because they taste so much better). I did step back and reflect and haven't had a beer in 3 weeks as I was worried I was getting too used to the high ABV%. When I do go back, I need a low ABV% choice that has the flavor I've come to expect.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:49 am |
  11. Jason

    I'm fine with low alcohol beer. My wife and I drink plenty of beer. We both have plates at our local Flying Saucer. I'll drink beer regardless of the ABV and what matters to me is the taste. Sure I like a little buzz but we drink beer to enjoy the flavor rather than to just get drunk. It's far more fun to sit down with a few friends and enjoy some well crafted and flavorful beer that we can talk about and savor than some garbage generic "American lager" (I'm looking at you Bud). A good session beer just gives us the chance to enjoy more of them and I wouldn't want to drink beer any other way.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:21 am |
  12. Porky Rottenham

    And with 3% beer, you get to pee all night, too! There's some big fun!

    Let's face it, people, we drink to get a load on. Don't want to drink? Don't.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:11 am |
  13. CK

    Troegs Sunshine Pils

    May 19, 2013 at 1:58 am |
  14. John

    I think session beers are the best thing to hit craft brewing in years. I loved the IPA, wild, barrel-aged and sour trends as well, but ever since I spent time in the British Midlands quaffing Mild Ales and thoroughly enjoying them, I have missed high quality, low alcohol options. I'd add Founders All Day IPA and Two Brothers Brewing Company Sidekick Ale to the list of must-try session ales as well.

    May 18, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
  15. roscoebobo

    Here is my problem with session beers..... They are too expensive. I absolutely recognize the benefit of them and there are lots of great session beers. But when faced with the choice of an $11 dollar sixer of 4.5 % and an $11 sixer of 8.5, the "bang for the buck" guy in me always goes with the latter.

    May 17, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
  16. Really?

    Low alcohol beer?
    What is the point?

    May 17, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • Chris

      As Mark Carpenter (Anchor Steam's Head Brewers) once stated, " My elbow only moves at one speed." If you require only high ABV% beers you might have a problem, once you step back and reflect.

      Social drinking needs a Session movement, with the massive amount of selection and my consistent drinking speed I require some low ABV choices.

      May 17, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
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