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The problem with session beer

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If there’s one topic of beery conversation that can’t quite come to a universally accepted conclusion, it’s the issue of session beer. Primarily: What’s is a session beer in the United States? It’s fitting that these conversations (sometimes spirited disagreements) often play out while two folks are drinking quaffable beers over a long period of time.

Typically, it’s the issue with the beer’s ABV that causes the most trouble. The most widely accepted standard is somewhere around 4.5% ABV or lower. Some would argue below 4% ABV. But, most of the time, the problem revolves around those who like to raise that limit. Can a 5% ABV beer be considered a session beer? Then what about 5.5%? I’ve even referred to a 6% ABV beer as being “sessionable,” because, well, it went down like an actual session beer.

You can draw whatever conclusion you want, but before you do give the above video from Carton Brewing a watch. It features owner Augie Carton—who has an almost mesmerizing way with words—discussing the release of his new hoppy session ale, Boat Beer. In it, he drops a few gems about what makes a session beer a session beer, without ever really bringing up ABV specs.

“A session is only interesting if the beer evolves with the session. So that first beer you have wants to stop you from being thirsty, wants to be crisp and bright and fresh. By the fourth or fifth, it’s sitting on the bar and it’s warming up. If your beer gets to 50 degrees and it stops being good—you know, if you need to warn people that your beer’s getting warm, then it’s not a session beer. Right? Because then you need to get a new one or you need to finish in a certain amount of time. It can’t sit there and be part of conversation for hours.”

The beer clocks in at 4.2% ABV, so there are few who’d take issue with calling it a true session beer. But, it kind of makes you wonder: Are we limiting the session discussion simply because we’re hung up on ABV?


Chris Staten is DRAFT’s beer editor. Follow him on Twitter at @DRAFTbeereditor and email him at chris.staten@draftmag.com.


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  • Augie Carton says:

    Thank you for this.
    I think the answer to your question is semantics. There is a difference between “drinkable” and “sessionable.” I like to think our double IPA is tasty and blanced enough to be very drinkable. I’d like to drink 5 or 6. But that’s not a session it’s a bender at 7.8abv. .
    The under 4 vs under 4.5 argument is really what have you eaten today? Nothing? go lower.
    Either way I’m glad you noticed the video, I hope you get to try Boat and will let us know what you think

  • Jimbaud says:

    What a brilliant analysis of what session beer should be!

    Good luck convincing anyone here in the UK that anything over 3.9% is session strength though.

    The beer sounds fantastic too…

  • Velky Al says:

    I have wondered if there is also an upper limit on the number of International Bitterness Units in a session beer:


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