Occupying the nebulous space between pale ale and IPA, the session IPA has become a favorite among hopheads for packing IPA-like levels of bitterness and hop flavor in a more manageable format. They can exhibit the same kaleidoscope of grassy, citrusy, piney, floral and tropical notes as do other hop-forward ales, and can vary in color from pale gold to deep copper. The only hard and fast rule: They must be under 5% ABV. Here, a sessionable six-pack that delivers all of the above.
Ska Brewing (Durango, Colorado)
Rudie’s shocking clarity and radiant golden color are emboldened by firm aroma of minty spruce and grass bright as a spring day. Those notes take a slightly grungier bent on the tongue, turning toward onion and dried citrus before a swallow reveals wheat grass, tangerine peel and honeysuckle. The beer seems to have been filtered within an inch of its life, which makes it quite clean, but also a bit thin in body and low in bitterness.
Golden Road Brewing (Los Angeles, California)
This may be a puppy-strength version of Golden Road’s imperial IPA, Wolf Among Weeds, but the aroma is full-grown, howling with passionfruit, dried onion, mown grass and white pepper. Each spritzy sip layers pithy lemon peel atop green onion, onion powder and Navel oranges, while the delicate body pushes the boundaries of thinness for the style—but this also makes it very crushable. While we wouldn’t mind some oats in the grain bill to bump up the beer’s viscosity, we could enjoy its bright, crisp, snappy hop flavor all day—which, in the end, is all you can ask from a session IPA.
Exile Brewing Co. (Des Moines, Iowa)
While the hops here are just fine (we’ll get to them in a sec), the most enjoyable aspect of Zoltan is the beer’s lift of bready sweetness; it doesn’t ignore the malts, which many session IPAs tend to do. A solid base of oyster crackers supports the dried grass, chopped garlic and hints of tangerine in the nose, deftly balancing the grassy bitterness and oniony flavors that linger after each delicately sweet swallow. A feather-light body also helps the beer go down easily.
Big Sky Brewing Co. (Missoula, Montana)
Sweet onion, parsley, oyster crackers, Lemonheads and tangerine zest swirl in a nose that delivers the herbs first and the citrus second. The flavor is subtler, with dried lime and tangerine interspersed with sprinkles of onion powder. Dry crackers at the swallow bring balance and a clean, clipped finish. A very light body delivers on the promise of “sessionability,” but also comes across watered-down—this is the light lager-drinker’s session IPA.
Trophy Brewing Co. (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Above a craggy cream-colored head that looks thick enough to walk on, aromas of shallots, Clementine orange, peach and grass bounce across a supportive base of toasted biscuits. Further verdant notes—lawn clippings, chopped green onion—emerge on the tongue but give way to bright orange and lemon zest midpalate. A substantial medium body tricks you for a moment into thinking you’re imbibing an IPA, but the low, smooth bitterness and squeaky-clean finish suggest otherwise.
Super Session #2
Lawson’s Finest Liquids (Warren, Vermont)
What happened to Super Session #1, you ask? Each entrant in the Super Session series features a single hop variety. The first iteration was 100% Citra; this one here is all Amarillo. Accordingly, it has a citrusy, dank, herbal aroma packed with dried grass and onion root atop a base of sweet orange; hints of garlic and cannabis emerge with a swirl of the glass. On the tongue, orange peel and mown grass arrive in tandem, then sweeten with citrus juice before green leaves and chopped onion flash at the swallow. Grassy bitterness is moderate but quick and clean as a fingersnap clean; exhales are gently peppery.