It seemed like a few short years ago the modern IPA was a novelty. Big hop flavors pouring over a substantial malt bill made for some of the best beers in America, by nearly every objective or empirical measure. One of the hallmarks of innovation is unsurprisingly continued innovation. The modern IPA, especially on the West Coast, is a big, citrusy, palate cleansing, repetition of delight. The problem, however, is that after half a dozen or so IPAs or imperial IPAs, even the most seasoned drinkers are prone to accidentally sending compromising photos to family members.
Enter Session IPAs and other session ales, the solution to the potential lifetime of embarrassment. Session ales are typically toned-down versions of their elder, more thick and gnarly brethren. Sometimes though, a brewery can create something truly special by opening the pores of the substrate that is the malt profile and allowing hops to really dance below the surface. Listed below are fifteen of the best session IPAs and session ales in the country.
Firestone Walker Easy Jack
There aren’t many companies on the West Coast better at creating variations on the IPA than Firestone Walker. Their Union Jack has been followed by Wookey Jack and Double Jack, but in all of these cases, there is only so much drinking you can do before you can only speak Wookey. Easy Jack is a low-alcohol, hop-forward session IPA that you can crush all day.
Stone GoTo IPA
Here’s our advice: don’t drink your Goto right away. This isn’t an appeal to European beers and breweries, we still want you to drink this beer cold, but take an enormous whiff or twenty of this beer before you drink it. While Session IPAs may be less substantial in general, the heavily dry-hopped Goto has a nose that will compete with any triple IPA around.
Founders All Day
Last year we spent some time in the midwest, and when we got back we heard “Did you go to Founders? You HAVE to go to Founders.” We didn’t go, but luckily we have some of the best friends in the world and have been able to session the hell out of Founders All Day session ale.
An addition to a family that already includes the brothers Single Wide and Double Wide IPAs, Pop-Up is a much lighter version of either of those offerings. You may be able to tell from the Westfalia-style pop-up on the van on the label, Pop-Up IPA pairs well with sleeping in the woods and cooking over an open flame.
Green Flash Citra Session
For some American breweries, hops can become celebrities. For quite some time, Citra hops have been a member of the hop-equivalent to One Direction. Additionally, session ales with reduced malt bills are great substrates for hop flavor. Green Flash combines this concept with a world-renowned hop, effectively painting a mural of the boy band that is the Citra hop.
Hill Farmstead Walden
If such things as Session IPA purists exist, they’ll tell you that Walden, a collaboration beer between Hill Farmstead and The Alchemist, is a blonde ale. Don’t let the title fool you, Walden heavily hopped with traditional IPA hops like Amarillo and Simcoe makes this beer drink like a session IPA, and it would be a crime to omit it from this list on a technicality.
Ballast Point Even Keel
Already one of the best breweries in California, boasting great IPAs including Big Eye and Sculpin (even the grapefruit and habanero varieties) Ballast Point keeps you on track during a long day of drinking with Even Keel. Typical of a West Coast IPA, Even Keel has enormous citrus flavors created by substantial hop additions and then heavy handed dry-hopping.
Fremont 77 Select
Fremont already makes one of the best beers in American, their high-octane, bourbon-barrel aged Bourbon Abominable winter ale. There couldn’t be a more opposite beer than Fremont 77 Select, a low-gravity, highly-hopped, light-bodied IPA.
Fort George Suicide Squeeze
As baseball season approaches, Fort George has a sure-fire game winner. Perhaps an incidental double entendre, Suicide Squeeze is named after a Northwest record company, but comes out conveniently close to baseball season, a game for which the record label’s name is certainly paying homage. Suicide Squeeze is tremendously citrusy and has a malt bill to balance it out, despite being low gravity.
The idea of a session IPA dovetails nicely with the general philosophy of Lagunitas Brewing, or at least the way they run their business. Bathed in the story of a house burning down, DayTime is also bathed in hops and a roasty malt bill, all at a price point that is acceptable to every craft beer consumer.
Fat Head Sunshine Dream
Brewed with the same Simcoe and Centennial hops as their single and double IPA, Fat Head’s Sunshine Daydream puts a nice bookend on their IPA trio. The beer is more citrusy than you may expect from a deceptively powerful Ohio beer scene, but such a thing is welcomed and extremely favorable in a session IPA.
Oskar Blues Pinner
You may recognize Oskar Blues for their canned beers like Ten Fidy or Gubna, both of which are highly recommended. Pinner is a much lighter offering from Oskar Blues that drinks like a great, fruity, sweet West Coast IPA. Not to mention that aroma of Colorado’s locally legal product.
New Belgium Slow Ride
One of the first IPA’s we ever liked was New Belgium’s Ranger IPA. The beer at the time boasted three pounds of hops in every barrel. Ranger IPA and some poor calculations inspired some pretty awful over-hopped homebrews on our part, but we shouldn’t hold that against New Belgium’s delicious Slow Ride session IPA.
Breakside Lunch Break
To this point, it has been relatively infrequent that we’ve had to issue a disclaimer at the beginning of a paragraph about beer. DON’T DRINK THIS ON YOUR LUNCH BREAK. That in the open, Lunch Break ISA and its well-executed hops and light malt body would sure take the edge off in the middle of a day swinging a hammer or fumbling with TPS reports, just saying.
Two Beers Trailhead
Before we knew what a Session IPA was we knew that Two Beers made a beer that made a great hiking companion. Trailhead comes in a can, so it can accompany you on a biking trip without getting shattered, and it fits pretty nicely next to about five other beers from this list in your backpack.
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