Session time out

By on January 28, 2015

Whatever you do, don’t call it light beer!

A couple years ago many craft beer drinkers came to the same conclusion: Sometimes bigger is not always better.

Thus, the term session beer entered the popular lexicon of beer aficionados. Session beer, which is loosely defined, is simply beer with lower alcohol content than normal. My favorite — to date — session beer is Victory’s Swing session saison which clocks in at 4.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). I love saisons, which usually tend to be brightly carbonated, fruity, and earthy ales with an ABV hovering around 7 percent. Sometimes a 7 percent beer is just too much to have more than one, so the session beer was born; drinkers can enjoy several lower ABV beers in one “session.”

Impey Barbicane’s Moongun Session Amber Ale

Impey Barbicane’s Moongun Session Amber Ale

The etymology* of session beer is unknown, but it is well known that the English have been enjoying lower ABV beers before Americans recently caught on. The Lancaster County champion for session beers is Bulls Head Public House owner Paul Pendyck. Honoring his British traditions, Pendyck is a fan of lower ABV beers and often has many on tap at the Lititz watering hole. Currently, the bar is serving drafts of Lindemans Pomme lambic (3.5 ABV), De Struise Brouwers Weltmerz sour ale (3.0 ABV), and soon Well’s Eagle IPA (3.6 ABV).

Across the street Jeff Harless is getting in on the low ABV action as well. On Wednesday, Jan. 21 JoBoy’s Brew Pub released its first Session IPA and I stopped in to try the new brew. The crisp and golden IPA is created with five different hop varieties and has an ABV of 4.4 percent. Hopitude, the brewery’s flagship IPA, has an ABV of 6.5 percent. Harless joined me at the bar and admitted he would be altering the makeup of the Session IPA for the next batch. So, if you’re looking to try Session IPA version one get to JoBoy’s before the first batch runs out.

Other regional breweries are also getting into the session scene. Heavy Seas out of Baltimore recently released its session IPA, Cross Bones. This is an IPA for those of us who have grown weary of overly hopped brews; Cross Bones is mildly hopped with a “secret” blend and has a 4.5 percent ABV. Also from Baltimore, DuClaw Brewing Company has teamed up with Cigar City Brewing (Tampa, Florida) to create a seriously hoppy session beer. Impey Barbicane’s Moongun session amber ale weighs in at 5 percent ABV and will start shipping from the Maryland facility on Feb. 9. Keep an eye out for this one-time collaboration at specialty bottle shops!

*While discussing the history of the phrase session beer, it is fun to know in the mid-1500s lower ABV beers were referred to as “small beers.” And no one should consider the phrase “light beer” as a comparative term for session; in most circles light simply means watered down even though light beers do often carry a lower ABV. For example, it’s astonishing to many to learn Miller’s MGD 64 carries only 2.8 percent ABV.

Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at and

JoBoy's recent release, Session IPA.

JoBoy’s recent release, Session IPA.

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