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What is a Session Beer? Meaning & Terms To Know (2023)

What Is a Session Beer

Last Updated on December 16, 2023 by Lydia Martin

If you are navigating the world of craft beer, you have come across a session beer and wonder what this term means. 

They say if you want a beer that can keep the good times going and will not send people packing, you better get a session beer. 

But what is a session beer, and what makes it sessionable? If you are in search of the truth, then keep reading. 

Session Beer: What Is It, Really? 

Top view of a Glass with Beer

Session beer is all about drinkability and low alcohol content (generally below 4% or 5% ABV). It can be an ale or lager that you can repeatedly consume without getting drunk. 

“Those situations where people were drinking throughout the day already existed. And so our goal was to take a very responsible approach to that,”

– Chase Kushak, COO for Founders

Session beer is not a type of beer, but numerous beer styles can fall under the session umbrella.

It does not overwhelm the palate, and they are elegant and well-balanced. 

Session beers usually come with an ABV distinction that is below 5%, and with this, it gathers more fans as it allows more drinking and less buzz. 

Etymology & History 

The etymology of the term session is not entirely clear, but two versions make sense. 

Some believe that the “session” traces way back to British legislation in World War I, where English factory workers could drink on the job during two daily sessions: (1) lunchtime and (2) evening session. 

Others claim that the session implies more casual references to having an extended stay at the bar or pub [1]. 

6 Session Beer Styles 

1. Session Ipa

Session Ipa is one of the most widely known session beers. It is light-bodied and has lower alcohol content than its IPA (Indian Pale Ale) counterparts [2]. 

Session IPAs have a nice hoppy punch, citrus notes, and complex aromatics that are not as filling as other beers nor high in alcohol.

They are holding their weight in opposition to hoppy heavyweights. 

2. Stouts & Porters

Filling Beer on a Glass

Stouts and Porters feature a good amount of flavor despite being a light beer. Contrary to popular belief, stouts, and porters can have a relatively low ABV. 

Since stouts and porters have an easy drinking mouthfeel and relatively low alcohol content, it falls under the umbrella of session beers. 

3. Belgian Sessions

Most Belgian Sessions tend to be heavier on flavor profile, but some, like Witbier, are qualified to be a session beer. 

Belgian beers are usually at 6% ABV, but Belgian Sessions are offered with lower alcohol content with rich, complex flavors. 

Read: IPA vs Lager

4. Craft Light Beer

Craft breweries can deliver session beers with low alcohol content, like pilsners and lagers. You can enjoy it without sacrificing the interesting flavors of the beers. 

In addition, brewers have been innovating around IPA in recent years by inventing dry-hopping techniques and testing new ingredients to provide beers that are less in alcohol but more in flavor. 

5. Kettle Sours

2 Glasses of Kettle Sours

Kettle Sours is known for its unique production process and well-balanced taste. They are powerfully sour but offer low alcohol content, making them one of the best examples of a session beer.

Kettle Sours are drinkable, light-bodied, and packed with puckering charms. It is one of the best session beers to try while hanging out with friends and loved ones. 

Read: What’s A Draft Beer?

6. German Sessions

German Sessions like Gose and Kolsch are not advertised as session beer; however, their tasting notes and alcohol content meet the requirement of being one. 

Since it fits the low alcohol content and easy drinking accessibility, it can be considered a session beer. 

What Makes Beer Sessionable? 

Glass of Beer

Easy Drinking Mouthfeel 

Session beer features an easy-drinking mouthfeel as they are well-balanced, elegant, and will not overwhelm your palate. 

As the name suggests, it is sessionable because it is refreshing, light, and easy to drink. It is meant to be enjoyed in any activity, whether a social gathering, camping, or chilling. 

While any beer can be made with lower alcohol content, the goal is to balance the taste and ABV.

If it has a great drinking mouthfeel but has high abv, it cannot be considered a session beer. 

Low Alcohol Content 

A session beer should have a low alcohol content, typically below 5%, to qualify as one. 

One of the main reasons is that it can be served several times in one drinking session without reaching the level of intoxication. 

While some inclusive types believe that 6% ABV qualifies as a session beer, many breweries are adamant that the maximum ABV for session beer should be 4.5%. 

Read: Types of IPA Beers

FAQs

Is Guinness a session beer?

Yes, Guinness is an excellent example of a session beer. It is highly sessionable because of its low alcohol and light body. 

Guinness qualifies as a session beer because of the drinkable and enjoyable tasting notes and 4.5% ABV. 

What is the difference between a Saison and a Session beer?

Session beer is a light-bodied beer with tasting notes that can quench your thirst without leaving you intoxicated. 

On the other hand, Saison is a Belgian/French farmhouse ale, and it was traditionally made at a low ABV (around 3%) for farm workers so they can still work without getting buzzed. 

Saisons were previously session beers but are now crafted to be in non-session strength.  

Is session beer a beer style?

No, a session beer is not a beer style. It is an adjective to describe a beer with excellent drinkability and low alcohol content. 

Many beer styles can be considered a session beer as long as they meet the requirements of being one. 

Final Say 

A session beer is a lighter, low-alcohol content beer you can consume in large amounts without getting wrecked. 

It is not a beer type, but it is used to describe beers that meet the requirement of being a sessionable alcoholic drink. 

Session beers are widely accepted and well-loved for their fantastic tasting notes, well-balanced palate profile, and relatively low alcohol content.

It can be celebrated at its best with friends, family, and food. 

References:

  1. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/12/10/368038601/for-more-drinking-with-less-buzzing-session-beers-gain-fans 
  2. https://www.thespruceeats.com/india-pale-ale-ipa-profile-history-ingredients-35284
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