It finally hit the high 80s in NYC this week! It's still overcast and humid, of course, but it reminded us that it's about time for something sessionable — in fact, May is National Session Beer Month. Sure you want to drink, but you don't want to get so sloshed you overcook the burgers. Imagine what the Grilling Gods would say.
Ah, that word: sessionable. Session beers don't fall under a specific style; they can be pale lagers, amber ales, even stouts. A proper session beer should have an ABV under 5%, and contain a good balance between malt and hops – we're talking thirst-quenching here. That 6% ale may be easy enough going down, but on a very hot day you may find yourself feeling lightheaded and dehydrated in no time at all. Yes, the 1% does in fact matter.
In spite of the flavorless "light" beers being the best-selling style in the U.S. today, lighter beer didn't always have such a bad rep. In fact, a variety of European styles including Irish Dry Stout, Mild and Bitter from England and the Munich Helles and Berliner Weissbier from Germany, were full of flavor while still being low in alcohol. Thankfully, American craft brewers have kept these and other lower-ABV styles alive for your warm weather enjoyment. Here are 15 session beers you should try this Memorial Day (and you can try them all!).
1. Stone Brewing Company: Levitation Ale One look at Stone's demon label mascot and you know they mean business. While nearly all their beers are 6%+, this one is the exception, and a good one at that. Clocking in at a highly drinkable 4.4% ABV, this amber ale packs a citrus hop punch while still "defying gravity."
2. Brooklyn Brewery: Pennant Ale '55
There was a time when baseball and Brooklyn were synonymous, and this one is brewed in honor of the '55 Brooklyn Dodgers (when 'Dem Bums finally won a World Series). Baseball might not be in BK anymore, but great beer sure is. This excellent English-style pale ale just makes the cut at 5% and has a smooth hop bitterness and toasty malt flavor, thanks to Maris Otter malt.
3. Yazoo Brewing Company: Dos Perros
When you think of good Mexican-style beer, chances are you're not thinking of ale from Tennessee, but Yazoo's Dos Perros brown might just change your mind. The unique addition of maize is a throwback to the late 1800s, when Austrian rule influenced Mexican brewing. Combined with sweet malt and noble hops for a subtle hoppy aroma and taste, at only 3.5% this begs for an all-day cookout.
4. 21st Amendment Brewery: Bitter American
If you're looking for a great hoppy beer in a small package, try 21st Amendment's Bitter American, a 4.4% American Pale Ale. This canned hop gem has tons of tropical fruit and grapefruit hop taste. A lot of West Coast IPAs turn up the hops and ABV to dizzying levels, but this does a great job of keeping things accessible and balanced.
5. Dogfish Head: Festina Pêche
You might know Dogfish Head for their excellent IPAs or quirky Ancient Ales, but this excellent session ale is a fruit-forward take on Berliner Weissbier made with peach concentrate. At 4.5% ABV and only 8 IBUs, there's almost no bitterness. Lactic fermentation gives it a tart, almost green apple–like flavor that works perfectly with the peaches. Makes for a great thirst quencher on a hot day.
6. Widmer Brothers Brewing Company: Citra Blonde Summer Brew
If you're looking for big flavor but not big hop bite, this American Blonde Ale from Widmer Brothers is a great pick. At 4.3%, it's perfect for the beach or the BBQ. Citra hops are all over the taste and give it a citrusy grapefruit and orange flavor with just enough bready malt to even things out.
7. Goose Island Beer Company: Honkers Ale
Lost in the madness of Goose Island upping production — all politics aside — of their massive BCBS series is the fact that their classic ales are still fantastic. This former Great American Beer Festival gold medal winner is just a touch bitter but not overwhelmingly so and leans more on fruity citrus flavors and biscuity caramel malt. At 4.3% it goes down easily, too.
8. Odell Brewing Company: Easy Street Wheat Before you reach for that Blue Moon, consider this: Odell's Easy Street Wheat is an American Pale Wheat Ale that doesn't need orange slices; it's got a ton going on already. Lots of banana and almost tart citrus, a bit of clove spiciness and some sweet malt. Finishes clean and refreshing with just a little tickle of the 4.6%.
9. DuClaw Brewing Company: Naked Fish
It may not seem like stout season, but DuClaw has done a great job making the style refreshing with this 4.6% chocolate raspberry coffee stout. Think chocolate-covered raspberries layered under roasted dark chocolate, which are abundant in both the smell and the taste. Easy to drink and finishes dry. A great pairing for dessert on a hot day.
10. The Bruery: Hottenroth
An expert in the art of sour beers, The Bruery has crafted a gem of this traditionally tart style from Germany. Hottenroth clocks in at just 3.1%, but what it lacks in forte it makes up with in taste. It's dry, tart and fruity, hints of green apple and lemon throughout, and newcomers to the style can enjoy how refreshing it is. Like all of the Bruery's beer, it only comes in 750ml, so it's a great reason to share one (or a few) with friends.
11. Firestone Walker Brewing Company: Pale 31
Perhaps overshadowed by its big brother Union Jack, Firestone Walker's Pale 31 is a lighter take on a California pale ale, it's just 4.8%, but packs a hoppy flavor punch that won't make you miss the extra punch. Lots of citrus flavor with some piney hops and a solid malt balance, an excellent pale ale for the summer.
12. Jester King Craft Brewery: Le Petit Prince Farmhouse Table Beer
Texas knows heat, and Jester King knows saisons. This one is a throwback to Northern Europe, where table beer — often only 1.5% abv — was served as a safe alternative to water, which was full of harmful bacteria (and had no booze at all). Expect Belgian yeast, lemon, sweet fruit, pepper, bready malt and a touch of hops. This would go great with spicy food.
13. Pike Pub & Brewery: Naughty Nellie
Similar to an American take on German Kölsch, this is an excellent summer session beer from Seattle, Washington's Pike Pub & Brewery. Tropical fruits and toasted caramel malts combine for a perfectly balanced flavor which hides the 4.7% completely.
14. Stoudts Brewing Company: Karnival Kolsch
If you're looking for an excellent American take on Kölsch, then Karnival Kolsch from Stoudts Brewing Company in Adamstown, PA should be on your list. At 4.8%, it's highly drinkable and has a ton of flavor thanks to bready malt and floral hops. Crisp, delicious and highly drinkable. A summer session classic.
15. Boston Beer Company: Sam Adams Cream Stout
If you're a stout drinker and like something a little darker for your summer sessions, you owe it to yourself to try this excellent cream stout. Creamy dark chocolate, coffee, roasted malt and a touch of hops little will quickly make you forget it's just 4.9%. A go-to stout for warmer months.
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