The (Possible) Rise of Session Beer

Session Beer

If you scan the various Top 10 lists for the best beer in the world, you will not see beers on the lighter alcohol end of the spectrum. According to, eight of the best beers fall into the classification of Imperial Stouts and seven of those beers come from three breweries.

With all due respect to Alesmith, Bell’s and Three Floyds, when the temperature rises into the triple digits in Los Angeles, those beer big boys are the last thing I want to drink.

That’s why I want to use my bully pulpit this week to sway people into drinking more of the humble session beer.

What is a session beer, you ask? My definition of the perfect session beer is a light ale or lager that hover around the 5% ABV mark. It should be a clean and crisp beer with only a slight edge of hop bitterness and not over carbonated. You might call it the “everyday” beer.

Esteemed beer writer, Lew Bryson has his more precise parameters for inclusion as a session beer: 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
- flavorful enough to be interesting
- balanced enough for multiple pints
- conducive to conversation
- reasonably priced

(You can read more about the session beer project)

Other than the fact that the session beer doesn’t get the proper respect it should get, I value it because it can be a really hard beer to get right. Big alcohol beers can hide defects. A monstrous amount of hops can mask problems. But a session beer can’t hide. It has to be spot on or you will be able to taste any misstep, and that, is a hallmark of a great brewer and brewery.

For the session beer to truly come out from the shadow of the Imperial stouts will require a change in mindset and drinking habits, especially in Los Angeles. We are such a car culture and very aware of drinking and driving that a long session of beer and conversation seems wrong or outdated. But with a little thinking outside the box, a good session can work.

First, encourage people to take advantage of the taxi or mass transit. Second, load up on water and food (before, during and after). Third, have a reason to get together. Maybe it’s to watch some summertime baseball or to play board games. When people are high fiving over a home run or yelling Yahtzee, the drinking slows down.

The best part of a session is the conversation and camaraderie that are created when people are enjoying a refreshing craft beer.

The beer of the week comes from Bootlegger’s in Fullerton. Up to date Food GPS readers will have no doubt read the interview with founder Aaron Barkenhagen. And since the topic of today’s post is session beers, a refreshing wheat beer is in order. Wildfire Wheat comes in a 22oz bomber. My sample had more of a corn pops type taste and sweetness that was nicely balanced out by the sparkly carbonation. You can find this at Vendome Toluca Lake or Whole Foods.


Sean Inman

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

Blog Comments

Great column! Come on out to Agoura Hills & grab a growler of Ladyface Ale Companie Wit (4.3 ABV) or ‘Saison Sauvignon’. Only brewed once a year, our farmhouse-house style summer ale is aged in Sauvignon Blanc barrels; the orange peel & agave nectar make it fruity on the nose & Grains of Paradise give a peppery dryness to the finish. It’s rustic, earthy, deceptively light at 5.8 ABV. Cheers!

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