Session IPAs – BEWARE!
As a lover of hoppy beer, I’ve seen my tastes and priorities evolve over the years. I started out my journey, in love with double IPAs and barleywines. As a young man, I got all the flavor and a sweet buzz. Usually a 22 oz. bottle of either style was much tastier, and more economical compared to trying to “catch a buzz” off of a few bombers of 5-6% abv. ale.
Once I ticked all the top 50 strong ales I could get my hands on, and with help from father time, I began to seek out drier, lower alcohol hoppy offerings, mainly West Coast Style IPAs. While I still have a special place in my heart for Double IPAs, Imperial Stouts and Barleywines, I’m a dad, I’m a working man, I need my sleep, and I’d like to be able to see my feet, not my beer belly when I look down. My sweet spot seems to be 6% abv. for what I consider an IPA, and I’m also a fan of American Pale Ales, however outside of Firestone Walker and Sierra Nevada, I haven’t really been a fan of the malt to hop ratio of the APA.
The Infancy of Session IPAs
In comes the Session IPA! Around 3-4 years ago. Ballast Point, Stone and Drake’s began fiddling with the 4-5% pale ale that has the bitterness and aroma of a full fledged IPA. At that time, beers like Stone Ruination, AleSmith IPA, and Port Brewing’s Wipeout were making waves with the 100 IBUS (International Bitterness Units), and these lower alcohol experiments from Stone, Ballast Point and Drake’s were mimicking the boldness minus the alcohol kick.
Since then, IPAs as a style have caught fire, to the point where we’ve seen the birth of Black IPA, White IPA and Red IPA. Regardless of whether these beers were pale or bitter, adding IPA to the end of a beer equaled dollar signs.
2014, The Year of the Session IPA
2014 is the year of the Session IPA. While Founders Brewing (All Day IPA), Lagunitas (Daytime) and Drake’s (Alpha Session) put out a Session IPA product on the market in the prior two years, all major players will have a Session IPA product on the market. Firestone Walker will have Easy Jack, Ballast Point will be bottling Even Keel, Stone has just released Go To IPA, Victory brewed Hop Ticket, Boulevard has rolled out Popup Session IPA, Sierra Nevada debuted Nooner IPA and so on and so on. Much like the old Miller Light commercial, people are excited for the “Tastes Great, Less Filling” factor, as well as the ability to drink a beer that won’t impair them as much.
So far, from what I have tried out of that list of Session IPAs, I am very impressed. Stick your beak in a glass of one of these beers, and you will think you are smelling a full fledged IPA. No matter what these breweries say, they are not as heavy as a full fledged IPA, and that is fine. It’s just as enjoyable, as long as you are a lover of American hops. With that said, there is a lynch pin that could destroy this sub-style of hoppy ales just as quick as it became popular.
Session IPAs, Beware!
There are a good deal of IPAs and Double IPAs that can withstand sitting on a room temperature shelf 90 days after bottling. Some of the more delicate IPAs that use the newer hopping and dry hopping techniques (Russian River Pliny The Elder, Ballast Point Sculpin, Stone Enjoy By) go down hill within 30 days. I’ve had a Drake’s Alpha Session well past it’s prime. When the beer is fresh, it’s the best. When it’s old, it’s beyond putrid. I was in Florida this past weekend, and visited a Total Wine to stock up on beer, and to get some beer that I don’t normally get in California. I saw 6 and 12 packs of Founders All Day IPA. Being smarter than the average bear, I picked up a few bottles and checked the bottle neck for the bottled on date. Sadly, these beers were bottled in October 2013. Whoever winds up buying this 12 pack and proceed to crack a bottle of it will be very disappointed. Depending on where this person is in their craft beer journey, they might sour on IPAs, they might sour on Founders Brewing, and even worse, if they are a complete noob, they might sour on craft beer all together. I definitely don’t want to see the Session IPA craze go this direction, but there is a decent chance it might. So as I have said with hoppy ales in general, do your part, and be vigilant. Take the old hot six pack to the store manager and ask them “if you don’t like old eggs and old milk, why would you want old beer?” Let the brewers know there is old out of code beer on the shelf, and most definitely, don’t buy the old beer .
For the love of hops and craft beer, please beware.