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The Session #40: Session Beer

The Session is back for another edition. This time, it’s hosted by Erik over at Top Fermented and he has chosen the topic of Session beers. Now, most people will be talking about sub-5% beers, English milds and that sort of thing. Not me. I’m going to go the other way and talk about what some consider the death of the session beer. I have a style of beer I call the California Session, and it’s definitely not a low alcohol beer.

The term California Session was inspired by a story a good friend of mine brought back from London. (Friends of mine have no doubt heard this story at least a few times, so bear with me). Hearing that this friend of mine was a beer drinker, the locals thought it would be good to take him out for some pints. Not only that, they wanted to wow him. There was an American beer he had to try. It was hoppy, strong, and they couldn’t handle more than a pint or two of the stuff. Problem was, they couldn’t remember the name. They did remember one thing, a big green label. “Sierra Nevada? We drink that when we’re taking it easy.”

What can I say? We like our beer strong and hoppy in California. We go out for pints of Pliny the Elder, and the plural is intentional. IPA is the standard beer and we push the definition of the style as far as we can. My favorite pub owner has been known to sit down for sessions at the Bear Republic pub with tankards of Racer 5 as the order of the day.

So what makes for a a California Session beer?

  • Hops: You have to have enough hops to scratch that itch that most Californian beer drinkers seem to posses.
  • Umph: No need for 8% or anything severely intoxicating, but we do want to “feel it.”
  • Balance: This is almost a subset of the previous bullet point. While we want the umph, we don’t want to think “Man, this is a strong beer.” We prefer a beer that doesn’t taste too strong and sneaks up on us.
  • Pale: Well, not necesarily pale, but darker stouts and porters just don’t seem to fit here. Why? We live in California. It tends to be a bit warmer than most places (San Francisco excepted). IPA, pale ales, even some ambers tend to fit the bill.

So there you have it: The California Session. If you live in California, let me know, am I wrong? If you live outside of California, are we crazy?