Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Pedant's Dilemma

I have been drinking quite a bit of a certain beer style of late. No, not mild ale, though I have enjoyed a fair few of those so far this month, especially the Three Notch'd 'Method to Your Madness'. Nor is it lagers, though the most recent iteration of Devils Backbone Morana is a delight to savour, and South Street's Back-to-Bavaria dangerously drinkable. Nope, I have been drinking a lot of a beer style that really brings out the pedantic purist in me. Session IPA.

My current favourite is Lickinghole Creek's wonderful 'Til Sunset, 4.7%, moreishly hoppy, and a beer I would happily drink all summer if need be. Then there is Founder's All Day IPA, a similar story, and also South Street's Conspicuous Consumption. It's as though American craft brewers suddenly realised that hoppy beers need not also be imperialised to shit and that people actually like a drink rather than just a collection of tastings (cynical side note, I wish they'd also learn to do the basics of proper cask conditioning before fucking around with nonsense ingredients and chucking them in a firkin).

What then draws out the pedant in me? The style name itself really (another side note, how come 'session IPA' got a style of its own on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate so soon after being invented, but the 19th century Bohemian tmavé tradition was lumped with Dunkel and Schwarzbier until recently?). What the hell does 'session IPA' even mean?

Clearly most of these beers fail to meet the definition of a 'session beer' being stronger than 4.5% abv, and 'IPA'? Does that even have any meaning at all anymore as it has been bastardised and had any meaning beaten the shit out of it? Then there is the question of how a 'session IPA' really differs all that much from a standard American Pale Ale?

But there is, I think, a solution to my ire, and I am sure I am pissing into the wind with this, but here goes anyway. 'Session IPA' is, in reality an Americanised version of the great English classic, the Extra Special Bitter. Look at the style guideline numbers for ESB:
  • ABV: 4.8-5.8%
  • IBU: 30-45
  • Colour: 8-14 (deep gold to deep amber)
Look familiar?

And the GABF description?
ESBs are amber to deep copper colored. Chill haze is allowable at cold temperatures. Fruity-ester aroma is acceptable. Hop aroma is medium to medium-high. The residual malt and defining sweetness of this richly flavored, full-bodied bitter is medium to medium-high. Hop flavor is medium to medium-high. Hop bitterness is medium to medium-high....The overall impression is refreshing and thirst quenching. Fruity-ester and very low diacetyl flavors are acceptable, but should be minimized in this form of bitter.

It's almost that as though the IPA driven craft beer world is taking another leaf from the Anheuser-Busch playbook, except instead of the word 'light' they are using the word 'session' (the other leaf being opening multiple breweries to deliver fresh beer to different locales - nothing new in that, the big boys did for the very same reasons decades ago).

What would be wrong with calling them American Special Bitters?


  1. Lickinghole Creek. Surely there isn't a place called that?

    1. There is indeed, and the brewery does a beer called 'Magic Beaver'!

  2. Not sure I have had a session EEEE-PAY-YAY that has this characteristic: "The residual malt and defining sweetness of this richly flavored, full-bodied bitter is medium to medium-high." What I run into is lower alcohol yet still unbalanced beers with the hops sticking out all over the place.

  3. Mother's Brewing of Springfield, Mo. has come out with "session" IPA named Skip Day. It is 3.9%. A lot of discussion in the Ozarks as to whether this qualifies as an IPA.

  4. Iv been noticing this session trend also


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