What Defines a Session Beer

Posted by BeerMaven | Beer | Posted on March 13th

It is rather uncommon to see any responsible drinker consume shots of hard liquor or glasses of wine one after another for a significant period of time. However, it is more common to see this behavior when drinking beer due to the fact that some beers are light enough to allow people to drink one after another without becoming impaired quickly. These are called session beers, and most beer enthusiasts refer to these beers as those that they go to when they are not pairing beer with food or dessert and just want something to drink throughout an event.

Beer is commonly mistaken as a weaker alcoholic beverage when it is compared to wine or hard liquor, but many ales and stouts easily reach ABVs of 10% or higher, giving them the potential to be stronger than wine. I personally had the pleasure of tasting a beer that was 33% alcohol and although I really enjoyed the beer, I would definitely not choose to session it. It is really easy nowadays to find the alcoholic content of your beer online if it is not readily available on the container, and ABV is extremely important when you are choosing a session beer.

I generally stick to the rule of thumb that beers under 5.5% ABV have the potential to be session beers. At 5.5% ABV, you can consume a beer or two an hour without getting intoxicated due to the rate that your liver removes the alcohol from your system. I also look at how heavy and filling a beer is when I am considering it as a session beer, because thick and filling beers make it more difficult to session. One of the greatest selling points of pilsners and lagers is the fact they most of them fit within the parameters of low alcoholic content and drinkability.

The large lager movement probably thrived on the ability to session these beers, while ales, porters and stouts are generally beers that have a higher alcohol content and are best when paired with food or treated as a night cap or specialty, as opposed to a session beer. I have found numerous lighter ales recently through several ale clubs that are beginning to meet session criteria however, and ales are beginning to become more and more session friendly.

The most important factor in choosing a session beer is how well you enjoy it. After all, your session beer is the one you will be married to for the length of the party. I personally prefer several nice wheat ales during spring and summer months and a few lagers and ales during winter months. What is your session beer?

2 Responses to “What Defines a Session Beer”

  1. Barm says:

    Session beer is under 4% abv. HTH.

  2. David Teckam says:

    I also go with under 4% abv. but I suppose milage varies :)
    My session beer is a Mild. As they are not readily available (maybe some beer club carries one!), I make my own. My current one is about 3%abv. Caramel, chocolate, light in hops, and a little fruity. But smooth and easily drinkable.

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