Choosing a Session IPA for Your Marathon Drinking Session
National IPA Day is August 7, and we at FWx couldn’t be more excited. But I, for one, plan on maximizing my IPA intake while avoiding hospital intake by sipping on a special type of brew all holiday long.
Under the India Pale Ale umbrella exists an easy-drinking subcategory known as session IPAs, which are steadily gaining popularity in the United States. Like typical American IPAs, they tend to feature a largely herbal and/or or citric character, with an especially robust (i.e., bitter) hop profile, but only about two thirds of the alcohol of standard IPAs.
Beer snobs will be quick to point out that there’s really no such official style as a session IPA, because it could technically be categorized as a hopped-up pale ale with an ABV under 5 percent. But whatever you call them, the equation remains the same: High hops + low alcohol = supreme tastiness for hours on end.
In this very special installment of the Beer Olympics, we’re taking a break from our usual international competition to pit four American challengers against one another in an attempt to determine a potential best national representative. Let’s see what they’ve got.
Goose Island Endless IPA; Illinois: Pours a rich, golden-straw color with a thick, creamy head that isn’t going anywhere. Its name may have originally come from its drinkability, but the head retention is seemingly endless, too. (Until I eat it with a spoon.)
Southern Tier Farmer’s Tan; New York: Slightly less impressive foam than that of the Endless IPA, but also half a shade deeper with a stunning amber orange hue. While farmers may want to sip this without limit in the fields, I’m wondering if I can use it as a drinkable tanning oil.
Founders All Day IPA; Michigan: Similar to the Farmer’s Tan, but with an extra touch of orange and greater opacity. Lovely enough, but I’m looking forward to seeing what this one can do in my mouth, rather than in the glass.
Victory Hop Ticket Session IPA; Pennsylvania: With its pale yellow hue, Victory’s session IPA is by far the lightest of the bunch, almost reminiscent of a lager. And just as I thought while watching the stripper who performed at my pal’s bachelor party last week, I’m especially enjoying the lace on this one.
POINT: Southern Tier
Goose Island: Mild citrus, pine and slightly herbal notes emerge first, but as the beer warms, enticing tropical fruit aromas become apparent. There’s something about the way it subtly changes—revealing a new layer with each sniff—that makes me giggle like a schoolgirl. A buzzed schoolgirl.
Southern Tier: Zesty! Can I make a salsa with this? On second sniff, there’s also quite a bit of grain, along with bit of citrus and grass and a touch of skunky hops. Despite all of this, I’m left wanting more when the aromas fade away. If the taste isn’t up to par, I’ve still got a tanning oil.
Founders: A strong, hoppy fragrance followed by waves of peachy grapefruit and a touch of malt. The sweetness grows as it warms, like grapes ripening on a vine. Though nothing else is grape-y about it—this is beer, not wine. (Look ma, I’m rapping!)
Victory: Grandma Dottie, is that you? Ah, nope—it’s just the beer, which is super floral, accented by herbs and a touch of toasted biscuit. It’s surprisingly earthy for its light color. You’re keeping me on my toes, Hop Ticket. I’m looking forward to seeing where this relationship goes.
POINT: Goose Island
Goose Island: Medium-light bodied, with a bright and bubbly mouthfeel. The tip of my tongue detects a lovely sweetness, followed by a pronounced bitterness. Lots of grapefruit flavor, orange peel and a touch of malt, though fairly sweet for the style. I think it improves with each sip, like…a finely aged wine. (I know, I know, I need a new simile.)
Southern Tier: Fills the mouth out with a nice, round medium body and some lovely carbonation. The flavor is quite punchy, with lots of different citrus flavors working, and some robust, well-balanced hops. Perhaps it could use a touch more malt. Or perhaps I should turn the air conditioning down and appreciate this beer for the refresher it is.
Founders: Like a wild stallion unbridled at last, the All Day comes to life in the mouth, bursting with fresh hops, tangy citrus and crisp carbonation. But the strength of this beer is its balance, with a buttery smooth malt backbone that dances perfectly with its bitterness to go down smooth and invite another sip. And another. And another. You can’t get drunk from session IPAs right?
Victory: The lightest-bodied—but most refreshing—of all. Nicely carbonated, leaving the mouth tingling pleasantly. Victory brews all of its beers with whole cone hops (minimally processed, as opposed to hop pellets), and it shows, giving this beer an ultra fresh and herbal quality that’s almost saison-like. Mmm, I want whole cone everything now. Does pizza come in whole cones?
Goose Island: Flashes of spice tingle the tongue, and then disappear as quickly as they emerge. A few seconds later after the swallow, bitter notes resurface like a hop phantom. It’s a super dry finish for such a sweet-tasting beer, like eating an orange to the bitter rind on a bed of arugula. And hops.
Southern Tier: Another dry finish, but not unpleasantly so. If nothing else, I’d call it clean. After a bump of bitterness and yeast, the beer goes down smooth and easy—almost too easy. Hey, is there booze in this? I’ll drink a few more until I figure it out…. YUp, tehre Is.
Founders: Again, the bitter hops are so finely tuned with the sweetness of the malt that my mouth feels clean and ready for more after each sip. The finish fades out beautifully, like the ending of a perfectly mixed song. I’m humming Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” but that’s just me.
Victory: Piney hop bitterness lingers long after each swallow. It’s certainly a nice flavor, but a bit much after all the drinking this admittedly fatigued taster has done today. Some lovely closing notes, but not outstanding enough to top the religious experience I just had with Founders.
I love all of these beers for different reasons, but as you all know, there can be only one winner in the Beer Olympics. After a slower start while facing some extremely tough competition, our session IPA winner is Founders All Day IPA!
Of course, this is just one man’s opinion. Let us know in the comments below or tweet to me at @EthanFixell if you’ve got a different pick. Thanks to the drinkability of these killer brews, I won’t even have to sober up before responding!