A Session Beer Leaderboard

Eno Sarris, December 03, 2015

I've got a three year old and a one year old. The one year old has been walking since he was ten months old, and the three year old likes to climb things and jump, and also to color things that aren't paper. 

In related news, I've recently gotten into session beers. 

I once heard, probably over a pint, that session beers were born in English pubs for an express purpose. Miners had time for lunch and two pints, but could be fired or injured if they came back to work soused. So session bitters were born -- easy to drink and light in alcohol. I cannot corroborate this fancy story currently, but the idea that I'd like a few beers while still being able to work -- in this case follow my children around alertly -- sticks with me these days. 

Recently, the term and the style has caught on in America. We've already talked to a popular young brewer who listed a session -- Easy Jack -- as his favorite beer. And more than a few writers have tried to stoke the flames. Lew Bryson and William Bostwick have both penned extensively in favor of the style. 

The only problem with searching for these beers is that there isn't a consensus style yet. Some are listed as IPAs, some as pale ales, some as hoppy lagers. There isn't even a consensus about the Alcohol By Volume that makes a session beer -- some say <5%, some <4.8%, some <4.5%. 

But let's try to create a leaderboard anyway. We'll throw pale ales and the pale lagers and the english pales and the american pale wheats and the india pale ales into the mix, and set the filter to below 5% ABV, and then pull the beers that don't fit, are not available in America, have the wrong ABV, or are no longer active off the leaderboard. Here's the uncut leaderboard, if you want to have your own fun or are based somewhere internationally. 

Your top 33 session beers, with one tacked on for fun, even though it's at 5.1% ABV.

Beer Style Brewer ABV Style+ BAR
Boat Beer American Pale Ale Carton Brewing Company 4.2 117 8.8
The American Dream Pale Lager Mikkeller 4.6 126 8.2
Walden American Pale Ale Hill Farmstead Brewery 4.0 118 6.8
Shift Pale Lager New Belgium Brewing Company 5.0 119 6.8
Moon Man American Pale Ale New Glarus Brewing Company 5.0 112 6.7
Galaxy Pale Ale American Pale Ale New England Brewing Co. 4.9 116 6.4
Fillmore Fusion American Pale Ale Lagunitas Brewing Company 5.0 119 6.3
Conduct of Life #1 American Pale Ale Hill Farmstead Brewery 5.0 121 6.3
Schiehallion Pale Lager Harviestoun Brewery 5.0 121 6.1
MMMKay Pale Lager Short's Brewing Company 5.0 126 6.1
Totally Naked Pale Lager New Glarus Brewing Company 4.3 120 6.0
Longboard Island Lager Pale Lager Kona Brewing Company 4.6 114 6.0
Fortunate Islands American Pale Wheat Ale Modern Times Beer 4.7 113 6.0
White Chocolate Ale American Pale Wheat Ale Sonoran Brewing Company 4.7 115 6.0
Total Hubris Pale Lager To Øl 4.5 124 5.5
Super Session #2 American IPA Lawson's Finest Liquids 4.2 111 5.4
Jabby Brau Pale Lager Jack's Abby Brewing 4.5 118 5.3
HopHands American Pale Ale Tired Hands Brewing Company 4.8 113 5.3
Horse And Jockey Imperial Pale Ale Full Mash Brewery 3.8 120 5.3
Orange Blossom American Pale Wheat Ale Papago Brewery 4.5 114 5.2
Field 41 Pale Ale American Pale Ale Bale Breaker Brewing 4.4 111 5.1
509 Style Pale Lager Iron Horse Brewery 5 126 5.0
Leisure Time Lager Pale Lager Jack's Abby Brewing 4.8 118 5.0
Amazeballs American Pale Ale Peekskill Brewery 4.7 114 4.9
Yellow Cab Lager Pale Lager Evil Twin Brewing 4.8 116 4.9
Unfiltered Wheat Beer American Pale Wheat Ale Boulevard Brewing Co. 4.4 108 4.8
Maine Island Trail Ale American Pale Ale Rising Tide Brewing Company 4.3 112 4.8
CA Dry-Hop Lager Pale Lager Sudwerk Privatbrauerei Hübsch 5 120 4.8
Babyface American Pale Ale Alpine Beer Company (CA) 4.7 119 4.8
Organic Lager Pale Lager Samuel Smith Old Brewery (Tadcaster) 5 117 4.8
All Day IPA (Session Ale) American IPA Founders Brewing Company 4.7 104 4.7
Kosmos Reserve Pale Lager Shiner / Spoetzle 5 112 4.6
Treecreeper American Pale Ale Trillium 5.1 117 4.6

I was very surprised to find that Easy Jack isn't here, but the life of a session beer is not an easy one on our leaderboards, especially when you're labeled an American IPA. Notice there is only two American IPAs here -- probably because alcohol by volume and ratings are positively correlated for that style in particular. This leaderboard of sub-5% ABV American IPAs is where you'll find Bell's Two-Hearted and Firestone Walker Easy Jack among the wrongly-entered 0% ABV beers. 

This list still has a lot of my favorite session beers on it. Moon Man by New Glarus is one of the smoothest beers I've ever had, combining great mouth feel and nice finish with all the drinkability you can handle. Fillmore Fusion and All Day IPA are also regulars around here. Fortunate Islands is one of my favorite beers, and the rarer twists on that beer make it even better when they are available. I'll drink a Longboard, especially in Hawaii. 

Also featured here are beers that I've been told I must acquire. Hop Hands had one sip leading to another for J.R. Shirt. Boat Beer was a beer of the year for Matt Murphy. 

And, because they did so well on this list, I'm tempted to try some new session beers. Shift from New Belgium is always around. I'm often in Phoenix, where I'll try to find that White Chocolate Ale from Sonoran now. Harviestoun distributes around here, maybe I can find... that beer. And the Organic Lager from Sam Smith, I think I've had that, maybe I'll have it again. 

If I like it, I know I'll be able to have another, at least.