Summer Lovin’

10 am…85 degrees…no AC…

Who says it’s too early for a beer?

The summer months are often a tricky time when it comes to drinking craft brew.  While personally I believe there is no “wrong time” for a delicious, hearty, full-bodied stout, the reality remains that during the hot and humid months we often go searching for a brew that can quench our thirst, refresh us, and make our taste buds dance.  Sadly, quite often those beers that are light enough to succeed in covering those first two wants, often lack in flavor and complexity.  As craft brew continues to grow and expand, we have been fortunate enough to see the number of types and styles of beer that are meant for the dog days of summer multiply and grow.  Each year it seems a new niche is being carved out in the summer beer category, from your standard summer ales, crisp refreshing treats often touched up with a hint of citrus, to dynamic fruit beers, and even the reemergence of the farmhouse saison; beers that satisfy the summer craving are quickly becoming more and more popular and available.  Even styles such as berliner weisse, a crisp tart wheat beer continue to gain popularity adding yet another available option to the summertime menu.

Perhaps you are thinking about an incredibly popular style of beer that I failed to mention up above – the notorious IPA.  There is perhaps no more polarizing of a style between the abrasive hop head and those who prefer malt forward beers than the IPA, however, nobody can deny the fact the in today’s beer world, the IPA remains one of the most popular styles out there.  Many IPA’s make fantastic summer sippers, a tasty Sculpin, Heady, or Julius is sure to quench anyone’s thirst on a hot day.   However, at the same time many of today’s IPA’s are massively sappy, and resinous.  Or, have grown into doubles and triples resulting in much fuller bodied, high ABV beverages, that just don’t appeal to a person looking to put back a few pints after a day of yardwork and dogging it in the heat.  Enter this years flavor of the summer, the session IPA.

We all know the toll a day of yard work in the heat can have on you.  Who isn't looking for a refreshing beverage after that?

We all know the toll a day of yard work in the heat can have on you. Who isn’t looking for a refreshing beverage after that?

Session IPA’s are not new, it is not a concoction that has never before been seen or experimented with.  However, the popularity of, and the desire for these beverages has reached new heights, resulting in an explosion of offerings from breweries as well as a desire to craft a palatable sessionable IPA from the comfort of your own home.

So what exactly is a session IPA, why isn’t it simply a pale ale?  In the most basic sense a session IPA is everything your standard IPA, double IPA, or even Triple IPA brings to the table, minus the body and the alcohol content.  They still pack a distinct hop forward punch, that separates them from all other styles of beer.  There remains an obvious yet palatable bitterness, and of course they come in a variety of “flavors” highlighting a variety of different hops ranging from citrus, to floral, tropical, earthy, spicy etc.   In other words it is still an IPA, yet the the process in which it is brewed results in a beer that is lighter bodied and contains an ABV that does not knock you over after half a pint.  After all, a summer beer should be one that can be drank in droves, that allows you to kick back, relax and enjoy a few beverages without feeling overly inebriated.

What many people don’t realize when it comes to the creation of a session IPA, is that a lot of care has to be taken during the brewing process in order to find balance and drinkability.  It is not as simple as taking a proven recipe and lowering the malt or sugar content to lower the overall alcohol content.  It is not as simple as changing the mash temperature or grain bill to lighten the body of the beer.  In order to create a great session IPA, the entire recipe needs to be revamped in a way that allows the hops to maintain the necessary characteristics that make a wonderful IPA, while being balanced with a beer that is lighter and less potent, thus making it much more “delicate”.

When it comes to the session IPA, I revert back to an earlier entry on the beerfiles, based around the art of hoping bursting.  Hop bursting is, in my personal opinion, the best way to achieve the desired “IPA” hop level, in a beer that does not have the backbone to stand up to a higher bitterness level.  The most common mistake made when creating a session IPA is having a hop bitterness level that is too high for such a light brew.  While we often look at the IBU level when we drink an IPA, that level can be very deceiving, especially when it comes to a sessionable version.  While we do want a certain level of bitterness in a session IPA, the overall level of IBU’s must be much lower in order to remain in balance with the beer.  Thus, hop bursting which entails multiple late hop additions is the perfect way to accomplish your goal.  Hop bursting allows the brewer to maintain a high level of of hop characteristic when it comes to both the flavor and aroma, while minimizing the overall IBU level.  This accomplishes the main goal, of that big hop IPA flavor and aroma, while allowing the bitterness level to remain in balance with delicacy of a session beer.

Hop bursting continues to become more and more popular in today’s world of brewing, and for good reason.  Many breweries looking to create a beer to help pique a person’s interest in highly hopped beers, find a less bitter, more hop-bursted beer, to be more successful in converting beer drinkers.  In terms of a session IPA it is perfect, as the resulting hop character is full of flavor and delivers a big nose, but does not create a bitter bomb that overwhelms the fragility of such a light sessionable beer. Almost every brewery is attempting to offer a session IPA to their consumer base, and as is the case with any beer, some breweries are doing it better than others.  Some of the standards that people have come to know and love from some of the more well-known breweries include, Stone’s Go To IPA, Founders All-Day IPA, and Firestone’s Easy Jack.  As is evident by each of these beers’ names, these brews are easy to drink, extremely approachable, and very sessionable.

Always known for their over the top hops, even Stone has developed any easy drinking summer session IPA.

Always known for their over the top hops, even Stone has developed any easy drinking summer session IPA.

Here is a brief list of 5 of my favorite Session IPA’s available today:  (in no particular order)

Founder’s All-Day IPA (Balanced, refreshing, the complete package when it comes to an easy   drinking session IPA.)

Two Roads Brewin Lil’ Heaven (Slightly more bitter than some of the other session IPAs but still balanced and extremely drinkable.)

Stone Brewing Go To IPA (Of these 5, this is the most “citrus” of the bunch.  Crisp, and refreshing this is for those who truly like citrus forward IPAs.)

Pizza Port Brewing Ponto S.I.P.A. (The boldest of the bunch, this little guy has a huge hop profile, yet still holds true to its session roots.)

Notch Brewing Left of the Dial (Notch only brews sessionable beers, with everything being under 5%.  This particular offering however still packs a mean yet quaffable hop profile, perfect for those hot summer days.)

Notch Left of Dial IPA on a beautiful summer day!

Notch Left of Dial IPA on a beautiful summer day!

Obviously these are just a few of my personal favorites, and there are hundreds or thousands more out there to be explored.  However, next time instead of settling for a crushable, yet flavorless Bud Light in the heat of the summer, hunt down a few of these great session IPAs and allow your taste buds to dance while still refreshing yourself from the heat.

While we have discussed what a session IPA is, and looked at several commercial examples, what about homebrewers looking to have their own version on tap or bottled up.  While the recipe does take some planning in order to make sure the body, ABV, maltiness, and hop profile are working together; it is completely possible to create your own version of this emerging sub-category.

Experiment and try different things, however I do suggest avoiding early kettle hop additions and waiting until later in the boil to introduce the majority of your hops.  Remember, this will eliminate a lot of the bitterness yet still allow you to have that great hop profile and aroma that is so desired.  Below is a basic session IPA recipe that will give you exactly that.  Maximum drinkability, refreshment, and of course HOPS.  Try brewing, or tweak it to make it your own, either way, enjoy this new style and what it has to offer, especially during the dog days of summer!

He’s Just a Little Guy
Style: Session IPA
ABV: Approx 4.8%
Mash Efficiency: Approx 68%
IBUs: 39-40

grain bill:

9 lbs US 2-Row
8 oz Carafoam
3 oz Honey Malt

Hop Additions:

.25 oz Centennial (FWH)
1 oz Citra (10 min)
.5 oz Galaxy (5 min)
.5 oz Mandarina Bavaria (5 min)
.5 oz Citra (flameout)
.5 oz Galaxy (flameout)
.5 oz Mandarina Bavaria (flameout)
1 oz Citra (Dry hop 4 days)
.5 oz Galaxy (Dry Hop 4 days)
.5 oz Mandarina Bavaria (Dry Hop 4 days)

Mash for one hour at 152 (Remember you want this to be a light bodied beverage)


WLP 001 California Ale Yeast or any clean American Ale Yeast Strain


Good luck and happy brewing!

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