In the world of craft beer, hops are king. Brewers have shown just about any beer can be tweaked with a healthy dose of hops, to great acclaim. And the undisputed king of hoppy beers is the India Pale Ale, or IPA.
These hop-driven ales are typically rich in pine and citrus aromas, courtesy of the brewer’s late hop additions and boast an assertive bitterness. But that big body often also brings a higher alcohol volume.
“American Pale Ales and more so IPAs have played a big part in the revolution of craft beer,” says Chris Sheehan, head brewer at Malt Shovel Brewery in Sydney. “They’re largely punchy, tropical-come-citrus on the nose, a full body on the palate and finishing characteristically bitter. IPAs generally carry a hefty bitterness and an alcohol upward of six per cent.”
This makes IPAs flavoursome, but not always the most practical. This has given rise to more moderate versions of the style, known as “session ales”.
“Session IPAs have recently stepped in as a lower alcohol offering,” says Sheehan. “They’ve the reasonable fullness [of a traditional IPA] but an exceptional balance that doesn’t leave you weighed down by their strength.”
This requirement to brew a flavoursome, IPA-style beer but with a lower alcohol volume (lower than five per cent is the target) does pose certain challenges to the brewer.
“The challenge is always balance,” says Sheehan. “The difficulty lies in presenting a lower alcohol beer while still carrying a larger, fuller body and with a decent bitterness. But the session aspect makes them very approachable and that balance is the signature of a great session IPA.”
Here’s a guide to some great sessional IPAs to explore.
Rover Session IPA
A side brand of Melbourne’s Hawkers Beer, this 4 per cent ale is citrus and stone fruits over a sweet malt base. The distinctive old-school stubby design stands out as much as the flavour.
Mornington Peninsula Hop Culture
This tropical beer sneaks in at 4.9 per cent, bursting with hops flavours while still retaining the essential drinkability of the style. The distinctive cans tick another craft beer trend at the moment, and make for a portable craft beer suitable for non-glass occasions.
James Squire Cabin Fever – Session IPA
Inspired by a visit to the Great American Beer Festival last year, the Cabin Fever is a nod to the popularity of US IPAs, but at a lower alcohol volume suitable for Australian conditions. The Cabin Fever highlights a blend of four different hops layered over three separate additions, to give the ale aromas of tropical fruits, citrus, grapefruit, black currant, with a little bit of pine resin. It’s a medium body with a refreshing finish and great malt balance in a 4.5 per cent ABV package. This one’s a limited edition release, so get in quick to try it.
Nomad Easy As Session IPA
The burnt orange of the Nomad Easy As hides hop aromas swirling above the glass as you lift to your lips. A touch more of an assertive bitterness than many of the styles here, the 4.5 per cent lets you linger.
Australian Brewery All Star IPA
A blend of five classic hops – Mosaic, Centennial, Columbus, Cascade and Amarillo – the All Star IPA lends an enthusiastic hop character to this 4.2 per cent low-rider.
Modus Session IPA
Sydney’s Modus Operandi is famed for its big and bold beers. Coming in at just 4.1 per cent, this one is a comparative lightweight in all but the hop dosage, which the brewery describes as “tongue punching”.
The Extra Pale Ale, or XPA, lives somewhere in the stylistic gap between American Pale Ale, India Pale Ale and Session IPA. Beautifully balanced, but a touch paler than the Session IPA, this beer from Balter won the New World Pale Ale Trophy at this year’s Australian International Beer Awards.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with James Squire.