It's hot out there but it's also the perfect time to break out one of craft beer's newest, most refreshing styles: the session IPA.
These highly-hopped but low-in-alcohol cousins of the industry darling India Pale Ale are surging in popularity. Craft brewers love these lighter-in-body and lower-in-alcohol brews that are flavorful enough to keep you interested pint after pint. Many marquee craft breweries have introduced new session IPAs in recent months, and Stone's Go To IPA, Lagunitas' Daytime IPA, Pizza Port's now-in-cans Ponto IPA and Firestone Walker's Easy Jack are all superlative examples.
Session IPAs are great beers for an L.A. summer, and there are some great locally brewed examples such as GABF-medal winning Torque from Lancaster's Kinetic Brewery and 'Cross the Pond, a collaboration between Golden Road Brewing and 3 Weavers Brewing.
Here are four tips and facts that will help you become a session IPA expert.
1) Not just a hoppy pale ale
Well, kinda it is, but there is a valid distinction between an American pale (medium-bodied with a pronounced malt character) and session IPAs (lighter in body with a flavor that's all about the hops). One other major departure from typical American pale ales is the use of new varieties of hops in session IPAs. Instead of the classic pine-and-citrus profile, more fruity, tropical and mercurial hop aromas are showcased in session IPAs. The lighter body and often dry finish intensifies this hop character further and means these low-alcohol brews are crisp and refreshing.
2) Freshness matters (even more)
Fresh beer is the best beer, and this is particularly true in the case of hoppy beers. The essential oils responsible for the flavor and aroma of the hops is very volatile, and even in a sealed can, the vibrancy of the hops will fade in a matter of weeks. Most beer styles have enough malt character to weather this gradual falling-off of hop punch, but the extremely hop-forward flavor profile of session IPAs means they don't have much other flavor to fall back on. An aging session IPA will taste one-dimensional and lack the fruity vibrancy that is the style's biggest draw. It's even more important to check bottled-on/enjoy-by dates when buying session IPAs, and always store these beers cold!
3) Flexible food beer
Beer geeks know that full-strength IPAs make wonderful, versatile food beers, and this holds true for the lighter, lower-alcohol session IPAs. Dishes such as salads (especially a caesar or a kale salad with citrus vinaigrette), fish tacos, and nachos drenched in oozing cheese-stuff would match well with the hoppy session ales. Standard IPAs are wonderful with buffalo wings -- their hop bitterness actually intensifies the heat of the wing sauce -- and session IPAs can be even better suited to rich and spicy wings since their lighter body and lower alcohol means you can quaff more brew when tackling a platter of incendiary wings.
4) Glassware recommendations