Beers are often refereed to as a “sessionable beer” or “not a sessionable beer,” and this term is often batted around, and sometimes the meaning depends on context, or the term is used vaguely.

So what is a sessionable beer?

People who have been drinking craft beer for awhile have a good idea of what it is, but, there’s still disagreement on the particulars. There is some history to the idea of a session beer, and Beer Advocate discussed it a little bit.

In summary, as with a lot of saying and culture around drinking, the term (probably) comes British licensing laws that allowed for pubs to be open 11 AM – 3 PM (and again from 7 PM – 11 PM). For the midday session, if a beer was sessionable, punters could knock back a few and still return to work later on. Alternatively, a sessionable beer could be drunk for the evening session and drinkers wouldn’t get too drunk.

Most basically speaking, someone should be able to drink a few and still be OK for a beer to be considered sessionable. It’s the type of beer you could sit on all night.

Generally, a sessionable beer comes down to:

  • Less than about 5.5% alcohol – although some would say less than 5%, beers are moving to be higher in alcohol and a slow drinker with higher alcohol could work.
  • Not too heavy.
  • Not too bitter and generally well balanced.

Adding to the popular criteria, I also usually consider whether I could sit on a beer all night without getting bored of it. While a lot of macro brewed lagers are designed to be sessionable beers, it could be argued that they lose their session quality because they get boring real fast. A truly sessionable beer needs to hold interest as well.

This is the other challenge of a great session beer. Adding complexity and depth to a beer can be done by adding more malt, but the brewer risks upping the alcohol too much, or making the beer too heavy. Additional flavours can be added by liberal amounts of hops, but this could ruin the balance of the beer, or the hop oil could thin things out too much. The brewer could add more malt to balance things out and thicken the beer up, but, now we’re just getting circular…Packing a beer with flavour but still keeping it balanced and low in alcohol is no easy task.

Personally, I’d also rate a heavier stout or porter as sessionable if it was a slow drink. What I mean is that some beers can’t be “chugged,” they need to be drunk slowly. So, in my opinion, a session beer can be higher in alcohol, as long as it’s designed to be drunk slow enough.

It’s always good to find a good session beer. One that you can come back to time and time again, and always enjoy. Regardless of alcohol content, flavour dynamics, and all the other stuff, that’s what a session beer is all about. It’s a personal thing.

So some of my favourite session beers (in no particular order) are:

  • Black Dog Brewery Lazy Dog
  • Killer Sprocket Amber Ale
  • 3 Ravens English

Feel free to comment on some of your favourites.