Summer is upon us and so are summer brews. However not everyone is aware of the flavour change that is upon us!
I have had many people ask me “Spencer, why are breweries making lagers and easier to drink beers? Is it because they realize that no one likes IPAs or dark beers anymore?” “Spencer, what does session mean” and finally “Spencer, why are all the beers made with fruit now?”
Well! To answer the first question I have to do it in two parts.
First, to address the recent increase in Lager creation you have to look at it from the brewer’s perspective, or rather the brewery owner’s perspective. Craft beer, if not obvious enough already, has become very popular. It edges on being a fashion statement at times. With over 250 craft breweries in Ontario now it is hard to find a town that does not have their own brewery, or at least a quick drive away. Part of this is because breweries offered a variety of flavours that you couldn’t get at the beer store, or there was only a small selection at your local LCBO. Another part is that the brewery itself was a cool place to be. I talked about this in my post “Tour of The Town” where breweries provided a unique environment which amplified (or in some cases stifled) your impressions of their beer. This showed a shift from craft beer drinkers from going to Craft Beer restaurants that serve a variety of breweries where they could get food as well to now going to the breweries themselves and grabbing a snack there.
Now, because breweries have grown so popular, and have become an attraction for the whole city, there are now many more customers to please. This is where the classic lager beer comes in. I did talk about lagers in “Lager and Beau’s” and why they are so easy to drink, but also how breweries differ from the big beer companies like Bud and Labatt’s. A lager is a crowd pleaser and always will be. It is only a benefit for a brewery to carry this style especially for those friends of craft beer snobs who only come along to the brewery to be able to hang out with their friends. Many breweries will hold on to these lagers long term, like London Brewing Co-Op’s Lager. Now that it is being served in various local bars (shout out to the Wortley Roadhouse), there would be no reason to get rid of it.
London Brewing Co-Op – Instagram
To answer the second part of this first question in an already long winded answer is the fact that it is summer. Warm weather makes us thirsty, therefore we need easy to drink, crushable, refreshing beers, and lagers meet that need quite nicely. The reason IPAs are made less right now, or rather aren’t put on the LCBOs shelves is for the same reason as well. Normally an IPA has quite a lot of flavour and sipping the beer is the preferred method of drinking which is not ideal for hot summer patios. To deal with that issue, breweries created the much more approachable “Session IPA” (or Session Pale Ale/Lager whatever)
On to the second question “What does Session Mean?”
Well, to me it means that you could have a few of these beers and not be a total wreck afterward. Low alcohol %, easy flavour, refreshing; as if you could drink a few in one session. Or according to the LCBO: “Session ales came to be back in WWI England when workers got two four-hour drinking periods or “sessions” per day calling for a lighter brew than the usual stout or porter”. Either way, you get a bigger bang for your buck as far as flavour goes, instead of alcohol.
I went out and snagged myself a select few Session Ales just to see if there is some consistency with my definition of Session Ales.
To start I had Great Lakes Brewery’s Sunnyside Session IPA.
Sunnyside sits low in Alcohol with 3.9% which is the lowest of the beers I’m trying. Definitely on the sweeter side, but not quite fruity. As you can see with the colour it is very light, almost clear yet still cloudy, but there is still a strong hop flavour hidden in there. Of course, this is one I would recommend for everyone who wants to creep their way into hoppy beers without having to take very tiny sips to get through it. However, this being part of their Tank Ten series, this beer won’t be available forever.
Next I jumped up in alc% to 4.8% with Railway City Brewing Company Express India Session Lager.
What Railway has claimed they did here is put together their India Pale Ale with a Lager to create a much easier to drink brew. What came out of it was 90% India Pale Ale and 10% Lager. Especially comparing this to Sunnyside, Express has much more hops and is quite a bit less sweet. Now before I get too negative, I really enjoy this beer. It has slowly turned into the evening and cooled down quite a bit which becomes the perfect setting for a bit more hops. (Its almost like I planned for that to happen).
Third is Maclean’s Bent Spoke Session-able Ale, which at first glance is much clearer than the first two beers and boy, does the flavour match that. Very zippy with hints of lemon, barley and pretty darn sweet. Perhaps more of a flavourful lager rather than a Session Ale, but still does the job. Refreshing and goes down easy, especially when considering the low 3.8% alc. This beer would do well on any patio for casual beer lovers.
Just about as clear as the Bent Spoke comes Central City’s Red Racer I.S.A (India Session Ale). Much more bubbly coming out of the can creates a very frothy head which leads me to believe this beer will have much more flavour. After the first sip, there is an initial strong sense of toffy or a sweet caramel malt, not something I would expect from an IPA or a Session ale. Compared to all of the previous beers, I.S.A. is very sweet and very malt forward with little to no hops. I would have a hard time calling this an India Session Ale, maybe a Session English Ale, or Session Scotch Ale, but lacking the hops steers it very far away from India.
Finally for my last beer, ironically named The Starter Session IPA by Four Father Brewing Co. On the higher end of alcohol for Session Ales (4.8%), a dark golden fuzzy beer pours from the can. A large amount of hops bellows out of the glass making me think this will be a stronger tasting Session beer, but the can assures me of citrus notes. First sip is very similar to Sunnyside, which is a good thing. A bit on the sweeter side with a hint of tang on the finish. I definitely find those citrus notes but I’m not afraid to take larger sips. Pleasantly surprised with this one.
My findings may not be the most scientific or above bias, but there is quite an inconsistency when it comes to Session Beers. Sunnyside fits closest to what I think Session IPAs should taste like. Easy to drink, refreshing but not bland or boring. If I had to rank them to help with choosing your next Session brew they would go as follows:
- Great Lakes Brewing Sunnyside Session IPA
- Four Fathers The Starter Session IPA
- Railway City Express India Session Lager
- Maclean’s Bent Spoke Sessionable Ale
- Central City Red Racer I.S.A
Each have their own appealing aspects, but 4 and 5 hardly fit my description or rather my opinion of what Session Beers should be like. I.S.A. is hard to consider a proper Session Ale, but might fit someones fancy if they prefer toffy-like flavours.
Other notable Session brews that I have enjoyed in the past and would recommend are Bench Brewing Ball Falls Session IPA (Also available at the Wortley Roadhouse). This beer features quite a bit more hops compared to Sunnyside and Express, but feature much more citrus that add to the refreshing aspect of what a Session ale is; very comparable to Four Father The Starter. Collective Arts State of Mind Session Ale also meets my expectations of a good Session Ale, can’t really go wrong with Collective Arts though.
Now as for the third and final question. “Why do all of the beers have fruit in them now?” Same could be said as to why we eat fresh strawberries in the end of June into July, or why we pick our own oranges during the summer. Breweries love using fresh ingredients, especially when they can boast about the ingredients being local (See every Can that claims to use local water). With summer upon us, our instincts naturally go to fruits, many of which are tropical. It’s really only recent that these fruity beers are also including lactose sugars. This makes a much creamier, sweeter beer that practically turns into juice. For example Collective Arts Liquid Arts Fest.
Made with Passionfruit, Mango and Vanilla blending into Simcoe and Citra hops (both of which are very fruity already) create a full bodied Milkshake IPA. Sweet, Hoppy, Sour, Creamy, Juicy, everything fits into this beer and much like the Session Beers it is only available for this summer season.
When we return to cooler weather, and the harvests begin I will write about what flavour profiles begin to pop up, as well as what to look out for, and why we have to say goodbye to our easy drinking session brews.
My next post will be about Czech Pilsners and where they fit within the season. As well as how during the plateau of summer flavours, what breweries do to attract costumers through stylish can designs.