Among beer drinkers, Vancouver – in fact, the entire Pacific Northwest – has earned a reputation for making incredible West Coast-style IPAs (i.e. India Pale Ales). These tend to be full-bodied beers, with a higher-than-average alcohol content and an unmistakable hoppiness.
But the thing is IPAs aren’t for everyone. The bitter taste of the hops turns off lots of drinkers. Not to mention that the beers can be so heavy – and so strong – that it can be hard to drink more than one or two at a time, especially in the summer heat.
The solution? Session beers. Facing an IPA backlash, Vancouver microbrewers have turned their attention this summer to producing a crisper, more drinkable style of beer. I’m not talking about anonymous light beers or the fruit-flavoured suds favoured by the university crowd. Session beers are rich and flavourful without being overly heavy. They’re crisp and balanced and – most importantly – you can drink more than one at a time because the alcohol content rarely exceeds five percent.
But I’ll let the pros at Beeradvocate.com describe: “The purpose of a session beer is to allow a beer drinker to have multiple beers, within a reasonable time period or session, without overwhelming the senses or reaching inappropriate levels of intoxication.” In other words, a session beer is something that a true beer fan can enjoy over the course of a long afternoon at the beach or long evening on the patio.
It’s important to note that session beers are nothing new. European countries like Britain, Belgium and Germany – which have a much longer and nobler beer drinking tradition than we do – have been turning out highly drinkable saisons, bitters, marzens and other “sessionable” beers for centuries. At the end of the day, pretty much any type of beer – from a pilsner to an IPA and even a stout – can be made as a sessional, as long as the right brewmaster is at the helm.
Here are three Vancouver session beers worth considering this summer:
Red Racer Copper Ale from Central City Brewing: Most everything this Surrey-based brewer puts out is gold, and this amber ale is no exception. It has a bit of hoppiness for flavour and body, but this is balanced by toasted Munich malts. Akin to German-style Oktoberfest beers, Red Racer’s Copper Ale may be the perfect beer drinker’s summer beer.
Sabotage India Session Ale from Vancouver Island Brewing: As the name suggests, this is a genre-bending take on a traditional IPA (known as an ISA or India Session Ale). A mild hoppiness is balanced by citrus notes, leaving the beer smooth and drinkable and anything but bitter. This is an ideal beer for IPA fans who want a full-flavoured beer that packs a bit less of a punch.
Sessional from Main Street Brewing: The just-opened brewery off of Main Street has already jumped on the session beer bandwagon. Its sessional IPA balances smooth hops and premium malts and comes in at a very modest 4.8-percent alcohol content.
Dry Irish Stout from Postmark Brewing: This new brewery – located in gritty Railtown in the Urban Winery building – actually specializes in making easy-drinking session beers. Its lineup of beers – all of which are around five-percent alcohol content – includes a Red IPA (highlighting fruity hops instead of bitter ones) and a Czech-German style pilsner. But the most interesting sessional on tap may be the stout, which offers full-bodied flavour without the heavy alcohol kick.
While some of these beers may be available in specialty liquor stores, others can only be found on tap or at the microbreweries themselves.
Do you have a favourite session beer in Vancouver? Let us know below.
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