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Exactly What Is A Session Beer And Why Is Everyone Frothing Over Them

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If you’ve never heard the term ‘session beer’ before, you’re not alone. The style of beer was only introduced into the Australian market two years ago, and so is still relatively unknown. But with session beer predicted to be the next big thing, they’re certainly a style to get to know.

So what exactly defines a session beer? According to beer expert Kirrily Waldhorn, it’s the distinctive flavour.

“Session beers are well-balanced beers that still have some really nice, distinctive flavour characteristics that aren’t necessarily overly bitter,” she says.

“That bitterness is really nicely balanced in with the overall flavour.”

The classic test for determining whether a beer is a sessionable one is the answer to the question: Is it a beer that you would sit in a beautiful beer garden and drink all afternoon?

Pacific Ale is the perfect session beer Photo: Stone & Wood/Facebook

They should never be too overpowering and challenging, tend to be lower in alcohol (3.5 to 4 percent), have a lighter body and are easier to consume. Though they are typically associated with summer drinking, they’re also suitable for the winter. In fact, they’re suitable to drink anytime and for any occasion.

Dan Murphy’s Beer Ambassador Waldhorn says session beers are ideal for craft beer lovers that want something lighter than hop-forward IPAs and other styles.

More recently, beer-drinkers have been asking for less challenging alternatives, and so the more approachable style was born.

Today, there are countless options available on shelves.

Mismatch Brewing Co’s session ale Photo: Mismatch/Facebook

“Most of the craft breweries in Australia – of which we now have more than 450 breweries in Australia – will have a beer that sits within that sessionable flavour profile,” says Waldhorn.

With so many session beers now on shelves, it can be tricky to know which to try. Walhorn says some of her favourites include the Session Ales by Mismatch Brewing Co (a 4 percent beer with a refreshing, fruity flavour and a clean, dry finish), Sly Fox (4 to 4.5 per cent alcohol beer made by Western Australian beer brand Feral) and Quiet Deeds (a 4.4 percent).

Another of her preferred choices is Newstead Brewing in Queensland who offer a 3.4 percent session ale with fruit and citrus characters in the hops.

New world hops define session ales Photo: Supplied

Session ales usually tend to be labelled as such, but, if not, checking the beer’s alcohol content should also indicate whether it falls into that category. Some craft breweries have also begun including intensity of flavour icons on labels, too. These tell you how high on the flavour scale their hop or malt characteristics are. Other session beers worth trying are extra pale ales (XPAs), says Walhorn.

“These beers really pack a lot of flavour into them so you’ve got these really nice big fresh hop aromas, but without the bitterness,” she says.

“They’re really drinkable, very thirst-quenching and often have those beautiful New World hops characteristics as well.”

It’s hops, flowers from the hop plant, that are used to create the bitterness and aroma in beer. ‘New World hops’ are hops from Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Session beers with New World hops have fresh, fruity and tropical characteristics to them – something that, again, makes for easy drinking.

Balter Brewing’s Captain Sensible Photo: Balter/Facebook

For someone new to session beers, Waldhorn suggests the award-winning Balter Brewing Captain Sensible from Queensland or Stone & Wood Pacific Ale.

While again session beers don’t necessarily need to be consumed in the summer, they do pair well with summer foods. Summer salads, cheeses, and light seafoods including grilled prawns, scallops, fish and chips – all go well. Dessert-wise, Walhorn says you won’t go wrong with a summer pudding or lemon cheesecake pairing.

This summer, the beer style trend is expected to spill across the country.

“We’re also seeing quite a few sour beers come onto the market which can be more like drinking a sparkling wine, with their bright acidity from the souring ,” Waldhorn says.

“So I absolutely think this segment of the beer category in terms of refreshability and drinkability, is going to continue to grow.”

Published 12 December, 2018