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Summer Sessions

June 7, 2011

Nothing goes better with warm weather than a crisp, flavorful session beer. Now that the sun has finally decided to come out, there are some great new session brews out there to take advantage of.

The jury is currently out on what exactly constitutes a session beer. Traditionally, it was meant to designate any beer with an abv below 4%. Nowadays, most people in the craft beer world seem to agree that 5.1% abv is the cutoff point. I think that defining anything too rigidly is pretty pointless. Considering how common “big” beers have become (Imperial styles, barleywines, etc.), I think it’s fair to say that any beer that hovers around 5% abv is sessionable, especially if it’s made specifically to be easily-drinkable.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’ve recently been really into the Kennebec River Brewery’s Summer Ale. At 5.3%, it’s very smooth and subdued with slight flavors of lemon and citrus, some apple, honey, and floral notes. It’s technically an American Pale Ale, but is not as overtly hoppy as most of them tend to be, so in that way it has a lot in common with milder English ales. I used to spend summers up around the Kennebec River in Maine, white-water rafting and stuff like that, and this beer would have been the perfect end to a day on the river (or you know, any day really).

The Rhode Island-based Narragansett Brewing Company has been making a big comeback recently, having been bought and revamped into a craft brewery back in 2005. Their Summer Ale is surprisingly good (and cheap), and it comes in 6-pack tallboy cans which are perfect for summer. At 4.2% abv, it’s light-tasting, soft, and citrusy, and as gloriously uncomplicated as all good session beers should be. I had my doubts about Narragansett, but with their new ownership they seem to be heading in the right direction, and it’ll be interesting to see what they come out with next.

The Notch Brewing Company, based in Ipswich, has been making waves recently with their line of session beers. I like the fact that they make a point of advertising them as session beers, which I think is a category that has long been neglected. Their Session Pils is a take on a Czech Pilsner at 4% abv, and it has sweet pilsner malts and grassy, earthy hops, with a dry, slightly bitter finish. Their Session Ale is a hoppy, medium-bodied American Pale Ale at 4.5% abv, with some caramel and toasted malts, and more pronounced fruity flavors. Both of these beers are solid, flavorful examples of what session beers can be, and are definite crowd-pleasers for those that are familiar with beer as well as those who aren’t.

So take some time this summer to show session beers some love, because on sunny days there’s always room for a session.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2011 8:50 am

    I always feel that the Notch stuff is to expensive to be a session beer. I think the stores are mostly to blame thinking, oh its a craft, lets charge more.

    I do have a soft spot for the Narragansett, its cheap, tasty, and super refreshing.

    • June 10, 2011 11:13 am

      Ken, ‘too expensive to be a session beer’? It is a craft, it costs about the same as a craft beer, and it tastes great. Is it the price of Notch you’re objecting to, or the price of craft beer?

      • June 12, 2011 11:54 am

        Thanks Lew.

      • June 12, 2011 3:51 pm

        Haha yea, thanks Lew.

        It’s always been curious to me how people are willing to spend more on wine, but when it comes to beer people expect it all to be dirt cheap, regardless of quality. Must be an image thing?

      • Ken Goyette permalink
        June 13, 2011 5:53 pm

        No problem with expensive Craft Beer at all. But Session beers, usually come in at a lower price point. I have seen Notch at about 11 dollars a six pack at a few places. Never really checked everywhere, but it seems at 11 a six pack it’s a bit high. Especially if you are comparing it to the 7.99 that the Narragansett costs. Just my opinion I am sure there will be people that disagree

      • June 14, 2011 9:59 am

        Hey Ken,
        It seems as though the places you’ve been shopping are gouging a bit? We have it on the shelf at $8.95…so that may be where the argument is…
        -lindsey

      • Ken Goyette permalink
        June 14, 2011 3:39 pm

        Yes. At 8.99 that makes way more sense. As I said it seemed like the stores were doing that, but again I wasn’t sure

  2. Jonathan Maher permalink
    June 8, 2011 9:59 am

    I had Narragansetts Summer at ACBF last week and was surprisingly impressed with it. I thought the Stone/Ballast Point/Kelsey Mcnair San Diego Session Ale was fantastic. So much hop for a session, wish they made more or offered it as a sixer.

    • June 10, 2011 6:40 pm

      Definitely, I loved the San Diego Session Ale. So much hop character in a relatively small beer (as far as abv).

  3. June 9, 2011 2:58 pm

    The Narragansett Summer Ale also benefits from being in a can. You can throw it in a cooler and head out to BBQ’s, camping trips, etc. with it and not have to deal with glass bottles. I bought a few 6 packs the last time I was in your store to stash away for days when I knew I was going to be outdoors.

    • June 10, 2011 6:43 pm

      Good call. Craft beer in a can is definitely the wave of the future. Much easier to deal with outdoors, and better for the environment as well (recycling and whatnot). Thanks for commenting.

  4. Sam permalink
    June 10, 2011 3:08 pm

    I am heading up in the area of the Kennebec Brewery soon and now plan to stop and try out the summer brew. Thanks for the heads up Deron.

    • June 10, 2011 6:52 pm

      It’s definitely worth a try. They’re a relatively new brewery, so it would be interesting to see what they have on tap as well.

  5. mark permalink
    June 20, 2011 3:50 pm

    Don’t forget mayflower summer rye, its 3.8% and delicious.

    • June 20, 2011 5:44 pm

      Yeah, Mayflower is excellent; however–they had some bottling line issues a few weeks back leaving us without stock when this post came out! Oh well…can’t write about them all 😉 Next time? Either way, I have a bottle of their Rye to try tonight! Haven’t had it yet so I’m kinda excited.

    • June 20, 2011 7:28 pm

      I haven’t actually tried that yet, I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation

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