The Self Hating Hipster’s Guide to Session Beers

20 Aug

In honor of the Self Hating Hipster’s first birthday, I asked the SHH himself what the topic of the first style guide in almost a year should be. If you’re not familiar with some of the other ones I’ve written, what I like to do is talk about a style of beer, it’s background, and offer some suggestions to help you navigate the beer store so you don’t have to ask the guy at the counter, who is busy doing scratchers.

My task today is to detail some of the better session beers available to the beer drinking public. What’s a session beer? Beer Advocate tried to answer that very same question, and ultimately ended up with the answer of:Any beer that contains no higher than 5 percent ABV, featuring a balance between malt and hop characters (ingredients) and, typically, a clean finish – a combination of which creates a beer with high drinkability.”

So there you go, in a nut shell, it’s a beer you can enjoy more of without getting as drunk as you would with stronger beers. Something you can enjoy on a hot day, or perhaps just hanging out at a greyhound track with your uncle and his buddies from Yonkers. Chillin’ beer. With the recent boom in “places where you can try hella kinds of beer,” it’s always better to know what your lower alcohol options are. After all, they all seem to hire bouncers that are in some kind of work release program.

Now, I’m not saying you should go and drink a six pack. I’m just saying if you HAVE to go and drink a six pack, try one of the beers listed below, so you don’t end up drinking f’n Genessee. As a rule of thumb, all beers will have an ABV of five percent or less.

21st Amendment – “Bitter American” (San Fransisco, CA) Alcohol by volume: 4.4%

Starting us off is the canned offering from 21st Amendment, Bitter American. This beer was brewed specifically as a session beer, and one that holds up all afternoon long. More or less an American pale ale, Bitter American turns down the hops that most pales tend towards and embraces the refreshing qualities of a beer brewed light. It’s much darker in complexion than you’d anticipate. I was more prepared for a lager than a smoother pale. Either way, I bought this in Virginia, and of course a week later it was available in New York.

SlyFox Brewing – “O’Reilly’s Stout” (Pottstown, PA) Alcohol by volume: 3.6%

O’Reilly’s Stout is a miniscule 3.6 percent alcohol, which is similar but a bit lower than other dry, Irish stouts such as Guinness (4.3%) or Murphy’s (4%.) Inching even further under the limbo bar, O’Reilly’s has quickly become the go-to session at the local beer bar that offers more than enough stronger options to leave you in a stupor. The thin texture is similar to the other stouts, but still has a touch more roasted flavor. Not as creamy as most people hope, but that’s a good thing in my opinion.

Dixie Brewing Co. – “Dixie Lager” (New Orleans, LA) Alcohol by volume: 4.6%

Here is easily the most polarizing selection I’ll make in this style guide. There is no middle ground, at least in my own experiences, regarding Dixie Lager. On one side of the coin, people like the familiar-yet-slightly-different taste than other American Adjunct Lagers. The other side likens this to pee water, and hates you for drinking it. I’m not nearly that closed-minded and chances are you’ll end up enjoying this beer if you’re just looking to have one while you fish for crawdads or noodle catfish. It also really compliments most spicy Cajun food. Don’t be a jerk, and drink Dixie.

Brasserie Lefebvre – “Blanche de Bruxelles” (Brussels, Belgium) Alcohol by volume: 4.5%

Someone remarked on twitter the other day that Blue Moon is a craft beer for Nazi sympathizers. With all the awesome witbiers and Belgian White-styles out there, can we all agree to stop ordering Blue Moon? If you’re looking for a replacement, go no further than this post. Blanche de Bruxelles is one of the most refreshing, easy-drinking tasty beers I’ve had all summer. They also come in convenient tall-boy cans for hella fast chilling and consuming. It’s brightly colored packaging (seriously, I drank it in a concert venue parking lot swarming with rangers on ATV’s and they all thought it was a soda) will easily convince whatever weird Blue Moon hold out to try it (because if you’re holding out for Blue Moon, you were swayed too easily anyways.)

Switchback Brewing Co. – “Switchback Ale” (Burlington, VT) Alcohol by volume: 5%

Switchback (No, not Switchfoot) clocks in around the higher end for being a session beer, but considering it’s still the same ABV as Budweiser, it’s relatively light. It can be used as a stand-in for a pale ale in black and tan (called a black and Switch) or drank as a refreshing American pale ale with minimal aftertaste. It’s only available on draught, meaning it’s growler fills or pints at the bar to get your Switchback (Protip: If you see something called Switchback Roasted Red, do yourself a favor and get it.)

Smuttynose Brewing – “Star Island Single” (Portsmouth, NH) Alcohol by volume: 4.7%

This one from Smuttynose is stylized as a Belgian pale ale, and is a bit spicier than its American counterparts. If you were doing a flight of SN beer, you’re likely to start right here with Star Island Single. After a lot of heavier, hoppier or simply bigger beers, this one doesn’t taste like much. If you’re starting here though, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at this crisp, dry beer. Also, it is named like a level in Super Mario, which will earn bonus points every time at this blog.

Brouwerjj Van Honsebrouck – “Bacchus” (Belgium) Alcohol by volume: 4.5%

The other night at the afformentioned beer bar, I tried to order a full pint of a different beer. Instead, I got a full pint of this, which is normally about $11 worth of beer (at shitty, beer bar prices.) At 4.5%, this is actually a lot lower than most other beers of it’s style (something called a Flanders Oud Bruin.) It’s very tart, easily the most sour of the session beer guide. This is kind of a great introductory sour for the unacquainted.

New Belgium Brewing Co.  – “Shift” (Fort Collins, CO) Alcohol by volume: 5%

I am always very hesitant to include any beers I personally have not had. That said, since I’ve tried most of the other New Belgium standards, this one remains the most recommended that I have yet to try. Friend of the blog, beer drinkin’ Jan, also recommended it.  I’ve heard it referred to as “what PBR would taste like if New Belgium brewed PBR.” A description like that validates the purchase itself, and I’m hoping to try this when I visit Colorado this fall.


Hey! Have you still not tried enough? Here’s a quick list of other beers under 5% that are worthy of your hard earned beer dollars my friend:

Breckenridge Brewing  – “Agave Wheat” (4.2%)

Dortmunder Actien-Brauerei – “DAB Original” (4.7%)

Dogfish Head Brewing – “Shelter Pale Ale” (5%)

Two Brothers Brewing – “Long Haul Session Ale” (4.2%)

Founders Brewery – “All Day IPA” (4.7%)

So there you go SHH, sorry it took you having to be around for a year for me to write another style guide. Happy birthday, and thank you for providing the launching point for me as a writer. I’m eternally grateful. As for me, I’m off to the Great American Beer Festival in October. From now until then, I’ll be trying to build my tolerance so I’m not obliterated by elevation. As always, if you’re driving, don’t drink and if you did, don’t drive. Cheers!

2 Responses to “The Self Hating Hipster’s Guide to Session Beers”

  1. Jan August 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    Awesome post Andy.

  2. the self-hating hipster August 21, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    Great article! Agreed on Dixie Lager. I can’t say that I was there the night they drove old Dixie down, but there have been a few nights were old Dixie drove my ass down…

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