A few weeks ago Stefan from Sweden sent in a question asking what a session beer is, because we say it a lot, but he didn’t understand what it meant.
While session beers are common these days, the origin for the term is a bit shrouded in fog. Beer Advocate suggests that the term started in World War I England, where public houses were only allowed to only be open from 11 AM to 3 PM and 7 PM to 11 PM.
Workers in munitions factories would visit pubs during these periods and wanted beer wouldn’t leave them so drunk that they couldn’t go back to building anti-Kraut weapons.
However, writer Martyn Cornell, claims that the lower ABV was more as a result of the toll that German u-boats were taking on imports on barley from America during WW1 and as a result, in April 1917 the British government ordered brewers to only produce beer that was a ⅓ as strong as the previous year. Because of that, production and ABV fell.
Carrol also says that the first reference that he’s found to session as a term is in Samuel Beckett’s 1938 novel Murphy, when the pub restrictions were still in affect.
Today, a session beer holds many of the similar standards of its ancestors, though you may find a larger variety of types: it’s a balanced beer that you can drink over and over in a limited time frame, like a funny hat and/or wig party or a 6 beer lunch, without making you drunk or overpowering your senses like a double IPA or an imperial stout might. The beers are usually no higher than 4-5% ABV and have a nice balance between malt and hops, with a clean finish.
If you’re looking for a good session beer, try a Founders All Day IPA, Firestone Easy Jack and one of my favorites, Breckinridge Vanilla Porter, or what some call the original for craft beer, the Full Sail Session Premium Lager.