Session IPAs: The Backlash to High-Alcohol Beers

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Courtesy Firestone Walker Brewing

For years, the overhopped IPA was the mainstay of the craft beer world. They tasted great (most of them, that is). But downing two of them left you a little, shall we say, bloated. More than three, and dinner was out of the question. Not to mention driving.

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That's why the arrival of session IPAs – beers designed specifically so that drinkers can enjoy a few in a single session – is such a refreshing change. These ales are leaner, brighter, and drier than the IPAs you've come to expect.

"Think simpler, flavorful, well-made beers that aren't going to burn out your palate," says Dave McLean, of San Francisco's Magnolia Brewing Company, which just launched a beer-focused barbecue restaurant, Smokestack, where the list is loaded with food-friendly session ales.

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Such brews achieve lightness by cutting down on grains that boost alcohol and adding what brewers call late-addition hops, which are hops added for aroma at the end of the brewing process. The resulting beers retain much of the oomph and tang of bigger beers, minus the alcohol (and calories).

The new versions, like Go to IPA, from Escondido, California's Stone Brewing Co.; Easy Jack, from California's Firestone Walker; and All Day IPA, from Grand Rapids, Michigan's Founders, are not merely defanged, they're recalibrated and leave the palate drier and thirstier for another sip. And some barbecue.

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