It’s an oft-used term that really needs definition: Just what is a “session beer”? In a nutshell, a session beer is a highly drinkable beverage that is light enough (typically less than 5% ABV, according to this Beer Advocate feature) to enable multiple beers to be downed during a “session” (time period) without intoxicating oneself.
Some beers are way too heavy going – however flavoursome – to be considered “session” beers. One of my favourite ales, Jennings’ Sneck Lifter, is just over 5% ABV in strength but is so flavoursome and complex that (personally speaking) I’d rather save it for an isolated beer occasion, similarly some imperial stouts have that ‘beer plug’ effect, being very filling in nature. Therefore, not beers you’d want (or physically be able to) build a session around.
So, while there are hundreds of great session ales out there, here are ten cracking session beers to look out for if you’re down the pub watching football, for example:
Harveys Sussex Best Bitter: Possibly my favourite of all the session ales out there, this brew makes up almost all of Harveys’ output. The only drawback is you have to be within around 60 miles radius of Harveys’ Lewes base to drink it but it is fan-tas-tic and it’s Harveys’ unique yeast that makes it so. We had a 70-odd pint cask of this at a party last year and it went quite quickly! The Harveys Brewery Tour is also well worth a visit.
Tribute by St. Austell: The beer that reversed the fortunes of a company. Tribute is a real cracker and is now a familiar site on pump clips across the land. Eminently quaffable and loaded with tangy taste, I pay tribute to the Tribute regularly! I’ve also interviewed the guy that invented Tribute.
Timothy Taylor Landlord: While collating this list I noticed that most of them were southern. This is not intentional, given that one of the very, very best session beers, nay ANY beer, ANYwhere, ANYwhen, is Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. I make a beeline for this when I see it on tap and I gather Madonna is a fan, too…
Sambrook’s Wandle: Battersea’s finest and available across London, the Wandle just looks and feels like the perfect English bitter. It also goes down a treat.
Ringwood Fortyniner: Like the Wandle, this looks like a proper session bitter before you’ve even tasted it. It’s got a nutty, woody nose and there’s a cheeky late lemon kick which really makes this one beer you’ll want to build a night around.
Shepherd Neame’s Master Brew: This might come as a surprise to Shepherd Neame as Spitfire Ale is the flagship beer it’s really pushing, but I actually prefer the Master Brew as far as session beers go. It’s a little fuller and smoother, with that familiar Shepherd Neame tang. Try it out and see what you think.
Morland’s Old Golden Hen: Lighter and zestier than its illustrious sister brew, Old Speckled Hen, the Old Golden Hen is perfect for this time of year. It’s flavoursome, fruity and quick down the hatch while being really refreshing for the summer months.
Truman’s Runner/Summer Runner: There are two seasonal versions of the Truman Runner, an old recipe dug up by the Truman brand’s new owners from the London Metropolitan Archive. Both are exquisite and very widely available across…er…East London. Sorry to those outside the smoke! If you happen to be in London, specifically the Spitalfields area, make sure you swing by the Ten Bells, Water Poet or other nearby establishment that serves Truman’s beer to enjoy this one.
Gem by Bath Ales: West Country drinkers will know Bath Ales. Nationwide you can find them in supermarkets, too. I’m a big fan of the Gem as far as session ales go. It’s a classic, well-rounded and pleasant English-style session beer. There’s a hint of caramel in there too, which always pleases.
London Pride by Fuller’s: I had to pick one of the big guns and this would be it. It’s the UK’s bestselling ale and for a reason. It’s well balanced and quaffable, meaning punters go back to it time and time again.
A couple of others which I’ve reviewed briefly but need to touch on properly are Sharp’s Doom Bar and Hogs Back Brewery’s Traditional English Ale (TEA), both of which are cracking session bitters.
What’s your go-to session beer?Tweet