Session IPAs: I Like This Trend

August 16th, 2012 · 8 Comments · Beer Reviews

I love a good IPA. But, while I can appreciate a 9% Imperial IPA as much as the next hophead, what I really seek out these days are low alcohol IPAs that give you plenty of hop flavor without overwhelming you with alcohol and bitterness. Many of these lower alcohol IPAs fall in at just over or under 5% ABV and I can sit down and have a few without getting too out of control. But, recently we’ve started seeing a few true session IPAs weighing in at considerably less than 5% ABV, and I couldn’t be happier.

One of my favorites so far is the Little Chief Session IPA from Snipes Mountain Brewery, located in the heart of hop country. I’ve found this on tap at several Seattle bars over the past month and can’t pass it up. Head Brewer Chad Roberts does a great job of featuring the hop flavors, yet keeping the overall beer balanced. And, at just 3.8% ABV I can throw down a couple of these without even a hint of a buzz. It doesn’t have a lot of malt character, but it is well-balanced for such a light, hoppy beer.

I reached out to Chad to get some background and details on Little Chief:

While I was Assistant Brewer, Chris made Big Chief, to celebrate both his 3rd anniversary at Snipes, and the CEO of Yakima Chief’s 3rd Anniversary as CEO.  It was a really nice, reddish hop bomb. While Chris was here, we had both discussed Session IPAs (I’ve settled on SIPA as the best acronym), but he left for California before we got a chance to brew one together.
So, Karl Vanevenhoven, Director of Operations at  Yakima Chief was eagerly awaiting the birth of his first son, Case.  In honor of all of this, I plugged the Big Chief recipe into BeerSmith and set about dragging the ABV down while keeping the same BUs.  It was very well received, but I considered it too bitter to be sessionable, so each subsequent batch I continue to tweak the recipe.  The hoppiness and aroma were all there on the first two batches, but not yet the mouthfeel that I think is lacking.  Most SIPAs I’ve had have decent mouthfeel (nowhere near an IPA) but are lacking in the hop department.  I’d like something that is still lighter than a normal IPA (not a big malt fan), has a big hoppy presence (not making a pale ale), but with enough mouthfeel to balance the intense hoppiness.

The first batch had Washington Select 2-Row Pale, DextraPils and Acid Malt, with the hops being Warrior Extract, Simcoe, Citra and Amarillo. The second batch I added Caramel Wheat, and used Ahtanum instead of Amarillo.  It was less bitter, but still lacking in mouthfeel. (this is the batch currently in Seattle, that you drank) The third batch I dropped the Acid malt, added a bit of C-40 and upped the DextraPils. I then used Warrior pellets to bitter, and Amarillo is the flavor hop instead of Simcoe.  It’s still early, but the mouthfeel is definitely closer to where I want, but I think I will put the acid malt back in next time to help the hops pop more.

I was planning to make Little Chief year round, but with the fall and winter seasons coming, I think it might have to take a hiatus.  We’ll see.  It, along with all of Snipes beers, are now distributed state-wide.

I think some of the other SIPAs out there don’t quite reach the mark, and it seems to be linked with BUs, unfortunately.  Most I see out there are 45, and are just lacking somehow.  First LC was 80, then I dragged it down to 59, where it sits now.  Some SIPAs are in fact, amazing Pale Ales with identity crises.

I’ll keep looking for more Little Chief everywhere I go, as well as other hoppy session beers. Another solid example that’s been around this sumer is the Johnny Utah IPA from Georgetown Brewing, which weights in at 3.7% ABV.

For any breweries that are up to the challenge, I’ve love to see this become more of a trend in Seattle.


8 Comments so far ↓

  • Wit fan

    Big fan of session IPA. Hope it is a long term trend.

  • Justin

    Would you mind naming some of the places you found Little Chief SIPA?

  • Kaiser

    Bottleworks, Brouwer’s, Naked City and I think Noble Fir. Brouwer’s was most recent, about 2 weeks ago.

  • Skrud

    I’m also a pretty big fan of Two Beers’ Trailhead “India Session Ale”, and it’s commonly available.

  • Bob

    Just tried Georgetown’s “Johnny Utah” session IPA last Saturday at Mukilteo Lodge Sports Grille and was impressed. Later in the day at the 4-Corners Brew Fest I found out what “session” means from a Georgetown rep, and I was even happier. Now I’m sad I can’t get Johnny Utah from the store…

  • Huh....what?

    I get this is a lead in piece to hype session IPA’s…..great!

    But when did an IPA (5.5%-7.5%) become an Imperial IPA (9%) as you represented in the blog?

    Bring on the session IPA’s, but no need exaggerate categories in order to create a story…

  • Kaiser

    “But when did an IPA (5.5%-7.5%) become an Imperial IPA (9%) as you represented in the blog?”

    Sorry that is what you took away from that first paragraph, but I did not intend it that way.

    I’m fairly confident that most people reading this blog realize that there is a difference between a standard IPA and an Imperial IPA. The fact is that stronger IPAs get more focus these days (especially from beer geeks), and that was the contrast I was trying to convey.

  • alejam

    “Some SIPAs are in fact, amazing Pale Ales with identity crises.”
    – All SIPAs are in fact pale ales. Will we create a session stout next? No. Why? A stout, just like an IPA, is it’s own category and should not be dumbed down. You want to create a new category go for it. This is a similar conversation to the BIPA, it should be recognized as a Cascadian Dark ale and should be displayed that way in the BJCP.
    The point of writing this is to point out that the SIPA is a Pale Ale that wants some attention. However it is a clever marketing strategy.

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