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What Is A Session IPA?

Loved by beer drinkers up and down the country, a session IPA is a popular choice at the bar.

As a beer fan, there’s no doubt that you’ll have your own favourite IPA.

Although India Pale Ale (IPA) started off as a distinct style many moons ago, there’s now a plethora of IPA styles.

Hazy, fruity, juicy, hoppy and double hopped are just some of the words used to describe IPAs.

In this article, we’ll be looking at session IPA, defining what it is and the key characteristics.

So, what is a session IPA?

A session IPA is pale in colour with a hoppy profile and a lower alcohol content.

A beer is generally considered session-strength if it’s less than 4% ABV.

It’s fair to say that a session IPA is light, not too bitter and not too malty. They’re known for their thirst-quenching, drinkable characteristics!

Session IPAs can be packaged in cask or keg, as well as in bottles and cans.

Session IPA characteristics

The three main characteristics of a Session IPA are:

  • Pale in colour
  • A well-established hop profile
  • Lower alcohol content

Aside from these general traits, the term IPA can now be used to cover a rich tapestry of different styles with all sorts of flavour combinations.

You can learn more about the main types of beer here.

Pictured above: Joseph Holt Black with fish and chips 

What does a sessionable ale mean?

We’ve probably all heard of the phrase ‘session’ before. Today, it refers to having a number of drinks over a long period of time. This is where the name session ale comes from.

It’s important to note that this is distinct from binge drinking. Drinkaware define binge drinking as ‘drinking a lot of alcohol over a short period of time’. This is not the intention at all of a session ale – quite the opposite in fact.

With a lower alcohol content but the same refreshing and flavour-packed taste, a session ale is ideal for socialising and casually enjoying with friends over the course of a couple of hours.

The origins of the term ‘session’ are unknown. Some people think that a session beer got its name from WW1 munitions workers who would take a short session break where they would have a light, lower strength beer.

However, the style of weaker beers dates back much further than this. Light or small beer (less than 3% ABV) was consumed during the Medieval times to provide both hydration, nourishment and calories for the hard-working manual workers.

Some say that during this time, ale was drunk instead of water as it was safer!

Session ale examples

A session ale is a broader term than session IPA, which refers specifically to India Pale Ale.

When it comes to a session ale, a wide range of beer styles can be covered including pale ales, porters, milds, golden ales, blondes and dark ales.

To be classed as a session ale, the main criteria is the alcohol content. Generally speaking, this should be less than 4% ABV.

For example, Joseph Holt has a number of beers that can be described as a session ale including:

Pictured above: Joseph Holt Smooth in the Lamb, Eccles.

IPA vs Session IPA

If you like an IPA, you might be wondering what the difference is between an IPA vs Session IPA.

This all comes down to the strength of the beer. Session IPAs are not as strong as their standard IPA counterparts.

At Joseph Holt, we brew a couple of different pale ale versions that we wouldn’t describe as a session ale.

For example, our superb Chorlton Pale Ale in cask is brewed to 4% ABV. We also have American Pale Ale at 4.5% and Northern Hop Citrus Pale Ale at 4.2%.

Although none of these are very high in alcohol (and some may even still describe them as ‘sessionable’), they’re just a little higher than the 4% threshold. When compared to some of the high alcohol IPAs you see at some bars – ones that are 6% and over – the Joseph Holt pale ales offer a great tasting middle ground.

Ultimately, if you’re drawn to flavour, enjoy a good hop profile, but want to be able to drink a few over a longer period, a Session IPA is the one for you.

You may even consider a lighter ale paired with some delicious pub food.

Wrap up on session IPAs

In short, a session IPA is a light, pale beer with a high hop content.

It’s a fantastic style that’s popular with both beer connoisseurs and occasional drinkers at the pub.

If you’re inspired to try a session IPA, just head down to your local Joseph Holt pub. You can also order a wide range of beer styles from the online beer shop – you can’t say we haven’t got you covered!

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