Sessionable beers are perfect for a summer gathering

Americans love their beer on the Fourth of July. There’s something about barbecues, fireworks, and independence from England that makes us a thirsty lot. Beer is a fantastic companion to fireworks and barbecues, at least until the person manning the grill or the lighter has too many brews and Independence Day ends up being celebrated in the ER.

Thankfully, there is a way to enjoy your brews and stay upright: “session beers.” The term for these low-alcohol but full-flavored brews comes from England, with the idea being that the drinker could knock back a few pints in a few hours without falling down on the way back home or to work.

In recent years, America has jumped on board and has seen a rise in delicious sub-5% alcohol-by-volume beers, which is what I’ll use as the cut-off point for the purposes of this column. Strict session beer geeks will say a brew has to be below 4.5% to be “sessionable,” but we’ll be a bit more generous.

Some readers may not see much difference between a 5% beer and a 6% beer. It’s just 1%, right? But that 6% beer has 20% more alcohol than the 5%, which has 25% more alcohol than a 4% beer. Over the course of a day of drinking, that 1% or 2% makes a huge difference, especially if one intends to handle open flames or climb behind the wheel.

Of course, America’s macro brewers are famed for their “lite” beers and even super-light beers like Miller 64. I’m not going to write about those, because life is too short to drink boring beers. Read on to learn about low-alcohol brews that we can actually taste!

Fortunately for us, Massachusetts is the home of an excellent session-only brewery: Notch Brewing, whose owner and brewer Chris Lohring makes no beer bigger than 4.5%. I haven’t had a bad brew by them, and their Left of the Dial IPA (4.3%) may very well be the best session IPA out there. Mildly grapefruity, slightly floral, lightly bready, and entirely yummy, this is a session beer worth seeking out.

Another amazingly sessionable beer is Mayflower’s Summer Rye, which is just 3.8% ABV and packs a serious punch of spicy rye flavor and a crisp taste that includes a welcome slightly sour bite. It’s an impressive creation by the Plymouth brewery.

I was lucky enough to try the Sankaty Light Lager, by Nantucket’s Cisco Brewers, when I stopped by Brew Fish, a quite promising new beer-themed restaurant in Marion (at the former Wave on Route 105). Beers this light just simply shouldn’t have so much flavor — from lemongrass and malt sweetness to a hint of biscuits, this super-crisp brew would be welcome at any barbecue.

The ever-impressive Jack’s Abby, from Framingham, puts out a top-notch session beer called Jabby Brau. At 4.5%, it’s just a bit stronger than the previously mentioned beers, but it’s a super-drinkable brew that’s surprisingly hoppy, yet smooth. It’s crisp, refreshing, and straightforward enough to give to your American light lager drinker without offending them.

Honestly, there are a ton of worthwhile session beers, so I’ll just mention a few more that I really enjoy: Founders’ All-day IPA (4.7%), Troegs Sunshine Pils (4.5%), 21st Amendment Bitter American (4.7%), Harpoon UFO Big Squeeze Shandy (4.5%), and  (4.65%).

Originally published on 7/3/2014