What Is A Session IPA?

Published on May 16th 2024 by SNBC

While the India Pale Ale style (IPA) no doubt orbits around hops, you’ve got options like a bright wall of paint samples — all the tints, tones, shades and welcome to the rabbit hole. That’s precisely why craft beer is a thrill. Brewers have furiously innovated around IPA in recent years: testing new ingredients, inventing dry-hopping techniques, and even mashing up ale vs. lager.

No matter what you’re craving or the vibe you’re feeling, there’s an IPA to match the moment. And when a moment turns into a marathon, the Session IPA is a worthy choice.

What Is A Session?

A “session” is an extended time of hanging out — gathered around a fire put, front row at the concert, an evening on the apartment rooftop. Whatever your session, you want a beer that keeps the good times going, not sends people packing because of its intensity.

A group of friends relaxing with Sierra Nevada beers at a campsite

What Is A Session Beer?

At the store, you might spot beers with “session” in the name, but IPA doesn’t own that title and numerous other beers hit the mark. Session beers are easy to repeat because of their lower alcohol content and general perception as being less filling.

Characteristics of Session Beers

Low ABV Beers

Session beers generally stay under 5% alcohol by volume (ABV). At this lower level, you’re more inclined to consider a second (and beyond) in a session. Imperial beers, on the other hand, are likely one-and-done sippers because of their steep ABVs.

Light and Refreshing

Along with lower ABVs, session beers trend light and refreshing. They can still have bold flavor and complexity; session beers simply don’t come across as heavy. Everything from blonde ales and wheat beers to lager styles like pilsner — and waaay more — can deliver that trio of light, refreshing, and vibrant flavor.


The taste of session beers is vast since myriad styles qualify. You could try a hop-forward IPA; a crisp and malty lager; even a tart and zesty witbier. Just check those ABVs as you explore what’s next.

Examples of Session Beers

Our 5% ABV Summerfest lager is crisp, golden, and prime for session times. Or kick back with the citrus bliss of Sunny Little Thing, also 5% ABV and only available on draft.

Session IPA vs IPA

Part of your IPA decision likely includes the ABV listed on bar menus and packaged beer. The occasion when you grab a 6.7% ABV Hazy Little Thing IPA may be different from the lofty 11% ABV Hoptimum Triple IPA. (Is this a quick happy hour, or are you anchored to an armchair for the night?)

And then there’s the Session IPA, which aims for low ABV yet lots of hop flavor so you can enjoy multiple in one sitting. Session IPAs borrow those very attributes we love about other IPAs. After all, their goal is the same: huge hop expression. But nailing that super-low ABV creates a unique brewing challenge.

How Are Session IPAs Brewed?The copper kettles at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in North Carolina

Scott Jennings, our Technical Brewmaster, explains that a key pitfall of Session IPAs can be a “kind of empty, watery, thin impression.” Brewers have to compensate for that, he says, “and that’s typically done in the mash tun with grist changes and temperature manipulation.”

This mashing strategy creates a higher ratio of unfermentable malt sugars — stuff that yeast can’t eat — and they’ll contribute to more body in a Session IPA. Yet that’s just part of the equation, Scott says. Ingredients like oats and wheat, both high in protein content, can help impart a velvety texture to a Session IPA.

“So when you combine the two — those creamy elements from the oats and wheat, and the complex malt sugars,” Scott says, “then you get a rounded effect where you’ve got really a full flavor and mouthfeel.”

The Best Session Beers

Plan your next session hangout, and keep our best session beers in mind. We’ve got IPA, lager, and non-alc — all your friends are covered.

Summer Break: Sierra Nevada’s Session Hazy IPA

Cheersing Summer Break IPA beers

This beer is not currently on shelves, but watch for its occasional appearance in variety 24-packs at club membership stores.

At just 4.6% ABV, Summer Break IPA is brewed for long days of play — whether that’s launching off the rope swing or lounging by the pool. Balanced by that all-important malt body, Summer Break’s six hop varieties (yup, six!) are carefully placed along the brewing process.

“We’re really looking to build in the brewhouse a very solid and very distinctly orange citrus character,” Scott says, “and then in the dry-hopping we’re looking to add on top of that, for aroma, the tropical elements and a little bit of pineyness.”

And at 30 international bitterness units (IBU), “you know it’s a hoppy beer, but it’s very drinkable because it’s not overly bitter,” Scott says. “So that repeatability, that crushability is really a part of the balance.”

Summerfest: Sierra Nevada’s Summer Session Beer

Cans of Summerfest beer in an ice-filled cooler

The showers bring the flowers and all that, we know. But come April, the release of Summerfest already sets summer in motion; this refreshing lager says Bring on the pools, music fests, and cookouts. Balancing delicate malt and floral hops, Summerfest pours golden bright with hints of biscuity bread and lemon zest. Crisp and dry on the finish, with a session beer 5% ABV, Summerfest is an ice chest all-star.

Find Summerfest

Trail Pass IPA: Non-Alc Session IPA Option

Two male hikers on a trail opening a can of non-alcoholic Sierra Nevada Trail Pass IPA

Grab a non-alcoholic Trail Pass IPA and start a non-stop adventure. This is full craft flavor below the 0.5% ABV non-alc threshold, so you can explore more with Trail Pass. The IPA’s hoppy notes of citrus and pine find balance with a silky malt body, and there’s just the right amount of clean hop bitterness.

“It meets all of our criteria for what we would consider a craft IPA — not necessarily even a craft non-alcoholic IPA, but a craft IPA,” says James Conery, Innovation Brewmaster at Sierra Nevada.

Watch pro athlete Amie Engerbretson take Trail Pass IPA flyfishing. What’s your outdoor session going to be?

Buy Trail Pass IPA Now

Direct shipping Trail Pass to the lower 48 states except GA, ID, MI, MS, TN, AND WV.


Looking for more?

We got you covered. Check out our deep dives on all things beer.

Imperial Beer  Sour Beer  Non-Alcoholic Beer




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