by Eno Sarris via BeerGraphs
I got a very specific request the other day, for good beers under six percent alcohol by volume. Session beers are usually under four percent, but the provenance of the ‘session’ title is debated anyway. I’d heard that English miners wanted to be able to have two beers (in a session) and lunch and go back to the mine without putting themselves and their colleagues in peril, but I’ve also seen references to seven or eight beers and coherency.
It’s all just time, alcohol and water, but the point is clear: a beer that you can have a few of, a lighter beer, a beer shorter on calories, a beer that you can drink while watching the kids in the yard. That last one is my description.
Usually in the fives, I give the beer a pass and it’s a session in my head. So here are five beers that I love love that don’t end up with daddy snoring on the couch and the kids fighting for the remote and an angry momma coming back in the door to find a mess.
Firestone Walker Easy Jack Session IPA (4.5% ABV)
Y’all knew I was going to do this, so I might as well get it out of the way. I’ve recommended this to everyone that would listen, on my chats, my podcasts, on twitter, among my friends, to my wife. So, here you go, one more time. Easy Jack is amazing because it has a full tropical nose, some fruit on the taste, and a little bitterness — but not that overstated bitterness that often comes in a session IPA. It gets murdered on our boards, probably because it’s listed as an American IPA. To me, it’s an… easy Saturday pickup. If you’re going to do some day drinking, All Day IPA from Founders is on the same level, but it’s the Jack that comes out on top.
Cantillon Fou’ Foune Lambic (5.0% ABV)
Feels like cheating to put a sour here, and it’s not practical to lay down a full day of Cantillon drinking, unless you just cashed out of your startup and are headed to your yacht for the weekend. But your best local craft beer bar may have some Cantillon from time to time, and if you start with it, you’ll have a clear head (and empty pocket) for your next choice. Their Rosé de Gambrinus is also five percent, and St. Lamvinus is six. And all of them come with a great sweet fruity jammy thickness that ends with a refreshing tartness that doesn’t strip your enamel. Well-crafted sours, every single one that I’ve had, and the very best will probably join the very best you’ve ever had. Other weaker, beautiful sours include Firestone Walker Bretta Rose (5.7%), Russian River Beatification (5.8%), and Jester King Atrial Rubicite (5.8%), with the first being somewhat attainable in multiple markets.
Pinkus Organic Ur Pils (5.0% ABV)
This one isn’t too hard to find, just look for that terrible big blue label in the header image. It’s hideous, but this beer was one of my first craft favorites, and part of the inspiration to get back into beer after some time in craft cocktails. Early on in my beer writing, a brewer friend challenged me to tell me why I liked it, and I just said it was refreshing but honest. I stick by that description but can flush it out a bit more now. It’s refreshing in that it has that pilsner nuttiness with a crisp finish and comes without all the things that weigh down heavier beers. It’s therefore honest to the style, but it’s also a little less filtered and comes with a nuance in taste and a thickness in mouthfeel that not all pilsners have. In a similar way, Firestone Walker’s Pivo Pils (5.3%) is still a pils, but tweaks the style with a bit more hops than your traditional offering.
Köstritzer Schwarzbier (4.8% ABV)
A shoutout to the people that love their beer dark but also want to drink in the light, the black lager is a beer we don’t talk about enough. Some come in at more than six percent because it’s hard to get all that roasted toasted coffee taste without also adding more malt and alcohol to round it out, but generally the style is easy drinking. This effort is owned by Bitburger in Germany, so it gets decent distribution and is findable. It’s more bitter chocolate than coffee, but the roast is there for sure, along with some sweet bready and liquorice hints. A refreshing finish means you can have another if you want. Your best local brewery probably makes one, so give it a try if you haven’t. From Bluejacket and Brooklyn to Sprecher and Westbrook, brewers like to take a run with this easy drinking style because it allows them to play with some complex flavors.
Tree House Lights On American Pale Ale (5.6% ABV)
We could have doubled up on the sours (with Goses like anything from DeGarde or Stillwater), or dark beers with maybe one of those coffee cream ales (Surly and Wolf’s Ridge have good ones), but pale ales are my jam, and I thought this would be a good place to highlight some beers that you think of as regular old pale ale IPA thingies but are actually really easy sippers. It’s a beautiful list of beers, actually, but Lights On tops it. Tree House just nails it with that hazy papaya guava mango fluffy and yet crisp APA, you have to give it love. This group of soiffable pales also includes Toppling Goliath pseudo Sue (5.8%), Three Floyds Gumballhead (5.5%), Ballast Point Grunion (5.5%), Half Acre Daisy Cutter (5.2%), Carton Boat Beer (4.2%), Trillium Double Dry Hopped Fort Point (5.7%)… this is my sweet spot, this is where I’d like to live. And that’s just the first page of results. We could have populated this whole post with these beers. Instead, we’ll just end on that note.