01 December 2014

A session session

The current American fashion for session IPA has started making itself felt in earnest in Ireland now. Following on the heels of Founders's exemplary All Day IPA, a slew of new ones from familiar US breweries. Getting through them in a single session seemed to be the sensible approach. I chose a drinking order, entirely subjectively, of ascending brewery trustworthiness.

First up is Easy IPA from east-coasters Flying Dog. "Bright" is the initial impression here: a white Ralph Steadman label, behind which I found a clear, sparkling, pale yellow beer of 4.7% ABV. The aroma is sharp citrus, lemons in particular, though there's a thicker resin element and even a little crystal malt toffee. The texture is quite thin and the carbonation soft, which I guess is part of the spec: very easy drinking. Again in keeping with the style, the flavour is assertive without being overpowering, mouthwatering mandarin to begin, though turning a slightly metallic harsh bitterness towards the end and finishing abruptly. A perfectly passable beer and not something I'd turn my nose up at in a casual drinking situation, but I didn't feel any impulse to reach for another.

Sierra Nevada, if my beer history is correct, was the world's first brewery to learn what hops are for, so I had high expectations for Nooner, their new 4.8% ABV session IPA. It's a richer gold than Flying Dog's Easy though offers much less aroma, and what's there is a spiky, grassy Germanic vibe. It's surprisingly lacking in the flavour department, laying on lots of acidic bitterness over stale biscuit malt. There's maybe a hint of citrus, and more of that grassy spice, but this really reminded me far more of a pale German bock than a Californian IPA. The texture is spot-on, so there's that, but I'm really not feeling the love for Nooner.

Which brings us to Loose Leaf, by Colorado's Odell, a brewery which turns out consistently brilliant hop-forward beers. This has the lowest ABV of the set, at 4.5%, and is another pale one. The obligatory texture assessment is once again positive: it's very softly carbonated and the head is almost fluffy. Of hop fireworks, however, there are none. Perhaps some watermelon crispness and lemon sherbet candy, but the heart of this beer is just water. An uncharacteristic false move by Odell here.

And just for purposes of calibration I had a Founder's All Day IPA on standby to finish the tasting. It still has the beatings of all of these imitators -- strongly bitter, full bodied and with all the complexity of beers far stronger than its 4.7% ABV. There's no sense that it's in any way compromised, that it's a trade-down from "real" IPA. I think that a self-effacing approach to session IPA may be some of what's behind how the other breweries missed a beat on the style.


  1. And all in the space of two and a half pints (imperial)! (I've no idea why the standard US bottle size is 2/3 of a pint - or why a US pint is 15/16 of a pint imperial, meaning that 2/3 of a US pint is exactly 5/8 of a proper pint - but it is.)

  2. Phil, I all comes down to the Weights and Measure Act 1824, when Parliament did away with all previous measurements used in the United Kingdom and replaced them with the imperial system we know today. The American weights and measurement are, I believe, broadly similar to the English measurements that were in place before 1824. Scotland had it's own system which although it shared many of the names as the English, had very different sizes, the Scottish pint being about 1.7 litres, or more than 3 times the size of the modern imperial pint, and 4 times the old 'English' pint.

  3. Agree on the Loose Leaf, as you say it's basically water - with maybe a touch of watermelon - probably the only Odell's I've had I wouldn't buy again.

  4. Founders All-Day is still the best session IPA I've found, although oddly I haven't seen the Sierra Nevada Nooner available here in Texas. Another one to skip? Stone's Go-To IPA. Watery and disappointing.

    1. Nooner is odd in that it's not typically American-tasting. That may float some boats, but not mine.