Tired of the plethora of bourbon-barrel-aged, 14%-blow-your-head-off-after-three-sips, imperial stouts and IPAs? You’re not alone. Here in Ontario, we’re starting to hanker after the “session ale,” a lower-alcohol (usually 4% ABV or below) brew that has as much complexity as its boozy older brother—only this one is perfect for an afternoon drinking session.
Here are my Top 5 Session Beers on shelves or on tap in Ontario right now:
La Petite Princesse
Brasserie Thiriez, France, and Jester King, U.S.A.
Texas’s Jester King brewery travelled to France to pay homage to its brewery soul-brother, Thiriez. The breweries share the same yeast strain and a passion for reviving farmhouse-style ales. This “table beer” (at just 2.9% ABV) has notes of bright citrus hops, herbal tea, and a little wet hay funk. Pair with a ham and swiss sammy.
This English style pale ale is turning 29 years old this year. It was among Wellington’s original recipes when the brewery opened in 1985. And its these English-style classics that Welly does best. This copper-coloured ale has aromas of caramel, toast, hints of wet leaves and light raisin and cherry notes, with similar flavours. It drinks light (4% ABV) and beautifully soft—even the carbonated bottles have a bit of a softer, cask-ale mouthfeel. Toasty and lightly hoppy, it is a smashing Ontario bitter.
Some beer folk like to rant about how an American-style India Pale Ale is not sessionable, mostly because the ample hops don’t make you thirsty for 24 bottles of the stuff. Well tell that to hopheads, many of whom have spent countless evenings drinking nothing but IPAs or Pale Ales. In February, Muskoka launched Detour as it’s “sessionable IPA,” they put fewer hops in the boil part of the brew (when their bittering acids are broken down and infused in the flavour) and chucked more in near the end of fermentation (or in the “dry hopping stage) to capture lots of aromatics without the assaulting bitter flavour. A forest-like nose of pine and pink grapefruit peel give way to a light, biscusity body and a firm bitter finish that quickly fades away.
$2.95/473-ml can, The Beer Store, LCBO
This light-gold ale is all about the malty centre—Digestive biscuits and graham crackers—with leafy hops kicking in later to lend the brew a clipped finish. You’ll have to go to the brewery to get a bottle for now but look for king cans at the LCBO in July.
$3.75 500 ml bottle at Junction Craft Brewing, 90 Cawthra Ave, Unit 101, 416-766-1616
Nickel Brook Brewery
This Berlin invention is made with a base of light wheat malt and partially fermented with lactobacillus—you know, that “good bacteria” that produces lactic acid. The effect is a refreshing, 3.8% ABV tipple: clear, light gold with notes of lemon, grain and a tangy zing.