What is the difference between IPA and session ale?

Answered by Vince Keith

The difference between an and a session lies primarily in their content. IPAs, or India Pale Ales, are known for their bold and hoppy flavors, which are balanced with a higher alcohol content. On the other hand, session ales, particularly session IPAs, are designed to be lighter and more drinkable, with a lower alcohol content.

IPAs are typically characterized by their strong hop bitterness and aromatic qualities. They originated in England in the 19th century and were initially brewed with higher alcohol content to survive long sea voyages to India. The higher alcohol acted as a preservative, allowing the to maintain its flavors during the journey. Over time, IPAs evolved to emphasize the hop flavors and aromas, resulting in the popular style we know today.

Traditional IPAs generally have an alcohol content ranging from 6% to 8%. However, there are also stronger versions known as double IPAs, which can have ABVs exceeding 10%. These double IPAs are often more intense and robust in flavor, with a higher hop bitterness.

In contrast, session ales, including session IPAs, are designed to be more approachable and easy to drink. The term “session” refers to a beer that can be enjoyed over a longer period of time without overwhelming the drinker. Session ales are typically lower in alcohol, allowing for longer and more relaxed drinking sessions.

The average session IPA usually contains around 6.5% to 8% alcohol by volume, making it a suitable choice for those who want to enjoy the hop-forward flavors of an IPA without the higher alcohol content. By reducing the alcohol, session IPAs become more balanced and less overpowering, making them a great option for those who prefer a more sessionable beer.

The lower alcohol content in session ales also means that they tend to have a lighter body and mouthfeel compared to traditional IPAs. They are often crisp, refreshing, and highly drinkable, making them a popular choice for social gatherings or occasions where you may want to enjoy multiple beers without becoming too intoxicated.

Personally, I find session ales to be a great option when I want to enjoy the flavors of an IPA but don't want to feel the effects of higher alcohol content. They are perfect for those times when you want to savor a few beers over an extended period, whether it be during a barbecue, a game night with friends, or simply relaxing on a sunny afternoon.

The main difference between an IPA and a session ale lies in their alcohol content. IPAs typically have a higher ABV, ranging from 6% to 8% or even higher for double IPAs, while session ales, including session IPAs, are designed to be lighter and more drinkable, with a lower alcohol content of around 6.5% to 8%.