Session beers that feature an ABV under 5% have become increasingly popular over the last few years. Ranging from hoppy IPAs to the tart and salty gose, breweries have taken note of the trend, concocting recipes that look to offer full flavor in a beer than you can enjoy a few of in one sitting. As is the case with any style, some have been more successful than others, especially when it comes to pale ales and IPAs. Sometimes these beers don’t taste very hoppy at all, while others can seem a bit watered down and lacking in body.
Minnesota’s Surly Brewing has been canning some stellar hoppy beers for quite some time, including the seasonal Abrasive double IPA, Overrated West Coast IPA and the IPA/ESB hybrid Furious. In fact, it’s fresh-hopped Wet West Coast IPA is one of my all-time favorites for the punch of flavor whole-cone hops give the beer. With its latest seasonal, the brewery tackled the session pale ale with a single-hop brew: Xtra-Citra. As the name suggests the beer is made with mostly Citra hops, save for the addition of some Warrior for bittering. The result is a refreshing take on low ABV hoppy beers, and one that will be tough to top in the category.
Xtra-Citra pours a golden hue, pretty much spot on with what you’d expect an IPA or pale ale to look like. There’s a thick pure white head at first, but within a few seconds it retreats to the thinnest border around the edge of the glass, and leaving only a faint layer in the center. The nose is full of earthy hop character and the slightest whiff of hay, with a ton of that Citra hop aroma. A hint of the piney resin-like smell from the hops is there as well, and it had me thinking I was about to dive head first into a hop bomb despite the pale ale designation.
In terms of taste, I can honestly say this is one of the best session pale ales I’ve had. Most of them don’t offer the balance of hops and body that a pale ale or IPA has. They will either have one attribute or the other, but end up tasting like a weak version of a bigger beer. Surly’s take on a hoppy session beer is loaded with Citra hop flavor and still ticks the tape at 4.5%. It has plenty of the citrusy flavors from the hops with a good amount of bitterness that doesn’t overpower or overwhelm the palate. The body is there as well, and I’d wager a lot of folks won’t know this is under 5% if they didn’t know better. If you’re a hop head looking for a full-flavored session beer, give this a shot before it’s gone for the year. You won’t regret it.
Brewery: Surly Brewing Company
City: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: Pale Ale – American
Availability: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Chicago through the end of May.