Session IPAs are Dead; Long Live Session IPAs

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Session IPAs are Dead; Long Live Session IPAs

Remember when session IPAs were everywhere? It wasn’t that long ago that every regional brewery in the country dropped what they were doing and started churning out aggressively hoppy ales with surprisingly low ABVs. They called them “session IPAs.” It was like printing money.

Within a few short years, though, the beer-drinking world went from scratching our heads over the style (aren’t pale ales the lower ABV versions of IPAs?) to loving them (I can drink more than one and still do surgery!) to now, seemingly, being over them all together.

Okay, we’re not over them. I still drink session IPAs. Oskar Blues Pinner is one of my go-to beers. I’m just a little tired of the hype because, by and large, most session IPAs have proved to be not that good. They either aren’t that sessionable (if I want to drink a 5.1% hoppy beer, I’m just gonna grab a pale ale), or they’re too unbalanced (all hop nose and no gooey malty center). There are plenty of exceptions to this broad generalization. A handful of breweries have knocked the session IPA out of the park. And I’ll drink those beers as long as they’re available. But I’m over trying a new beer just because it’s a session IPA. If anything, I’m probably at a point where I’ll avoid the style altogether and just opt for the brewery’s pale ale if I have a late afternoon surgery I have to consider.

Based on a couple of new beers to hit the market, I’m guessing at least some of the beer drinking population has reached a similar tipping point with session IPAs. Take Unknown Brewing’s Scratch n’ Sniff, a beer that falls firmly in the Session IPA category, coming in at 4.7% and being hoppy as hell, but there’s no mention of the word “session” on the can. They call it an “aromatic IPA.” If this beer came out just a year ago, it would have been ridiculous not to label it as a session IPA. The thirst for these things couldn’t be satiated. Now, I think the smartest thing Unknown Brewing could’ve done is eschew the term altogether.

Deschutes did something similar with their seasonal Hop Slice Summer Ale. They released essentially the same beer last year under the name Hop Slice Session IPA. It’s citrusy and aromatic, with great notes of lemon and a zesty, dry finish. And it’s just 5% ABV. It’s a good beer regardless of what you call it, but Deschutes made a point not to call it a session IPA. And honestly, a Summer Ale sounds more inviting to me right now.

These are only a couple of examples, and plenty of breweries are putting out new session IPAs this season. But it seems like we’ve reached the tipping point of the trend and we’re on the downward slope of the session IPA craze. Breweries are still making them, they’re just not branding them like they did a year ago. On one hand, this is perfectly normal; Trends come and go in the beer world. On the other hand, do trends really come and go this fast? Session IPAs have hit the market, spread from coast to coast like wildfire, but seem to be disappearing just as fast (or at least, their branding is disappearing).

There was a time when a trend like this would have taken years to make its way across the country. I grew up in a small town in the ‘80s, and if kids in California were wearing neon green Converse shoes, you could bet your allowance that I’d be wearing them too…in about three years. Mullets were well out of fashion in the rest of the country before the first kid got one in my home town. Trends moved slower back then. Today though, you barely have enough time to jump on the bandwagon before that bandwagon has moved onto something else entirely. Skinny jeans? That’s so five minutes ago. Parachute pants, baby. That’s where it’s at.

In the words of Ferris Beuller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I blame the internet.

It makes me wonder if in a year, we’ll stop hearing about fruit IPAs. I mean, breweries will still make them, and I’ll still drink them, but will we hear about them?

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