I had always thought that sessionable beer was simply a description of lower strength brews that could be responsibly quaffed during an extended drinking session. That is probably still an accurate definition, but the precise history of the phrase is most interesting. Beer Advocate, a fine and reputable website, provided this insight into the origins of session beer:

“A “session” referred to one of the two allowable drinking periods in England that were imposed on shell production workers during World War I. Typically the licensed sessions were 11am-3pm and 7pm-11pm, and apparently continued up until the Liquor Licensing Act 1988 was introduced. Workers would find a beer that they could adequately quaff within these restrictive 4-hour “sessions” that were laid down by the government without getting legless and return to work or not get arrested for being drunk and disorderly.”

Seriously? They were drinking beer for four hours twice a day while manufacturing high explosives. I think the head office of WorkSafe just exploded in (retrospective) futile rage. [1]

Today, session beers are generally considered to be brews that are between 2% and 4% (though they can creep up to 5%), they are usually well balanced between hop and malt characters, exhibit a clean finish, and as a result have high drinkability over an extended session.

American Craft Beer notes that the Beer Judge Certification Programme (BJCP) has a session category for each style (3% to 5%) and the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) has a specific Session category featuring all low alcohol by volume (ABV) styles.

The now annual Malthouse Session Beer Session was launched after the Rugby World Cup in 2015. It initially had the moniker “The Crowd Goes Mild” which I must confess to enjoying. [2] Basically, starting on Friday 13 October 2017, Malty will be putting on fifteen session beers. Given such a line up, half the beers will be covered this week and the rest early next week. Here we go:

Croucher Lowrider IPA (2.5%) – I will freely admit to being initially sceptical about session beers. I am generally an unrepentant and unreformed fan of big hops and big alcohol. This beer changed my mind and I now often drink it on purpose. Dr Paul Croucher, co-founder of Croucher Brewing, explained their Lowrider “Very Small India Pale Ale” was initially brewed to address what he saw as a “lack of quality options in the lower alcohol segment of the craft beer market” and a belief that “we could develop something better.” It is tasty, flavoursome, balanced and virtually no one guesses it is 2.5% on a blind taste test. Lowrider literally paved the way for the session beer sensation, particularly session IPAs.

Emerson’s Stadium APA (4.5%) – This is very new and most intriguing. Emerson’s APA (sadly now discontinued) introduced me to the American Pale Ale style and I never had the grace to properly thank it. The brewers describe this as “a fruity, hop forward session American pale ale, using Amarillo, Taiheke and Galaxy hops!” 

Good George Small Wonder Pale Ale (2.5%) A very hoppy yet low alcohol pale ale.

Raindogs Wee Bairn Bitter (3.8%) – Brewer Sean Harris notes that “Wee Bairn Bitter is named for my daughter Mila. It is brewed in the English tradition as a Session Bitter. Highly drinkable, a few pints can be enjoyed with friends whilst maintaining your wits! Wee Bairn is well balanced with toffee and toasted malt flavours married with a smooth bitterness. Citrus and fruity notes develop from late and dry hopping.”

Moa Rhubarb and Apple Cider (4%) – Obviously this is not a beer but has been granted honorary membership for the purposes of the Session Beer Session. It is (unsurprisingly) a mix of rhubarb and apple – so pretty much my food hell – but others appreciate its combination of tart, sour and sweet flavours. This cider is also apparently quite red, but as a colour blind humanoid I have to take people at their word on that assessment.

Moa Session Pale Ale (4.3%) – Sometimes called Moa Sessionable Pale Ale, this is a light APA flavoured with Kohatu, Nelson Sauvin, Cascade and Motueka hops. It is tropical yet somehow earthy. I particularly enjoyed the review on RateBeer from prolific user “madquacker” which described this beer as having a “nice dirty base with soft citrus overtones.” Well played.

Mussel Inn Captain Cooker (4.4%) – I see no reason to update my tasting notes as they remain perfect: “This beer is as Kiwi as Pavlova, Phar Lap and Laughing at Quade Cooper. Brewed at the iconic Mussel Inn in Golden Bay, it uses freshly picked tips of the Manuka tree (the bottle version is stronger and uses dried Manuka). Based on James Cook’s original recipe but updated for modern palates, this beer sings joyfully with notes of ginger, Turkish delight, rose water and unicorns.” [3]

When I am asked by international beer writers to nominate beers that sum up New Zealand, Captain Cooker is always on the list. It is an iconic Kiwi beer and, frankly, a national treasure.

The remaining eight session beers will be covered in next week’s Malthouse Blog. They are Good George Zealong High Tea, Sprig & Fern Amber Lager, Sprig & Fern Oatmeal Stout, Three Boys Local Session IPA, Twisted Hop Little Brother, Beer Baroness Lady Danger, Beer Baroness Jane Dough, and Beer Baroness Madame Brown.

Next time, we drink to New Scandinavian Cooking which is the coolest, quirkiest cooking show you have probably never seen. [5]

[1] I am fully aware of the irony of even the concept of the national headquarters of health and safety exploding.

[2] At the last election I was secretly supporting the Greens in order to get Hayley Holt from the Crowd Goes Wild into Parliament as an MP. Not even close and for once it was not my fault.

[3] This may be one of my best tasting notes ever. Expect to see it again at least once a year. [4]

[4] Unicorns rule.

[5] http://www.newscancook.com/ – and now I am hungry.


Neil Miller

Beer Writer

Cuisine Magazine

TheShout Magazine

DrinksBiz Magazine


Session Beer Session Facebook Event – https://www.facebook.com/events/113407749411811

Malthouse Facebook – www.facebook.com/pages/Malthouse/7084276173

Malthouse Twitter – www.twitter.com/#!/malthouse

Malthouse Taps on Twitter – www.twitter.com/#!/MalthouseTaps

Neil Miller on Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/#!/beerlytweeting