By Matthew Meador
For the Oregon Beer Growler
I have a swimming pool. It’s not a temporary pool but an honest-to-goodness in-ground pool, complete with sparkling blue water, chaise lounges and a deep end — although it no longer has a diving board due to one careless swimmer who thought it was suitable for launching his 200-plus-pound adult body many feet into the air after running out the back door and down the stairs at full speed on his way to cooling off. Diving board or not, it’s the perfect place to kick back on lazy summer afternoons with a few friends and some cold beverages.
When it’s hot outside and cool waters beckon, Oregon summers demand refreshing brews — maybe not the “big” beers we enjoy the rest of the year. With a lower alcohol content than many of the brews we drink year-round, sessions are perfect for cloudless sunny days. But, like my pool in the springtime, the origins of the term “sessions” is murky. Most sources agree the term probably originated in wartime austerity and productivity, when the need to produce things simply was matched by the urgency to do so with a sober focus. Whatever the case, session has come to define brews of less than five percent alcohol content by volume. These lighter beers offer a particular appeal when the heat is a little overbearing. Whether you’re a fan of big beers or gentler pints, these sessions demonstrate the craftsmanship and attention to detail for which Oregon brewers are known — there’s a brew for every taste in August’s batch. And with all this beautiful Northwest sunshine, now is the perfect time to enjoy them.
BridgePort Brewing Company: Bullpen Session IPA
5.0% ABV; 47 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: A smooth, lower alcohol ale, this beer gives a surprising burst of citrusy hop flavor in the finish. We make a malt base using our Two-Row Pale Malt then add Golden Oats and Honey Malt for a smooth, slightly sweet mouthfeel. Then we add hops. We use Northwest Nuggets, Meridians and Crystals. Then we finish the beer by dry hopping twice with a combination of Citra and Meridian hops for a burst of fresh citrus flavor.
Consumer Comments: With its seamless coalescence between nose and palate, Bullpen Session IPA is a beautifully balanced brew where hops and citrus are perfect partners — no competition here. The favorite of our tasting panel, the beer offers notes of crisp apple and lemon as it introduces a surprisingly robust body, which provides immensely satisfying hot-weather refreshment at the same time. Assertive without being overbearing, this brew is summer in a pint glass.
Coalition Brewing: Serendipity People’s Ale
4.5% ABV; 25 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Beer has the unique power to bring together individuals of all backgrounds. This is a true drink of the People. Highly approachable and sessionable, Serendipity People’s Ale presents as golden colored with orange hues. It has a light maltiness from Munich and Honey Malts that hit the front of the palate. The addition of flaked barley carries a subtle sweetness through the body. While hops are not the star of this show, they play an integral role in balancing the malt profile. Nobles offer a light and clean bitterness.
Consumer Comments: Hints of honey and a full head say howdy when Serendipity People’s Ale is poured. This session is exceptionally well-mannered — charming and polite, but with enough nuance to suggest a sharp underlying wit. Our panel described Serendipity as a “gentleman’s ale” and suggested pairing with spicy Asian dishes.
Crux Fermentation Project: Off Leash Session IPA (Available May through September)
4.5% ABV; 30 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Debuted at an event that crowned our hometown “Dog Town USA,” this light-hearted ale bounds with regional Citra, Centennial and Crystal hops for those citrusy notes beloved by Northwest hop hounds. We’ve nudged the malt bill in the other direction for a sessionable ale that’s easy to love.
Consumer Comments: Fresh peaches and a little citrus make for a tempting nose on the seasonal Off Leash Session IPA. A genuine session IPA, hops and lemon merge with malt to form a medium-bodied brew where zesty lemon tames residual bitterness. From its stone fruit start to its remarkably clean finish, Off Leash is an ideal IPA for August.
Elk Horn Brewery: SirBerlin
4.5% ABV; 10 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Light golden and highly effervescent, this twist on a traditional German Berliner weiss has bright flavor and a light, bubbly body perfect for summer refreshment. Its fresh, citrusy lemongrass note is complemented by lychee fruit and a subtle malt character provided by the combination of White Wheat and acidulated malt, which adds a crisp, tart flavor.
Consumer Comments: A bright nose of pear invites when the champagne-like SirBerlin is poured. Effervescent and consistent, floral notes and a bit of grass yield to light fruit and a crisp mouthfeel. SirBerlin is straightforward and honest, an easy-drinking, warm-weather brew.
GoodLife Brewing Company: Wildland Session Ale
4.5% ABV; 30 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This is a bright and clear beer that is a golden-orange straw color with a white head. Slightly dank aromas of citrus fruit mix with spicy background notes. Peach and other bright fruit flavors are at the forefront of a clean-finishing, medium-bodied beer. Overall, Wildland is a great summer beer that is dank and easy to drink.
Consumer Comments: If Bend can be captured in a bottle, GoodLife Brewing Company has done it with its outstanding Wildland Session Ale. My personal favorite of the sessions, this brew is honest from start to finish. Offering notes of high desert juniper, resinous pine and refreshing citrus, the ale is gentle and masterfully balanced, perfect for summer sipping but almost certainly just as enjoyable any other time of year. Well done, GoodLife!
Hop Haus Brewing: Sunny Bono Session IPA
4.5% ABV; 50 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: A lower-alcohol, easy-drinking golden IPA perfect for warm days, this beer incorporates Pilsner, Vienna and Two-Row Malts along with low-alpha hops, making a very sessionable IPA that won’t fill you up.
Consumer Comments: The Beat Goes On with the rich amber hue of this earthy-but-refreshing summer IPA. Sunny Bono Session IPA is no Little Man, but it might be the perfect hot-temperature pint for IPA enthusiasts. With well-mannered hops and a laid-back bitterness, this amiable brew is So Fine — sure to please even those who find IPAs too much. Panelists agreed Sunny Bono would pair well with Summertime grilled burgers.
As a big fan of bright and hot Oregon summers, a pool isn’t optional for me. What better place to cool off and entertain guests during the long-awaited Oregon summer months? Well, most guests anyway. Those inclined to abuse innocent diving boards can find a public pool or a river. But for guests who are welcome, a pool and a refreshing Oregon session might just be the perfect way to pass a hot August afternoon!
By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Tasked with organizing a session beer tasting, I dutifully looked up the definition of a session beer in my online dictionary, and found this: “Session Beer: A beer that has a relatively low alcohol content and is therefore suitable for drinking over an extended period.” The dictionary suggested that a “session beer” weighs in at about 4 percent.
Guess these folks aren’t from Oregon, where “relatively low” is, um, relative. Here, session beers are as various as its residents: Low alcohol content, to some here, is around 5 percent; to others, 3 percent. Styles run the gamut. There are radlers/shandies, wheat beers, IPAs, lagers and ales, Belgian styles — all fall into the giant keg of “session beers.”
But why quibble about a few percentage points? Your session beer will be the one you love to drink on a boat, on the shore, while swimming, while hiking, while biking, while mowing the lawn, while barbecuing, while sitting in the shade, while doing all those things you’re going to do in this long, hot, thirsty summer in Oregon.
Our volunteer consumers gathered last month to choose and comment on the following favorite session beers in a blind tasting.
Next month, to mark the coming of the fall colors, the Oregon Beer Growler tasting will feature Oregon’s red ales.
Burnside: Skyline Extra Pale Ale, Portland 4.8 percent ABV, 38 IBUs
Brewery Description: Smooth, crisp pale featuring Horizon and Amarillo hops.
Consumer Comments: Tastes like beer I’d drink on a pontoon boat. Not bad, in fact, really good! Fishing beer! Would be great at a baseball game with some peanuts. Light and refreshing with a hit of sour. Happy and hoppy. Great taste with sumpin’ sumpin’.
HUB: Organic Totally Radler, Portland 2.6 percent ABV, 15 IBUs
Brewery Description: A 50-50 blend of Hopworks’ award-winning Organic HUB Lager and organic lemon soda. The lemon soda complements the lager’s honey flavors and herbal hop aroma while maintaining its crisp malt backbone.
Consumer Comments: Malty and pure. Refreshing! Better than Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Good tasting. Is it a shandy? Get me a tree, a hammock and a case of these, and I’m good for the day. Lemons! Citrusy. Juicy good.
McMenamins: Quatrophenia, Troutdale 4.9 percent ABV, 44 IBUs
Brewery Description: An inscrutable, mystic liquid imbued with power beyond knowing. Quatrophenia is a satisfyingly sessionable ale that gets the most out of the Simcoe, Galaxy and Meridian hops used throughout the brew and for dry hopping. It is compact, bold and drinkable.
Consumer Comments: Clean and hoppy. Yay, more hops! Refreshing, light and crisp! Good and smooth. Goody yum yum.
Base Camp: Lost Meridian Wit, Portland 5 percent ABV, 20 IBUs
Brewery Description: Our twist on a wheaty Belgian witbier. Meridian hops deliver bright citrus and mimosa-like character, creating flavors of orange and dry champagne.
Consumer Comments: Bright! Lemon chicken. Right all night. Fresh and clean. Lightness. Refreshing! Very solid, easy drinking and tasty. A crisp easy drinker.
Full Sail: Session Premium Lager, Hood River 5.1 percent ABV, 18 IBUs
Brewery Description: This is an import-style lager, like the kind of beer made back in the pre-Prohibition days. American and European hops offer a wonderful noble hop aroma, and the two-row barley malt and a touch of wheat malt give a pleasant, refreshing finish.
Consumer Comments: Light and lagerly. I could really knock back a sixer of these, right now! Very good. Thumbs up. Ooo ooo that smell. Smooth and silky!
Rusty Truck: Cruiser Session IPA, Lincoln City 4.9 percent ABV, 50 IBUs
Brewery Description: This IPA is dry hopped with Mosaic hops for a refreshing complex array of tropical fruit, citrus, berry, herbal and pine flavors. The lower alcohol helps the hop lover in you responsibly enjoy more beer.
Consumer Comments: Cool. Ooof. Oh, yeah! Tasty! Hella tight. Hops! Take me to the islands and feed me mangos chased back with this beer.
Wild Ride: Whoopty Whoop, Redmond 5.5 percent ABV, 20 IBUs
Brewery Description: This beer is an American hefeweizen brewed to help you get through the obstacles of life. The late addition of lemon peel during fermentation gives this traditional wheat beer a pleasant citrus aroma with a slightly tart finish.
Consumer Comments: ‘Tis good and citrusy. Solid: I could drink a lot of these. Nicely sweet and hoppy. Nice and easy. Put a lemon in this one. German lemon trees growing in a hop field?
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.