I have mixed feelings about the “session IPA.” This is a relatively new style of beer that exploded over the last couple of years that, ideally, gives you all of the flavor of a burly IPA in a low ABV beer so you can have more than one after a ride without being hungover at work the next morning. On the surface, the session IPA is a wonderful idea, and a beer that’s perfectly suited for an adventurous life style. It’s like a Michelob Ultra that tastes good. In theory.
The problem is, some of these session IPAs don’t taste that good. They’re okay, and are certainly better than the aforementioned Ultra, but they’re typically lacking in any sort of malt backbone. There are some exceptions. Oskar Blues’ Pinner is great. But honestly, in most cases, I’d rather just have a pale ale, which are typically more balanced and not much more potent than these session IPAs anyway. Long live the pale. Am I right?
But then I had a beer at a small brewpub that changed my mind. Lazy Hiker Brewing Company sits on the edge of downtown Franklin (which my son calls “tiny town”) in the former town hall and fire department building. As you might expect given the name, the brewery prides itself on its proximity to the Appalachian Trail and Southern Appalachians, with beer names like “Slack Pack IPA,” and “Wesser Evil Porter.” They had at least a half dozen beers on tap when I walked in, but I opted for their low ABV Session IPA because it was only one in the afternoon and I’m not ready to admit that I have a drinking problem yet.
When I took my first sip, I was expecting the same thin, one-sided hop showcase that you’ll find in most session IPAs, but the Lazy Hiker came through with a well-balanced, easy drinking beer with plenty of hop bite, but also a robust malt bill (they use barley, oats and rye to help reign in the Australian hop strains in the beer). And it comes in at a Mich-Ultra-esque 3.75% ABV. It’s actually shocking that something so low in ABV has this much flavor. The brewery says this is the beer their staff drinks most often, and I believe it. With session IPAs like this around, who needs a pale ale? Am I right?