Hello brewing friends, and welcome to another edition of Brew Along with Us! This month’s recipe is for an India Session Ale; more commonly known as a Session IPA.
First things first: how do you define a Session IPA? Is it even a legitimate term? Search the internet and you will find a plethora of beer enthusiasts up in arms over the use of these terms, insisting that an IPA is not, and should never be “sessionable,” and that we’re just talking about hoppy pale ales. While that may be true, the term is here, and commercial breweries such as Founders and Stone have capitalized on the idea of a hop-forward, low alcohol beer that you can drink several of in a session and not end up face first on the floor. Hoppy beers are no doubt popular, but in the heat of summer, drinking heavier IPAs with upwards of 8% alcohol can be downright dangerous. If you drink heavy beers with too much alcohol while the mercury is high, you’re gonna have a bad time. Thus, a nice, hoppy beer that registers at less than 5% ABV is great for this time of year!
I think Mitch Steele, brewmaster at Stone Brewing, sums up the challenges of brewing an Session IPA the best. To paraphrase, he says the challenges are getting a good flavor profile to balance hoppiness in a low-gravity beer, and making sure dry hopping doesn’t become too grassy or vegetal because of the low alcohol content of the beer.
While I’m not sure if I’ll be successful with the balancing act that a session IPA presents, I’ve got a few ideas that I’m going to try out with this month’s recipe, which can be found below in both extract and all-grain versions. First off is using a grain bill that has enough malt backbone to balance the hops, without creating too much alcohol. For this, I am relying on Maris Otter malt as the base, with a few pounds of Dark Munich malt. Maris Otter is bready, malty, rich, and used in a lot of English style ales. However, I feel like it will be an ideal base for this sessionable hoppy beer. Dark Munich adds yet more bread and malt, with nice aromatics that are almost honey-like. Rounding out the bill is a decent portion of crystal 60 malt for sweetness, body and head retention. We’ll try a mash temperature of 154F (for the all-grain version) that is a little on the high side for a more dextrinous, less fermentable wort that will add more body to the final beer. For yeast we’ll keep things simple, using any of three similar neutral American Ale strains, though it has been suggested to use a less attenuative yeast, such as an English strain, to add body and complexity.
Now, onto the hops! In this recipe I’m using first wort hopping, where hops are added before the wort is brought to a boil. This will hopefully mellow out the bitterness somewhat, paving the way for hop-bombing near the end of the boil and the nice aromatics that come from a blend of dry hops. I plan on dry hopping for only 4 days, in order to reduce contact time that can lead to grassy notes lingering on the tongue.
Feel free to brew along with us, and remember this is your playground; have fun with it, and feel free to make your own changes. Keep us informed, we’d love to hear what you’re doing!
Summer’s Welcome Session IPA Recipe (Final Volume 5.5 gallons):
Estimated O.G. = 1.042
Estimated F.G. = 1.011
Estimated ABV = 4.1%
Estimated Bitterness = 50 IBU
6 lbs. Maris Otter
2 lbs. Dark Munich (Munich II)
0.5 lb. Crystal 60L
Hops (60 minute boil):
0.5 oz Warrior (15.7% AA) added as a first wort hop when draining into the brew kettle
0.5 oz Amarillo added at 15 minutes left in the boil
0.5 oz Columbus added at 10 minutes left in the boil
0.5 oz Amarillo added at 5 minutes left in the boil
1 oz each Amarillo and Chinook added at the end of the boil, during knockout
1 oz each Amarillo, Chinook and Columbus, added as dry hops after primary fermentation is complete, leaving in contact for 4-7 days
1 pack Wyeast 1056 American Ale, White Labs WLP001 California Ale, or Safale S-05 American Ale
- Mash at 154F for 60 minutes, proceed with boil as normal.
- Chill to 66F and pitch yeast.
- Ferment between 66F and 68F for 2 weeks.
- Add dry hops after primary fermentation is complete, either in the primary or a secondary vessel. For best clarity, rack to secondary before dry hopping.
Extract Version: Replace Maris Otter base malt with 3.3 lbs (1 can) of Maris Otter liquid malt extract and 1 lb. of light dry malt extract. Steep the Dark Munich and Crystal 60 malts at 150-155F for 30 minutes. Remove steeping grains, turn off flame and add extracts, mixing until dissolved. Add in first wort hop addition, turn the flame back on and boil as normal, following hopping schedule. Follow chilling and fermentation schedule as above, dry hopping after primary fermentation is complete.
Update September 29th, 2014:
Now that I’ve had time to brew a few more session IPAs, as well as 20 gallons of this one, I’d probably make some slight changes to the hops, namely cutting the dry hop down to 2 oz instead of 3, and maybe going with an Amarillo-Simcoe combo. Also, I think that less time in contact with the dry hops is more…I might just do the dry hops for 3 days.