05 September 2011

Session series: Surly Bitter Brewer

I am a pretty big proponent of session beer. What is session beer you ask? I can't write it better than Lew Bryson, so I will give his definition:

For our purposes, 'session beer' is defined as a beer that is:

► 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
► flavorful enough to be interesting
► balanced enough for multiple pints
► conducive to conversation
► reasonably priced

I will also be the first to say that I love beer at both extremes. I really enjoy the newest barrel-aged, brett yeast added, aged on dollar bills, broken dreams, and the newest rarest hop strain you've never heard of before, but at the end of the day I enjoy a great pint of beer that I can have more than a few of and still function just fine. It may not sound like a tall order, but just getting a really flavorful beer at a lower ABV seems to be what we are moving away from, but many good examples fly under the radar simply because they are not at all hyped at all. Would you line up for hours on end for a brewers newest 4.5% limited session beer? Probably not.

A quick bit of background as well as to where the term "session beer" originates. The story I read the most is that during WWI workers could only go to the pub in two different "sessions" during the day. This could be before going to work, during your lunch break, or after work. During the war the price of beer was heavily regulated based the tax rate and current laws. The higher the ABV the more you paid for your pint. You could have a few beers during a "session" and still be fine. I've read other versions, but this is the one that comes up the most.

This beer comes to me from Surly Brewing in Minneapolis. I've been a big fan of their beers ever since I had my first furious in the can several years ago. This beer comes in at just 4.1% ABV. This is one of their seasonal beers that is only available between May and August. I think they should brew this beer all year long though.

The beer pours a nice hazy orange color with a decent sized head on the pour. The nose doesn't blast you in the face, but it has a solid aroma from the dry hopping leaves a citrus zest type smell. When the beer had warmed sufficiently I also got notes of the bready malt character. The flavor is perfect for this time of year with base flavors including the malty and bready notes, but also bitter floral notes that balance very nicely. This has the base of a solid English ESB, but uses the tasty American hops that I love. It is just so very refreshing. This beer at only 4.1% ABV has more complexity and flavor than many beers I've had with much more heft on it.

This is the kind of beer I want often. The price point was nice ($8.99 for a four pack of 16oz cans), easy drinking, great flavor, and hit the spot during the summer. I would order this often though if I saw it on tap around town just about any time of the year. I am hoping after Surly's big expansion they are getting ready to go through we may see this beer here one day and I won't have to rely on friends and the internet to get it. Well done Surly this was a real pleasure to drink.



  1. My new favorite session beer is Founder's All Day IPA. Sits at 4.5%, easy to drink, full of flavor but won't kill your taste buds, or too much of your grey matter. Had some at Founders Fest, then again via a fresh growler which I was able to drink in its entirety without losing the little sensibilities I have to begin with. Should be bottling sometime in the next year, but who knows.

  2. Andy,

    I also love that Founders all day IPA. I would welcome that beer in bottles.



  3. Thanks for the review. Sounds like a great beer. You should include a link to the seasonal beers page over at Surly so the homebrew nerds can easily check out what hops they're using (Looks like CBus bitter/Glacier flavor).

  4. One of the better sessionable beers I've had in Indiana is Figure 8's Where Lizards Dare IPA. 4% ABV, lots of Cascade and Centennial hop goodness in the nose and flavor.