Oregon’s session beers are many, and true to the Northwest form, are also a bit higher in alcohol than the English ales that bred the name. The informal category “session” was prompted by a World War I law that limited drinking to two “sessions:” 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 to 11 p.m., aimed at keeping production workers relatively sober. As a result, popular beers for those sessions were those that a person could drink continuously without getting super drunk – usually about 3 or 4 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). The law stayed on the books until 1988!
Fast forward to Horse Brass in 2013, an English-style pub in the Belmont district of Portland. Here among photos of the pub’s founder, Don Younger, we tasted Oregon session beers that ranged in ABV from 4.0% up to 6%. Not only are ABVs generally higher, but also the variety of beers brewers dubbed as “sessionable” was extensive. Among those we tasted were pale ales, IPAs, ISAs, a Kolsch and a few blondes. Oregon “sessions,” it appears, are either shorter, or happier.
Here are the seven “session” beers chosen by Horse Brass clients from among those contributed by Oregon brewers. They are listed in reverse alphabetical order.
Silver Moon GetSum Pale Ale, Bend
5.6 % ABV, 44 IBU
This summer seasonal includes Chinook, Centennial, and Citra hops to give it a giant grapefruit, pine, and tropical fruit flavor while maintaining a moderate bitterness, with medium body and a dry finish, according to Silver Moon’s description. “Smooth and easy to drink,” said one taster. “Smells wonderful,” said another. “A perfect way to start the afternoon. I enjoy the flavor that stays on the tongue,” a third taster said. “Just a good summertime beer,” summed up a fourth.
Ninkasi Radiant, Eugene
6% ABV, 40 IBUs
Earthy and floral hops balance this award-winning Northwest-style pale ale, with a touch of Crystal and Vienna malts for flavor. The smooth malt character is balanced by elegant hop bitterness, the perfect complement to a glorious summer day, according to Ninkasi’s commercial description. Our consumer tasters agreed with the professional judges: “A good drink for after work,” said one taster. “I’m going to eat it with some French fries,” decided another. “This is easy to drink, and it’s not too light,” mused another.
Long Linda’s Lager, Newberg
4% ABV, 12 IBUs
This European-style summer seasonal lager has a light straw color with a tight lacy white head, subtle lime citrus and floral aroma with soft hop spice, according to Paul Long’s description of the beer that bears his wife’s name. Champagne-like qualities with refreshing carbonation, clean, crisp and dry with a delicately balanced, slightly tart finish, said Paul. “Sunshine highway,” described one taster. “Just the way a lager should taste,” said another. “Absolutely love it! So crisp and refreshing. I’m going to stock up on this one immediately,” enthused another. “Sunshine, patios and this beer.” Why am I inside drinking this beer?” queried one.
Hopworks Organic Lager, Portland
5.1% ABV, 32 IBUs
“Our German-style pilsner is all malt, all the time,” according to Hopwork’s website description of this beer. “Spicy and herbal notes from Organic Perle and Hallertau hops balance the delicate honey flavor from organic 2-row and light caramel malts. This golden lager is dry and refreshing with surprising depth of character.” Tasters chimed in with praises: “This could make a salty dog smile a toothless grin,” said one. “Light but tasty,” said another. “Drinkable and fresh,” described a taster. “My favorite beer so far. I could drink this one for hours, and probably days.”
Full Sail Session Lager, Hood River
5.1% ABV, 18 IBUs
Full Sail describes it thus: This all-malt pre-Prohibition style lager is flavorful, refreshing, and has a touch of that import-style taste. It comes in a stubby, 11-oz bottle like your grandpa used to buy. It was named World's Best Premium Lager at the World Beer Awards and is the winner of a slew of other shiny trophies. Oregon Beer Growler consumers gave it a thumbs-up. “Easy to drink and uncomplicated.” “Your basic beer,” said another. “Refreshing! I could drink this all afternoon!” “Tasty,” and “Perfect for summer,” were among other comments.
Deschutes River Ale, Bend
4% ABV, 28 IBUs
Deschutes officials describe this golden or blonde ale as “A session beer with craft soul.” It is clean and refreshing enough for a long haul, but has plenty of interesting features including hop aroma (Cascade, Crystal and Nugget) and malt heft (Pale, Munich, Carapils and Crystal). Consumers loved it. “Like running barefoot through the grass,” said one. “Light and crisp enough to drink on my deck all day,” said another. Several called it a “good summer beer.” One person suggested that this would be a great beer to introduce to friends who are stuck on Bud Light or Miller.
Bend Brewing Metolius Golden Ale, Bend
This golden ale that has been pleasing Bend drinkers for 15 years closely approximates a lager in its crisp, dry palate, low hop aroma, light body and light malt sweetness. The finish is very clean with a lingering subtle fruitiness, according to its commercial description. “Nice!” and “Drinkable!” were two brief descriptions from consumer tasters. “Solid and enjoyable, anytime,” said another. “Sunshine in my mouth,” said a taster. “Oh golden waves of grain!” exclaimed one.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.