What is a Session IPA - With recipes!

What the hop is a “Session IPA”, and how do I make one?

By Steve Bader, November 2014

It is no secret that the best selling beer in the USA is the IPA style.  We have a variety of official IPA beer styles, including British IPA, American IPA and Imperial IPA.  Add to that “Double IPA” and Black IPA (or  Cascadian Dark Ale).   All of these IPA styles and sub styles have 2 distinct characteristics in common, #1) high hop flavor and bitterness, and #2) a higher alcohol content, typically from a low of 5.5% to up to over 10%, with the majority of them in the 7% range.

What is the problem with the numerous IPA styles?  Because of the higher alcohol content, you frequently can’t drink more than 2 pints without looking for a pillow.

Out of this dilemma came a new unofficial IPA beer style called “Session IPA”. 

Doesn’t “Session IPA” sound like an over-hopped American Pale Ale?  Well, no, they are not quite the same.  The simplest way to describe the difference is that while the alcohol content of a Session IP A and an American Pale Ale is about the same, the body of a Session IPA tends to be a bit more full bodied, and the hop flavor would be described as more “intense” than a Pale Ale.   Notice that I did not say the hop flavor is more “bitter” than a pale ale.   Calculated IBU’s are probably somewhat similar, but the hop flavor and aroma is more intense with a Session IPA.   

I contacted 3 commercial brewers, for their take on the new “style”.

Jack Harris of Fort George Brewery in Astoria, Oregon describes a Session IPA as “a beer that would be intensely aromatic with hops, full-flavored (not thin or watery), low in alcohol and low in hop bitterness. It is sort of the hoppy part of an IPA without the puckering bitterness”

Mitch Steele of Stone Brewing calls it “a way for craft beer drinkers to enjoy an intensely hoppy beer at a lower alcohol level”

Sean Lawson of Lawson’s Finest Liquids says Session IPA’s are “a low alcohol IPA with as much body and mouthfeel as you can insert, and then the hops are layered on heavily with a minimal amount of bittering from the boiling hops’’.  Sean’s Super Session IPA is brewed with a single hop each time, and he uses a different hop each time!

Well, how do you make the hop profile more “intense” without being more “bitter”.   A relatively new hopping method called “Hop Bursting” is used.  Hop bursting is generally a method where the vast majority of the hop bitterness comes from a combination of very late kettle and whirlpool additions.  Additional hop aroma can come from dry hopping in the fermenter.  A variation on hop bursting is when the brewer uses only a very small amount (around 5%) of the hops that are added in at the beginning of the boil to reduce foaming.   The BYO Wizard has an article from the July/Aug 2012 issue (http://bit.ly/1p86eXU) with more on “hop bursting”.

From this BYO article, Jamil Zainasheff had this comment about hop bursting.  “Long ago I ran across a few commercial beers that were massively late hopped and had little or no bittering charge. The aroma wasn’t anything more than you would expect from dropping in massive amounts of hops near the end of the boil, but the bittering had a “softer” character. It seemed to me at the time that boiling hops for a longer time not only resulted in more isomerized hop acids, but a harsher bittering the longer you boiled them. By switching to a shorter boil and a greater quantity of hops, you got a softer bittering and more hop character because you tossed in lots of late hops”.

The key to brewing this kind of beer seems to be the hopping methodology that is unusual by standard brewing practices.

I think Jack Harris said it best with: “use an unreasonable amount of hops in the fermenter, even at the expense of loss of beer volume.”

One of the problems that large scale brewers have with this method, is that when they finish boiling their beer, because of the 10 barrel to a few hundred barrel brewing systems, it can take a very long time to cool their beer, and any late hop additions will continue to extract more of the harsh hop flavors in the 30 minutes or longer that it takes to cool this beer, not to mention additional time sitting in a boiling vessel if they are whirl-pooling to help with hot break separation.  As a homebrewer, typically brewing 5 to 10 gallon batches, you have the advantage of being able to cool your beer at the end of the boil very quickly in comparison.  Using an immersion wort chiller, typically you could be able to drop the temperature of your beer from boiling temperature to somewhere around room temperature in a 5 to 10 minute time frame, thus having more control over how much of the more harsh hop flavors are extracted after flameout.

Another characteristic of the style, is that many of the brewers making these beers have loved using the newer “designer” hops with somewhat unique flavor and aroma profiles like Mosaic, Citra, Simcoe, etc. 

“Session IPA” is a beer style that fits homebrewers perfectly, from the standpoint that the rules are just guidelines, and a great deal of variation of methodology is completely acceptable when brewing this type of beer.

Here are 3 recipes for you to use to make your own “Session IPA”.  Hop  IBU numbers when using this hop bursting method will vary quite easily for homebrewers, so the IBU numbers on the recipes below could vary by 20% to 30%!

Fort George Suicide Squeeze Session IPA

(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains)

OG=1.044   FG=1.008  IBU=About 50  SRM=6  ABV=4.7%

Ingredients

3.3 lbs. (1.5 kg) Briess Malt Extract Pilsner unhopped syrup
2.0 lbs. (0.9 kg) Briess light dry malt extract
0.25 lbs. (113 g) Great Western Crystal 40L malt
0.5 lbs. (226 g) Flaked Oats
2.7 AAU Mosaic hop pellets (60 min)
       (0.25 oz. / 7 g at 11.0% alpha acids)
8.2 AAU Mosaic hop pellets (15 min)
       (0.75 oz. / 22 g at 11.0% alpha acids)
9.7 AAU Citra hop pellets (15 min)
      (0.75 oz. / 21 g at 13.0% alpha acids)
22 AAU Mosaic hop pellets (during wort cooling, about 5 min)
      (2.0 oz. / 56  g at 11.0% alpha acids)
27.5 AAU Mosaic hop pellets (Dry hop)
      (2.5 oz. at 11.0% alpha acids)
2.7 AAU Citra hop pellets (Dry hop)
      (0.25 oz. at 11.0% alpha acids)
½ teaspoon irish moss (30 min)
Wyeast 1968 London ESB, White labs WLP002 English Ale yeast or Danstar Windsor Ale yeast

Step by Step

Steep the crushed grain in 2.5 gallons (9.5 L) of water at 155° F (68° C) for 30 minutes.  Remove the grains from the wort.  Add the malt extracts and boil for 60 minutes.  Add the first hop addition at the beginning of the boil of Mosaic primarily as a foam inhibitor.  Add your irish moss for the last 30 minutes.  With 15 minutes left in the boil, add your second Mosaic and first Citra hop addition.  At the end of the boil, insert a wort chiller, and begin cooling your beer.  As soon as you begin chilling your beer, add 2.0 ounces of Mosaic, stirring them in the beer while you are cooling the beer.  You would like to have these hops in the beer with the temperature between boiling and around 150° for close to 5 minutes.  When you have cooled your beer to about 80°, you can strain the beer into your fermenter.   Aerate your beer and pitch your yeast.  Ferment at 70°.  When fermentation is complete, rack your beer off the trub, and add the remaining “dry hop” additions of Mosaic and Citra, and allow the beer to absorb the dry hop flavors for about 4 days.  Then bottle or keg as you normally would.

All Grain Option

This is a single step infusion mash, mashing at 154° to 156° to create a fuller bodied beer. Replace the dry malt extract and liquid malt extract with 9 lbs. a (4.1 kg) of 2-row pale malt.  Mix all the crushed grains with 3.5 gallons (13 L) of 170° F (77° C) water and stabilize the mash at 156° (68° C) for 60 minutes.  Raise your mash temperature to 165° (74° C) and sparge with enough 175° (79° C) water to collect approximately 6.0 gallons of wort.  Boil this wort for 60 minutes, reducing the Citra 15 minute hop addition to 0.25 ounce to allow for the greater hop extraction of a full boil.   The remainder of the recipe is the same.

Boulevard Brewing Pop Up Session IPA

(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains)

OG=1.042  FG=1.010  IBU=About 40  SRM=5  ABV=4.1%

3.3 lbs. (1.5 kg) Briess Malt Extract Light unhopped syrup
2.0 lbs. (0.9 kg) Briess light dry malt extract
0.25 lbs. (113 g) Amber malt crushed
4.2 AAU Australian Topaz hop pellets (60 min)
       (0.25 oz. /7 g at 16.0% alpha acids)
14 AAU Cascade hop pellets (during wort cooling, about 5 min)
        (2.5 oz. /70 g at 6.75% alpha acids)
19.5 AAU Citra hop pellets (during wort cooling, about 5 min)
            (1.5 oz. /42 g at 13.0% alpha acids)
16.5 AAU Mosaic hop pellets (during wort cooling, about 5 min)
       (1.5 oz. /42 g at 11.0% alpha acids)
10 AAU Amarillo hop pellets (Dry hop)
       (1.0 oz. /28 g at 10.0% alpha acids)
6.7 AAU Cascade hop pellets (Dry hop)
       (1.0 oz. /28 g at 6.75% alpha acids)
3.2 AAU Citra hop pellets (Dry hop)
       (0.25 oz. /7 g at 13.0% alpha acids)
2.6 AAU Centennial hop pellets (Dry hop)
       (0.25 oz./ 7 g at 10.5% alpha acids)
½ teaspoon Irish moss (30 min)
Wyeast British Ale 1098, White Labs WLP002 British Ale, Safale S-04, Mangrove Jack M07 British Ale or Danstar Nottingham dry ale yeast.

Step by Step

Steep the crushed Amber malt in 2.5 gallons (9.5 L) of water at 155° F (68° C) for 30 minutes.  Remove the grains from the wort.  Add the malt extracts and boil for 60 minutes.  Add the first hop addition of Topaz at the beginning of the boil primarily as a foam inhibitor.  Add your irish moss for the last 30 minutes.    Turn off your burner and remove your pot from your heat source.  Now  add your 1st Cascade, Mosaic and Citra hops, and stir to mix in.  After about 3 to 4 minutes, begin using your wort chiller to drop the temperature of the wort to pitching temperature.  This addition is a bit tricky, but the goal is to have the large amount of hops in your beer for about 5 minutes after the beer has finished boiling, but prior to cooling below around 150°.  This extracts a small amount of hop bitterness, and a large amount of hop flavors.  When you have cooled your beer to about 80°, you can strain the beer into your fermenter.   Aerate your beer and pitch your yeast.  Ferment at 68°F to help hold the aromatics in the beer.  When fermentation is complete, rack your beer off the trub, and add the remaining “dry hop” additions of Cascade, Centennial and Citra, and allow the beer to absorb the dry hop flavors for about 4 days.  Then bottle or keg as you normally would.

All Grain Option

This is a single step infusion mash, mashing at 154° to 156° (68° to 69°c) to create a fuller bodied beer. Replace the dry malt extract and liquid malt extract with 9 lbs. of British pale malt.  Mix all the crushed grains with 3.5 gallons (13 L) of 170° F (77° C) water and stabilize the mash at 156° (68° C) for 60 minutes.  Raise your mash temperature to 165° (74° C) and sparge with enough 175° (79° C) water to collect approximately 6.0 gallons of wort.  Boil this wort for 60 minutes.  Typically I would suggest reducing your hops that you boil for 60 minutes, but with this “hop bursting” method, there is so little hops in this first addition I think you can continue to use the 0.25 oz of Topaz in the first addition without changing the bitterness level of this beer.  The remainder of the recipe is the same.

Lawson’s Finest Liquids “Super Session IPA”

(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains)

OG=1.050  FG=1.017  IBU=About 48  SRM=5  ABV= 4.3%
3.3 lbs. (1.5 kg) Briess Malt Extract Light unhopped syrup
2.0 lbs. (0.9 kg) Briess light dry malt extract
1.0 lbs. (45 kg) Cara-Pils Dextrin malt crushed
6.0 oz. (170 g) 10 L Crystal malt crushed
6.0 oz. (170 g) 10 L Munich malt crushed
2.5 AAU Amarillo hop pellets (60 min)
(0.25 oz. / 7 g at 10.0% alpha acids)
50 AAU Amarillo hop pellets (during wort cooling, about 5 min)
 (5.0 oz. / 141 g at 10.0% alpha acids)
30 AAU Amarillo hop pellets (Dry hop)
(3.0 oz. / 85 g at 10.0% alpha acids)
½ teaspoon Irish moss (30 min)
Wyeast American Ale 1056, White Labs WLP001 California Ale, Danstar BRY-97, Safale US-05 or Mangrove  Jack W44 West Coast Ale.

Step by Step

Steep the crushed malts in 2.5 gallons (9.5 L) of water at 155° F (70° C) for 30 minutes.  Remove the grains from the wort.  Add the malt extracts and boil for 60 minutes.  Add the first hop addition of Amarillo at the beginning of the boil primarily as a foam inhibitor.  Add your irish moss for the last 30 minutes.    Turn off your burner and remove your pot from your heat source.  Now add your 5 ounces of Amarillo hops, and stir to mix in.  After about 3 to 4 minutes, begin using your wort chiller to drop the temperature of the wort to pitching temperature.  This addition is a bit tricky, but the goal is to have the large amount of hops in your beer for about 5 minutes after the beer has finished boiling, but prior to cooling below around 150.  This extracts a small amount of hop bitterness, and a large amount of hop flavors.  When you have cooled your beer to about 80, you can strain the beer into your fermenter.   Aerate your beer and pitch your yeast.  Ferment at 68°-70°F to help hold the aromatics in the beer.  When fermentation is complete, rack your beer off the trub, and add the remaining “dry hop” addition of 3.0 oz. of Amarillo, and allow the beer to absorb the dry hop flavors for about 4 days.  Then bottle or keg as you normally would.

All Grain Option

This is a single step infusion mash, mashing at 158° (70°c) to create a fuller bodied beer. Replace the dry malt extract and liquid malt extract with 9 lbs. (4.1 kg) of Pale Ale malt.  Mix all the crushed grains with 3.5 gallons (13 L) of 170° F (77° C) water and stabilize the mash at 158° (70° C) for 60 minutes.  Raise your mash temperature to 165° (74° C) and sparge with enough 175° (79° C) water to collect approximately 6.0 gallons of wort.  Boil this wort for 60 minutes.  Typically I would suggest reducing your hops that you boil for 60 minutes, but with this “hop bursting” method, there are so little hops in this first addition I think you can continue to use the 0.25 oz of Amarillo in the first addition without changing the bitterness level of this beer.  The remainder of the recipe is the same.

 

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