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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

From Cartwright to Session IPA in 272 Words

I'm a bit short for blogging time this week, though there is a remarkable post over at Oregon Hops and Brewing Archive that will feature prominently in (hopefully very near) future posts. A trove of documents reveals what the state of brewing was like in the late Carter administration as Chuck Coury struggled to make one of America's first microbreweries a viable enterprise.

Original Cartwright site.
I don't want to step on that blogging too much, but suffice it to say that what brewers and drinkers understood then--a long time by one measure, but well within living memory--was shockingly primitive. That article contrasts nicely with a piece that provoked a lot of debate on the nature of Session IPAs. In that post, Londoner Mark Dredge argues that there's nothing sessionable about this style. Unsurprisingly, his British commenters all offer their hear-hears (as did Alan, in a thread that sadly took place on Facebook). I'll leave aside for a moment my strong dissent of Mark's point--"sessionable" may be a British word, but which flavors Americans choose for their sessions is not under British oversight*--but what's striking is the distance between Cartwright and Session IPA.

We've gone from a time when Americans neither knew how to brew beer nor what most beer tasted like to a time where we argue about "sessionability" and "session IPAs"--two concepts that would have been abstruse to the point of gibberish just 36 years ago. I have a decent shot at being alive in another 36 years, and it's hard to even imagine what world we might inhabit then.

*Okay, I didn't entirely leave it aside.


  1. Mark though makes a valid point, after 3 or 4 pints of really hoppy session IPAs I find my palette is in need of rest bite, a fact I contribute primarily to the type of hops being used.

    I can drink 40 IBUs of Saaz in a proper Czech pilsner until the cows come home, 42 IBUs of Goldings in a best bitter, not a problem. 30 IBUs of a C-hop, Amarillo, Citra, or whatever is the houblon de jour just gets tired after a while, and without the requisite other flavours in the beer to add depth and extended interest, Session IPAs just fall short.

    There is more to a session beer than just being below 4.5%, and sadly too many Session IPAs fail to maintain interest levels.

  2. Thanks for being sorry about the FB thread. Multimedia social media has a splintering effect. But the thing I find so interesting is how the responses vary greatly but each are rooted in the intended "effect" of the session as an event: comfort, not getting hammered, enjoying company, pint after pint. Maybe we shape a session beer in our own image?