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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Beer Sherp Recommends: Ft. George Overdub Session IPA

The idea of a session IPA is irresistible: all the intense flavor and aroma from a traditional IPA without all the booze (and calories, if you care about that). The problem is that they're hard to make. With a standard IPA, brewers have a very solid foundation to work with--lots of malt body and often a touch of caramel flavor--onto which they can build stories and stories (or layers) of hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma. The sweetness and body provided by the malt make it possible to nuke the beer with hops and have the whole thing work.

Session IPAs, on the other hand, are often too thin, or the hops are too bitter, or they lack the intensity you get from a proper IPA. I love the idea, and I order them anytime I see them on a taplist (in the past six months my session IPA consumption outpaces regular IPAs by perhaps four to one). Very rarely am I satisfied by the result. I thought Harpoon's Take Five, mashed in at 161 degrees for maximum body, was spectacular (it was also one of the first I had, setting unreasonable expectations). There have been others that were good, but only one that hits all the marks.

I first had Fort George's Overdub in a can at the Hollywood Theater. I forget the movie, but the beer--whoo boy, that was memorable. Last week I stopped in at the brewery when I was in Astoria, and found the draft version even more delightful. The perfume of tropical fruit, as sticky and fresh as if I were standing in a jungle, billowed from the glass. The flavors followed the aroma, and were supported by just enough bitterness to give them structure and bite--but there was a fine body to support everything (fine to the extent a 4.5% beer can manage). It was that unicorn of balance and intensity in a tiny package. I was tempted to drink 14.

This beer is apparently a seasonal (Big Guns, Fort George's regular-lineup session IPA, is nowhere near as vivid), so seek it out and purchase with alacrity. 

"Beer Sherpa Recommends" is an irregular feature. In this fallen world, when the number of beers outnumber your woeful stomach capacity by several orders of magnitude, you risk exposing yourself to substandard beer. Worse, you risk selecting substandard beer when there are tasty alternatives at hand. In this terrible jungle of overabundance, wouldn't it be nice to have a neon sign pointing to the few beers among the crowd that really stand out? A beer sherpa, if you will, to guide you to the beery mountaintop. I don't profess to drink all the beers out there, but from time to time I stumble across a winner and when I do, I'll pass it along to you.


  1. I share your quest for the perfect session. I feel that it's been much easier even just these last couple of years to find very good, if not great, sessions, that give every bit as much flavor without the booze.

    Coming from the wine world, this is interesting to me as similar things have happened in wine over the last decade -- see "Parkerization" on one hand and the "AFWE" on the other -- and I'm glad it's happening in beer, too. Especially as my own palate valleys complexity over ABV. There are so many great brewers working under 6% (or 5, or even 4!) now that we're spoiled for choice.

    And so with that, I just wanted to say that Crux's "Off Leash", in my opinion, is the one to beat. The only downside is that it's quite expensive and only comes in 22s. And is only made seasonally, so it's not really on shelves right now. But it packs more complexity into fewer percentages than any other IPA I've had. I only wish they put it in cans.

  2. It seems to me that the session IPAs improved when they started to rely more on danky hops as opposed to citrus hops.

  3. I actually think that their first version of Suicide Squeeze from two years back is/was the best Session IPA I have had. I think it's been upped into standard IPA range now. Ft. George seems to have a knack for this thing!