Photo © Dave McAvoy
Until recently, the craft beer world was involved in a friendly war to one-up each other by creating bigger, bolder, and more extreme beer. Breweries like Samuel Adams and BrewDog produced beers in excess of 25% ABV, which really pushed the limits of beer. Other brewers focused on making the most sour, hoppy or spicy beer possible. Most of them are well suited for sipping or should be shared with others, not for throwing back in succession.
This trend is beginning to change. More breweries are focusing on the lower end of ABV spectrum and are redefining the “session ale,” including Drake’s Brewing in San Leandro. Their Alpha Session, a “Nor Cal Bitter Ale” as they describe it, weighs in at 50 IBUs (similar to many IPAs), but comes in a lighter at 3.8% ABV. Drake’s recently released Alpha Session in bottles around the Bay Area, so I thought it would be fitting to share my thoughts about the beer so you can determine whether or not you should take a few home to enjoy.
The beer pours a clear golden color with a finger of frothy white head forming atop. The head recedes slowly leaving some lace clinging to the sides of the glass. The aroma is full of West Coast hops, with hints of pine, grapefruit and citrus tickling the nose. There’s also an ample malt backbone, which gives the beer some balance. It’s surprising how full the aroma is considering its below 4% ABV.
The taste follows the nose closely in many ways. The first flavors to hit the tongue are a mix of grapefruit, pineapple, and other citrus and tropical hops, with some mild bitterness alongside the caramel and English biscuit malts. Through the middle, the pine and grassy hops jump out, bringing with them a stronger bitterness and a touch of resin. The finish continues the hop forward trend, with more tropical and piney flavors, some good bitterness, and some sweet malts lingering on the tongue. The beer feels a bit lighter than medium bodied with moderate carbonation. It feels smooth and incredibly refreshing with a nice dry and bitter feeling left afterwards.
Bringing the English-style bitter and session ales to forefront of craft beer in America is a trend that I can really get behind, and the Alpha Session is a great example. There is no longer a compromise between having a full flavored beer and something that you can drink all evening long. I really enjoy how much hop flavor and bitterness is jammed into this beer, without cutting down on the smoothness and session-ability one bit. One word of warning though, this beer has a habit of disappearing from your glass quite quickly, only to find out that you’ve had enough beer that catches up with you.