Light beers are like certain hot chicks you meet at bars—fun at first but ultimately shallow and unfulfilling. Dark, heavy beers are more like everybody’s favorite party guy in college—packed with personality but easy to get your fill of, fast. But “session” beers, with their moderate alcohol but still satisfying flavor, are like your longtime best buddy or the girl you end up marrying: the happy middle ground.
Sessions are typically a little higher-calorie than light beers—160 to 200 calories per serving—but they have an alcohol-by-volume (ABV) that’s generally under 5%, says Devaraj Southworth, CEO of alcohol-delivery app Thirstie. “They can be young or old, bitter or sweet, fruity or crisp,” he says, “but the thing that makes a session a session is its ability to keep you from getting too drunk too quickly.”
Here’s a six-pack of our favorites to get you started:
Born in the Czech Republic in 1842, Urquell is the world’s very first pilsner. In the more than century and a half since its inception, the beer’s changed very little—although the advent of refrigeration means the fermenting beer no longer needs to be stored in caves. “With its deep golden color, rich, velvety body, and thick, creamy head, it’s still considered a luxury in its home country,” says Jeff Alworth, author of The Beer Bible.
4.4% ABV, pilsnerurquell.com
Bell’s Oarsman Ale
Big on flavor despite its überlow 4% alcohol content, Oarsman combines wheat, hops, citrus, and spices into a unique, slightly crisp session favorite. It’s a good option for guys looking to try their first sour beer, says Thirstie’s Southworth. “It’s crisp and refreshing, without being overly aggressive,” he says.
4% ABV, bellsbeer.com
Dr. Jekyll’s Beer Attack Irish-Style Red Ale
Although its 5.4% ABV pushes the boundaries of what’s truly a session beer, we’ll let it slide, thanks to its many other healthy attributes. For starters, each bottle is brewed with non-GMO, vegan-friendly organic hops and malt. Dr. Jekyll’s mad-scientist brewers also mix cinnamon oil, garlic, hawthorne berry, flaxseed oil, and other good-for-you superfoods into their brew, amping up the sweet, nutty, slightly smoky flavor and overall nutritional profile.
5.4% ABV, drjekylls.com
Founders All Day IPA
Started just 18 years ago in Grand Rapids, MI, the Founders Brewing Company is now a mammoth. Its philosophy in short: “We don’t brew beer for the masses...Our beers are crafted for renegades and rebels who enjoy a beer that pushes the limits of what’s commonly accepted in taste.” Founders is the gold standard of session IPAs, says Kurt Taylor, CEO of Next Glass, an app that helps you find wines and beers you’ll like based on how you’ve rated previous picks. “It’s sharp, hoppy, and super-refreshing after a long day,” he says.
4.7% ABV, foundersbrewing.com
Samuel Smith India Ale
“IPA-style beers are nearly synonymous with American brewing, but it’s good to sample Samuel Smith if you want to know what an original India ale tastes like,” says Alworth. “Smith’s version has the typical hard, mineral-water-and-bready-malt taste of an old-school beer, along with the unusual herbal hopping of today’s modern IPA.”
5% ABV, samuelsmithsbrewery.co.uk
“Countless guys are used to fueling their days with this delicious and well-crafted beer,” says Southworth, “and most would be surprised to find that it’s technically a session.” First brewed in 1913 in the tiny Texas town of Shiner (population 2,107), this lightly hopped lager was only a seasonal beer for the company until ardent fans persuaded the owners to start selling it year-round back in 1973. Since then, the beer’s won a dozen global titles, including a couple of golds as one of the top beers on the market.
4.4% ABV, shiner.com