I grew up in Chicago and spent many hot humid summers going to outdoor concerts. I wasn’t really into beer at that time of my life, but I still put down a few American Lagers to quench my thirst. Today I love IPA’s full of Pacific Northwest pine and citrus flavored hops that have an assertive bitterness. The drawback for drinking beers like this on a hot summer day watching live music is that bitterness tends to linger on the palate and a high alcohol content limits how many I could reasonably have in moderation over the course of a day. An ideal beer for a hop-head looking to have a few while enjoying some live music would be full of hop flavors, easy on the palate and with low alcohol content. Goose Island created the perfect beer for hop-lovers like myself for the 3 day Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago and because it went down so well, decided to release it as a seasonal for this summer. The beer is a “session” IPA, called Endless IPA.
What is a “session” beer? There is no official definition from leading authorities (Beer Judge Certification Program for example) of what a session beer is. Historically, beer has been consumed during work (and was provided to workers as part of compensation) since the beginning of recorded beer history. Even more recently, in the industrial age you were allowed to have a beer on regular breaks during work. Any beer low in alcohol was probably acceptable. Others might attach a more social definition, saying that it’s a beer that you could be sipping all night in a bar with your friends (English Bitters or an American Lager for example). Pub beers were malt forward with a moderate bitterness and balance was a big factor in how “drinkable” a beer can be. “Light” American lagers are famously drinkable and sessionable because of the low bitterness and moderate alcohol content. However, today’s trend in craft beer is the IPA, a style which is inherently opposite (being aggressively bitter and with a higher alcohol content) of the traditional definitions of being sessionable. So how do you squeeze an IPA down to being sessionable?
Let’s take a look at the IPA itself to understand how. Okay, first and foremost you need hops. Hop aromas and flavors, but still enough of a malt backbone to support them. It’s a challenge for a brewer to showcase hops and at the same time reduce the malts and abv. One popular Session IPA you see in the market cuts the malt bill and instead uses corn as an adjunct. (Funny I don’t find the craft consumers outraged at this use of other “grains” as they do with large beer manufacturers.) Endless IPA from Goose Island, on the other hand, is ALL MALT. It’s a simple malt bill, with just a 2 row base malt, Carapils (to improve foam and head retention and thus continuous hop aroma), and some Crystal 60L (a common malt for color and some degree of caramel sweetness). The hop they use for Endless IPA is all Amarillo which is grown specifically for Goose Island in an area called Elk Mountain in Idaho. Amarillo is famously used for American Pale Ales and IPAs because of it’s good bittering and strong aromatic quality that points to floral and fruit aromas, specifically orange. Endless IPA clocks in at 5% abv, which is about the same as most “light” beers making it very sessionable. Through judicious use of malt, appropriate kettle hopping and ridiculous amount of dry hopping, what you get is citrus hop flavor and aroma but with a light body, moderate abv and a crisp, clean finish leaving you wanting for more. This is a perfect recipe for summer drinking.
John Gestautas, Keg Keeper
Master Brewers Association of America Beer Steward