The Rise of Low ABV Beer - Echo Session Ales
Low ABV options are a quietly growing desire in the craft beer industry, and it’s not hard to imagine why that might be, particularly with so many tap lists dominated by 6 to 7% IPAs and even higher from there. When you’re in the mood for a beer, you might just want something refreshing but don’t necessarily want to commit to that much alcohol, particularly in the summer. The obvious appeal of macro lagers to many is at least in part due to the fact that you’ve got something light, refreshing, easy drinking and won’t have you feeling too tipsy after one or two. It makes sense as well that greater availability and variety of lower ABV beers could make craft beer less intimidating to more casual drinkers.
Certain styles are more naturally suited to lower ABV just because of their ingredients and brewing methods. Most varieties of lagers, kölsches, some sours, and less common styles (at least in North America) such as Grisettes will generally hit around 4.5% to 5%, and that’s where they taste just right. A straight up oatmeal stout is right at home hovering around 5%. There are also plenty of Session IPAs and Pale Ales on the market, generally no more than 4.5%, but to be honest they often don’t do it for me. In fact, I find that session versions of styles that are typically brewed at higher ABVs often leave something to be desired. There are a select few I really like, such as Sawdust City Golden Beach Hazy Pale Ale (4.5%), Great Lakes Sunnyside Session IPA (3.9%) or Blood Brothers Blood Light Session Pale Ale (4.5%), but for the most part I find session IPAs/pale ales to be lighter bodied, higher in carbonation, and with a common dominating flavour of bitter citrus acidity, and it’s just not my thing. While there are obviously select examples of lower ABV versions of generally higher ABV styles being done quite well, in my opinion it’s something that the industry at large hasn’t really got right yet.
That said, it does look like we’re starting to see a shift towards trying to meet that growing demand for greater variety in lower alcohol options. In Ontario, Collective Arts recently revamped their State of Mind session IPA with the introduction to their core lineup of the double dry-hopped 4.1% Hazy State, and Number 10 from their IPA series was a nano IPA clocking in at only 3.2%. Bellwoods Brewery took it even further a couple of months ago with their low alcohol pale ale 0.97 (can you guess the ABV?). They’ve even said there will be more iterations to come!
On the Québec scene, there’s a new brewery really committing to the goal of making great tasting low alcohol beers. Echo Session Ales currently contract brew out of Broadway Pub Microbrasserie in Shawinigan, QC and are working towards opening their own bricks and mortar facility in Montréal. They celebrated their launch on June 16 of this year which was closely followed by their first drop of cans into Québec stores. At the time of this writing they’ve recently restocked shelves with their second drop. Co-owner JF kindly sent me their first two releases which I was very excited to try out!
Hazy Session IPA
IPA – 3.9%
The pour gives off an inviting aroma straight away of orange and lemon peel. The colour is an orangey yellow with more of a faint cloudiness than haze. This can was from the first batch, which they did acknowledge came out less hazy than intended. They plan to have the haze dialed up in subsequent batches. One of the things I think was done well here is that the addition of oats and wheat has mellowed the mouthfeel some which gives a bit of a creamy balance to the citric acidic flavours and high carbonation feel. It does have a bit of that session IPA feel to it, but I think they’re on the right track with what they’re doing to balance the mouthfeel. With a bit of tweaking I think it will be quite good. There’s a bit of grapefruit pith with some milder stone fruit flavours from mid-palate to finish. Flavour-wise, it’s solid for a session IPA. I’m looking forward to seeing how the next batch improves.
aux Oranges Entières - 3.6%
The witbier, which was fermented with whole oranges, pours a pale, cloudy yellow with a mild aroma of orange peel. The body is light, the mouthfeel is fluffy and smooth with lower carbonation than you might expect, which I actually liked. There are subtle flavours of Belgian yeast with a mild twist of orange, which while not overly prominent does give a nice refreshing finish. They did also note that they want to have the orange flavour turned up in future batches. It’s definitely come out at the right time with how light in body it is and that clean finish. It’s very drinkable and would be a perfect hot summer crusher.
Echo Session Ales are certainly off to a strong start! The first two beers they’ve released are solid, and I look forward to seeing how they improve them in subsequent batches, as well as the new styles they introduce to their all-session lineup! They are particularly conscious of the water they use, which is why they donate 1% of their sales to Fondation Rivières, who work to preserve Québec’s rivers and water quality. Check them out and look for them in Québec dépanneurs and bars!