What Is a Session IPA vs an IPA?

What Is a Session IPA vs an IPA?

IPAs are well-loved for their unique flavor profiles. Beer drinkers also love these ales because you only need a few to get the party started. But did you know you can enjoy IPAs even if you do not want a high ABV beer? 

Session IPAs are lower in alcohol than traditional India pale ales. Yet, they still have all of those delicious IPA flavors. 

What is a session IPA vs. an IPA? We are diving deep into this question in this guide, so keep reading for everything you need to know about IPAs, session beers, and session IPAs. 

But First, What Is an IPA?

IPA stands for India pale ale. What defines this type of beer is its higher alcohol by volume (ABV), extended shelf life, and the secret ingredient: hops. 

Hops are flowers that come from the Humulus lupulus plant. These plants are a member of the Cannabaceae family of plants. This plant family also includes cannabis and hemp as members. 

Humulus lupulus plants are climbing vines. You can find them in hop gardens, where farmers train the plants to climb up trellises and strings hung over fields. Hops plants can grow as tall as 20-feet high. 

The flavor of hops varies by species. But, typically, hops offer a bitter flavor to brews. Depending on the variety, hops can also offer floral, citrusy, or fruity flavors to beers. 

In addition to being super tasty, hops have a long history of use as natural medicine. That is because hops have antibacterial properties. And these antibacterial properties explain why IPAs are so shelf stable. 

Types of IPAs

Breweries use different hop plants to create the IPA variations we all know and love today. There are over a dozen different kinds of IPAs and IPA examples, including English and American IPAs. 

But the three most popular types of IPAs are: 

  1. Hazy IPAs 
  1. Double or Imperial IPAs 
  1. Session IPAs 

Hazy IPAs get their name from the fact that brewers do not filter these beers. But Imperial and session IPAs are determined based on the brew’s ABV. 

Session Ales: Explained

Before we explain the Session IPA, we wanted to briefly mention session ales in general. This category of beer gets its name because you can have more than one per drinking “session.” 

Session beers typically have ABVs of 5% or less. Often, though not always, session ales are also lower in calories, so you will not feel as full after knocking back a few. 

Breweries can create session beers out of any type of brew. Pilsners, blondes, and lagers are all common types of session beers. But hefeweizens and pale ales can also be session beers. 

We wanted to quickly note that you should not confuse a pale ale and an India pale ale. When it comes to a session pale ale vs. India pale ale (whether session or not), there is a pretty big difference in flavor profiles. 

Session IPAs

Session IPAs are India pale ales with lower alcohol content than a traditional IPA. However, when it comes to session vs. IPA beers, session IPAs have higher ABVs than regular session brews. 

You may be wondering: how is the India pale ale vs. session taste? Session IPAs offer lower ABVs without compromising on flavor. 

Brewers still make these beers with hops. And this ingredient gives session IPAs the same floral, fruity, or citrusy flavors as regular IPAs. 

What Is a Session IPA vs. an IPA?

By now, you should understand the difference between IPAs and regular beers and the distinction between regular beers and session beers. But how do session IPAs compare to regular IPAs? 

Here are the top two ways session IPAs and non-session IPAs differ.

Alcohol Content

As mentioned, session IPAs have a lower ABV than regular IPAs. Traditional double IPAs typically have alcohol content ranging from 6%–8%. But some regular IPAs (usually triple IPAs) can have ABVs of over 10%. 

On the other hand, the average session IPA beer contains 6.5% to 8% alcohol by volume. 

This lower alcohol content could result in an overly-hoppy, less sweet brew. But session beer makers use a special brewing method to ensure session IPAs and traditional IPAs offer the same flavor profiles. 

The Brewing Method

Remember how we said that session IPAs are just as tasty as higher ABV India pale ales? The reason these beers taste similar despite having different alcohol contents comes down to the way brewers make them. 

Hops do not play a role in producing alcohol content. Instead, they are simply a flavoring ingredient added at the end of brewing. 

The lower malt and grain content makes session IPAs lower in alcohol. To ensure the hops do not overpower the malt flavors, session beer brewers use a wider variety of malts to add depth and complexity. 

Come Try Session Beers and IPAs at Rabbit Hop

So, what is a session IPA vs. an IPA? Session IPAs have lower ABVs and, often, fewer calories compared to traditional IPAs. But they are just as delicious and hoppy as your favorite traditional India pale ales. 



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