Over the last year or two, session beers have been making a real name for themselves and are becoming more and more commonly featured at breweries. With their new-found popularity, many might ask, what makes a session beer a session beer?
That is a fantastic question. A session beer is typically considered to be a balanced beer with an alcohol by volume content of less than 5%. A session beer allows the consumer to enjoy multiple beers with out becoming overly intoxicated. Session beers can be a fantastic choice if you want to enjoy a couple of beers without having to worry about getting home safely.
The key to a great session beer is not simply a low alcohol content—that would be easy. It is about complimenting a potentially thin body with a great and memorable flavor. The perfect session beer is one where the drinker does not realize they are having a session beer.
Perhaps the best session beer that I have had is the Tustin Brewery Stay All Day India Session Ale. It strikes an ideal balance between flavor and body. Just before the pint glass reaches your mouth for the first sip, your nose is filled with the fragrant dry hopped aroma, and a smile instantly comes to your face. Each sip is packed with a robust hop flavor, yet does not go overboard. The body is slightly lighter than what is usual for an ale, but unless you are thinking about it, you can hardly notice. If you ever have the chance to grab a pint, or even better, a mug, I highly recommend it.
If you are looking to brew your own batch, I have an all grain recipe for a fantastic session pale ale located here. This is my second favorite session beer:
If you are using any form of electrical device in your home brewing setup, such as a march pump or heating element, you should always be using a GFCI device to help protect against the possibility of severe electrocution. During a normal home brewing session, there is a lot of liquid being transferred or used for cleaning and cooling. The possibility of that liquid coming into contact with an electrical device or exposed wire is a serious concern. GFCI adapters are relatively inexpensive (around $15), and they just might save your life. A GFCI or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter is a device that cuts the flow of electricity when the electrical current is not balanced between the energized conductor and the return neutral conductor.
GFCI adapters are sold at home supply stores and are also available at most home brewing outlets. You can find a good deal on one here:
If you have been shopping around for a wort chiller, you have probably noticed that you have a lot of options. Wort chillers typically are not cheap, ranging in price anywhere from $60 to over $300, so it pays to do some research before buying.
There are 3 main styles of wort chillers available for the home brewer:
Home Brewing Immersion Chillers
Immersion Wort Chiller for Home Brewing
Immersion wort chillers are constructed of a long tube that is shaped into a coil with an input and output connection at the top of the coil. The immersion chiller is placed into the brew kettle once the boil is completed, or just prior to the boil completing (to sanitize the chiller). When it is time to cool the wort, cold water is circulated through the chiller from the inlet, and heat is exchanged via the coil as the water passes through it until hot water exits via the output connection. Immersion chillers are typically constructed of either copper or stainless steel and come in a variety of sizes. Immersion chillers have the lowest starting price, but can get very expensive. They also take up the most space of the three chiller types and tend not to be as efficient as plate and counterflow chillers, but there are some high efficiency immersion chillers available that can aid in circulating the wort around the chiller to help it cool more quickly. A benefit of an immersion chiller is that you never have to worry about it getting clogged.
Next we have plate chillers. Much like immersion chillers, you have a lot of options when it comes to plate chillers. Plate chillers come in different sizes regarding the number of heat exchanging plates they contain. As the number of plates increases, both the cooling efficiency and price increases. A 10 or 11 plate chiller usually costs about $100 and a 40 plate chiller usually costs between $150 to $200. Blichmann, which is one of the best names in home brewing products, has chosen a plate chiller as their design of choice.
A plate chiller uses a series of plates, usually constructed from stainless steel, to separate the wort from the cold water that passes through the chiller in a counter flowing direction. There are 4 ports on a plate chiller: a water input, water output, wort input and wort output. The wort is typically drawn from the boil kettle into the plate chiller, where it is rapidly cooled and then drained into the fermenter. Most plate chiller users opt to place a temperature gauge on the output of the plate chiller so that they can insure the wort is at 80F or less to help avoid hot side aeration and to ensure that the wort is at a suitable temperature to pitch the yeast.
The benefits of plate chillers are that they tend to be very compact, and they can cool the wort extremely quickly. The downside is that they are very susceptible to clogging and can be a nightmare to properly clean and sanitize.
Here is a link to a variety of available plate chillers:
Lastly, we have my personal favorite and the chiller that I would recommend if you can fit it into your budget. A convoluted counterflow wort chiller is an coil shaped double hulled chiller that is not submerged into the wort. Similar to a plate chiller, the wort is passed through the counterflow chiller as cold water flows against it in the opposite direction.
Home brewing counterflow chillers are typically manufactured out of copper and have 4 ports, a water input, water output, wort input, and wort output port. The counterflow chiller can cool wort extremely fast and, unlike a plate chiller, is far less likely to clog, which can home in very handy if you like brewing IPA’s. Counterflow chillers are larger than plate chillers, but still very compact when compared to a larger immersion chiller.
They are also easier to clean and sanitize then a plate chiller since they use a tube design as opposed to a plate design, leaving less places for debris to get stuck. The downside is the price. A good counterflow chiller can start at $180 and goes up from there, but, that being said, I would rather save up for one than buy a chiller I would probably be dissatisfied with down the road.
Some home brewing convoluted counterflow chillers can be found here: