The wild ride that has been the craft beer boom of the last decade has witnessed the expansion of everything in the industry. The beer population has gotten bigger, but the beers themselves have gotten bigger too. Humble pale ales are juiced to ABV levels that used to be appropriate for IPAs, and the ABV range of IPAs has shot up to heights formally reserved for imperial and double IPAs. In a way, I feel this trend is still playing itself out. But there’s a second trend in the hoppy beer world that has been filling the gap left by more big beers – SESSION IPAs. Not so long ago, we didn’t need a name or category for this lighter style of beer. It was just pale ale, or a low ABV IPA. Or just “beer.” But why miss out on a potential marketing opportunity? Cynicism aside, 2015 marks Year 2 in the commercial onslaught of Session IPAs. Dozens of established breweries (and hundreds of up and coming breweries) have scrambled to introduce a Session IPA into their lineup, a beer for the summer days, a beer that you can have a few of in one “session” without getting blitzed or bloated. To appeal to a beer crowd that obviously loves their big beers, the balance, of course, is keep the ABV low and the taste bold. I think some Session IPAs succeed by leaps and bounds, and some leave me wishing I had just chosen a good ol’ IPA.
Which leads us to Even Keel, Ballast Point’s entry in the Session IPA parade – it’s one of the good ones. It’s got a nice amber color, not a lighter yellow that would betray it’s sessionability (is that a word?). Similarly, the body is not as thin or light as I might have expected. Much like big brother Sculpin (and big cousin Grapefruit Sculpin), Even Keel greets you with an nose full of grapefruit and tropical fruit. But it is the taste that really knocks this above the ranks of many Session IPAs. It’s got some nice dank, piney, fruity flavors going on. It is exactly the lovely sort of flavor that seems on par with bolder, higher ABV IPAs. No regrets about going Session here – I think I’ll have another.