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Summer's long, lazy afternoons call for the right beers, the kind that won't lead to a heady rush after just one. Welcome the session beer, named for the British tradition of drinking for an extended "session." These beers share one key characteristic—a lower alcohol content—yet span a variety of styles across the globe, from English bitters and domestic pale ales to German lagers, Czech Pilsners, and even the ubiquitous Budweiser.
What qualifies as lower alcohol varies, depending on whom you ask. The Brewers Association states that any beer between 4 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) and 5.1 percent ABV qualifies as a session beer. Tastewise, beers with lower alcohol content have garnered an unfair reputation for blandness, but our picks for the season's best session beers prove that a lower ABV doesn't mean a dearth of flavor and character. These light, balanced session beers pair well with a range of summer foods, so stock up for your next picnic, bocce tournament, paella party, or evening at the grill. Pour yourself a drink, but don't stop there. Have another.
Full Sail Session Lager, United States
(About $14 for a 12-pack of 11-ounce bottles) 5.1 percent ABV. In the tradition of old-school domestic lagers (which looked very pale and were light-bodied but tasted more robust, with a slight grainy sweetness and some bitter hops), Full Sail has created what has become a quintessential American session. The beer's name and its retro squat bottle veer toward marketing genius, but what's inside the bottle deserves some attention. The lager is golden in color with some toasty malt flavors, plenty of carbonation, and a slightly bitter finish; the combination of earthiness and crispness makes this beer an instant classic.
Cold Recipe Pairing: Charred Tomatillo Guacamole
Smoky, charred tomatillos match the beer's toasty notes of cereal and grain, and the medium-bodied mouth feel stands up to the creaminess of the avocados.
Hot Recipe Pairing: Fried Calamari with Peperoncini Mayonnaise
Mildly bitter, the lager cuts through any oil, making the crispy calamari seem even crispier