Quick! What’s Labor Day for? (I won’t make you check Wikipedia.) It’s in honor of…hmmm, the “American labor movement.” (Thanks Wikipedia!) That sounds nice, but, let’s be honest—just as Christmas has become a celebration of crass commercialism, and Thanksgiving is now reserved for gravy-covered gluttony, Labor Day has come to mean something else.
It is the rare American holiday where we don’t have to do, well, anything. We don’t have wake up early; we don’t have to hit a house of worship; we don’t have to visit the in-laws; we don’t even have to get off the couch if we don’t want. And when we Americans have no work and nothing on our schedules, what do we usually turn to?
Heavy drinking. All. Day. Long. In that case, you’ll need something light to chug, but without sacrificing flavor.
This isn’t a ranking, so don’t get your Hill Farmstead t-shirt in a twist if something you love isn’t on the list. And one other note: some of these beers won’t quite be defined as “session beers” (<4.5% ABV), so if you’re the kind of loathsome pedant who lives for leaving “Well, actually…” comments online, zip it for once.
Here are ten tasty beers that I assure you are better than any corporate lagers, and will guarantee you return to work Tuesday morning with a solid three-day hangover.
Le Petit Prince
Brewery: Jester King Brewery
Why you’re pounding: You glance at the comically-low ABV and think this must be a troll beer—at 2.9%, you don’t know whether to call it a beer or a kombucha. Even though this brew is remarkably low in alcohol, it’s hardly a “near beer.” Le Petit Prince is packed with flavor, the quintessential elements of a classic saison melding with the Noble hops on the nose. This Texas farmhouse beer is also insanely drinkable, a refreshing offering you won’t feel bad about pounding from the second you got off work Friday up until you finally go to bed Monday night.
Brewery: COOP Ale Works
Why you’re pounding: Believe it or not, many states have absurd liquor laws. Take Oklahoma, where it’s illegal for supermarkets or breweries themselves to sell beer over 4%. (Let’s not even discuss what the Sooner state thinks about refrigerating beer.) Oklahoma City’s COOP—maker of plenty of “big” beers like their 10% DNR—came up with a clever plan to thwart this. Last year it released a series of under-4% beers that are able to be sold everywhere—the best of which is this nifty ale meant to mimic Belgian “table beers” monks have slugged with their meals for centuries. Just because some government muckety-mucks think they can manage your sobriety doesn’t mean you can’t drink a baker’s dozen of these badboys on Labor Day. (Photo: coopaleworks.com)
Brewery: Firestone Walker Brewing
Why you’re pounding: You might be surprised to know I’m not the first person to ever compose a list of session beers. No, it’s really true. I’m not telling you to read any of those other lists, but if you did, you’d see Easy Jack on just about all of them. Why? Because it’s damn near perfect. Easy to find? Check—Firestone Walker distributes to most states. Delicious? As the little brother to Double Jack and Union Jack, arguably the best widely available IPA and DIPA in the business, how could it not be? But is it crushable? Let’s just say, I keep a sixer of cans in my fridge at all times, and I constantly need to restock. (Photo: Facebook/Firestone)
Brewery: Otter Creek Brewing/Wolaver’s
Why you’re pounding: I won’t deny it: every time I see this orange bottle with cartoonish hippies in a Vanagon, I excitedly think a new batch of Double Dose has hit shelves. That is a truly world-class IPA, but Otter Creek’s stab at a session IPA is pretty darn good as well. To me, most session IPAs taste a bit like an awesome IPA someone accidentally dumped their Evian into. But Over Easy has a great aroma and is super juicy on the palate while actually maintaining body. Most importantly, it’s so “chronically crushable”—as the brewery claims—that after a few you’ll forget you aren’t drinking Double Dose. (Photo: Facebook/Otter Creek Brewing)
Melt Away IPA
Brewery: Newburyport Brewing Co.
Why you’re pounding: I’ll let you in on a little secret you probably already know: Every single “best of” beer list is oozing with bias. Maybe the listicle writer is friends with the brewmaster. Or maybe he has a “relationship” with some brewery’s PR team (that means they send him lots of free beer and he doesn’t want that hose shut off). Or, say, maybe his wife is from Newburyport, and he got married in Newburyport last summer, and there’s a good chance I (I mean, “he”) will pound a “Honey, did you marry an alcoholic?”s-worth of this super aromatic, bursting-with-citrus session IPA in Newburyport this very weekend. Now you know.
Suiyoubi no Neko
Brewery: Yo-Ho Brewing Company
Why you’re pounding: This is neither an American beer nor a particularly highly-acclaimed one amongst the cognoscenti. Still, I can’t help but think this Belgian-style witbier made by a Japanese brewery that models itself off American craft breweries is quite wonderful. Better than Blue Moon—and even the Belgian beer it’s surely emulating, Hoegaarden—Suiyoubi no Neko is light and yeasty, fruity, and a tad frothy on the palate. It’s perfect for plowing through while picnic-ing in the park. Who knows, maybe I’m just a sucker for cats on cans?
Brewery: Lost Nation Brewing
Why you’re pounding: Though it sounds weird, gose is a style of beer made with salt. But if you think about it, what better to drink when you’re sweating your ass off and depleting your body of valuable sodium? Lost Nation’s offering is one of the best examples of the classic German style—a tart and dry specimen packed with coriander and sea salt. Actually, it’s so salty that it sometimes feels like drinking liquidized Lay’s. But don’t be turned off. If your lazy butt is able to finish a whole bag of chips in one sitting, believe me, it’ll also be able to slam a four-pack of this stellar gose. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
Brewery: Grimm Artisanal Ales
Why you’re pounding: If Lost Nation’s Gose is my favorite classic gose these days, Grimm’s Americanized attempt at the style is maybe the best gose I’ve ever had. Whatever style they want to call it, this emerging gypsy brewer’s beer is phenomenal. It’s super fruity—owing to an aggressive dry-hopping using Mandarina Bavaria and Huell Melon, not to mention orange zest—yet still tart and dry from white oak chips also added to the tank. There’s sea salt in there somewhere they claim, but if so, it’s simply to make this beer’s flavors explode, and make you want to drink bottle after bottle of it. (Photo: grimmales.com)
Brewery: de Garde Brewing
Why you’re pounding: I don’t even particularly care that most of you won’t be able to find De Garde where you live—sometimes getting plowed involves a little more effort than simply hitting up your local 7-Eleven. In a list of session pounders, I’d feel downright silly not to include a brewery that makes some of the best low-ABV offerings in the business. This two-year-old Oregon brewery exclusively produces spontaneously fermented beers (ales fermented from the wild yeasts naturally floating in the world around us). This process lends itself to sour, funky, and insanely complex offerings, the most well-known being a series of Berliner weisses with “Bu” in the name. Whether it’s Bu Weisse (2.3% ABV) or fruited offerings like Berry Bu (4.4%), Peach Bu (4.3%), and Cherry Raz Bu (4.4%), all are delicious and crushable. If you live anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, skip the discount mattress sales this weekend and head to Tillamook!
Home, Sour Home
Brewery: The Rare Barrel
Why you’re pounding: As I mentioned in the intro, I don’t really care what is or isn’t officially a session beer. Is it drinkable? Okay, then that’s good enough for me. And, boy, is Home, Sour Home sure drinkable. Berkeley’s Rare Barrel is devoted entirely to barrel-aged sour beers and, like De Garde, its offerings won’t necessarily be the easiest to find nationwide. Still, Home, Sour Home will be available in its tasting room all throughout this holiday weekend, with customers allowed to buy a dozen 750 mL bottles at a time. Sounds like the brewery expects you to pound plenty of these! That’s good, because HSH is perhaps the most perfect beer to drink on the last weekend of summer, as its light, autumn-like flavor profile (a golden sour aged in oak barrels with peaches, cinnamon, and vanilla bean meant to taste like warm peach cobbler) escorts you into the next season. And, yeah, it will probably get you like 0.8% drunker than a “session” beer. That can be a good thing sometimes, ya’ know.
Aaron Goldfarb (@aarongoldfarb) is the author of How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide, The Guide for a Single Man, and The Guide for a Single Woman.