Session beers are here to stay. Why? People want something that they can drink when the weather is hot that will not turn them into a hot mess two cans into the afternoon. I know that there are booze hounds and hop heads out there who think that this trend is an abomination and if we are going to drink session beers we might as well crack open a Natty Light. Wrong. Session beers can be just as layered and complex as more potent and bitter beers.
One of my favorite breweries—Surly Brewing in Minneapolis, Minnesota—has joined the fray with Xtra-Citra Pale Ale:
As the name implies, Xtra-Citra has a generous amount of Citra hops bringing the aroma of tropical citrus. Is Citra overdone in craft beer? Probably, but that is because it is a damn fine hop that a lot of people like. Combine it with a mild level of alcohol—Xtra-Citra comes in at 4.5% ABV—and you get a beer that a lot of people will like.
Something about this beer falls a little flat for me and it might be the use of an English ale yeast. In my opinion, beers using English ale yeast need to really depend on malt and hops to produce layers of complexity because the yeast on its own produces a fairly blank slate upon which to work. The use of English ale yeasts in Surly’s beers is one of the most common complaints I hear lobbed against the brewery. Generally, I do not agree with the assessment that the yeast produces boring beer especially when you think about some of the great beers Surly makes with those yeast strains. Yes, I am looking at you Coffee Bender.
In the case of Xtra-Citra the criticism is valid. The beer is a little boring. Session beers can be complex. It’s harder to do at lower alcohol and bitterness, but Founders Brewing found a way to pull it off with All Day IPA.
It is my contention that Xtra-Citra is an evolution away from being a really good, possibly great beer, but right now it is kind of muddling along in that great middling morass:
See what others are saying about Surly Brewing Xtra-Citra Pale Ale @ Beeradvocate.