The long summer begins to draw near, and with it, here come the seasonal, sessionable patio pounders. Yes, it’s that time of year when the major powers among regional U.S. craft brewers tend to launch what they’re hoping will become their new “beer of the summer,” in the year’s most important beer drinking window. And for Sierra Nevada, it looks like that beer is the aptly titled Summer Break Session Hazy IPA.
This is a concept that encapsulates everything that has been at the forefront of craft beer in the last few years. You’ve got the haze, the hops, the word “session,” etc. The only thing it’s missing is a promise of under 100 calories per serving, but Sierra Nevada clearly wasn’t prioritizing a lower level of calories or carbs on this one. You’ll have to settle for a tidy 4.6% ABV instead.
Which is to say, this is a pretty standard session IPA on paper, albeit a hazy one, with a mash bill that includes oats and wheat for a bit more body. The hop bill, meanwhile, is definitely on the unusual side for a hazy IPA, incorporating all of the following: Chinook, Simcoe, Comet, Mosaic, Amarillo and Strisselspalt. French hops in an American hazy IPA? You don’t see that every day.
So with that said, let’s get right to tasting.
On the nose, Summer Break is semi-dank, with bright notes of Meyer lemon, grapefruit and mustier, ripe tropical fruit breaking through underneath. It’s a pretty nice nose, and plenty expressive for the ABV—comfortingly familiar as far as hazy IPAs go.
On the palate, the bright citrus is still there, but it’s transitioning in more of a tropical fruity direction, with a dollop of passionfruit in particular. It’s not entirely without malt flavors, either—there’s flashes of crisp grain here and there, which play nicely with the moderately assertive hoppiness. Overall, the effect reminds me of some of the “first generation” hazy IPAs I enjoyed years ago from the likes of Maine Beer Co., combining the same crisp drinkability and bright, fruity notes, without the heavier body and extremely thick, creamy texture that became the standard for the style in years to follow. Or in other words: I enjoy this.
Summer Break is one of those beers I find myself enjoying even more for what it’s not—it’s never unpleasantly green or vegetal, and thus stays far away from the sensation of “hop burn.” It has no real bitterness to speak of, but isn’t sticky sweet, finishing dry. It’s simply extremely easy drinking, as you’d expect it to be. A true patio pounder, I can only conclude that this beer is exactly what Sierra Nevada intended.
Granted, even with the huge, nationwide success of SN’s own Hazy Little Thing, I’m not sure this is a style I’ll ever truly associate mentally with Sierra Nevada as a company. Nevertheless, they have forged the ideal niche within hazy IPA for a brewery of their stature. These guys present approachable but flavorful versions of the style that favor drinkability over outrageous flavor experimentation and garish color/texture, and in doing so they’ve no doubt turned in countless new drinkers to hazier, juicier IPAs.
Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
City: Chico, CA
Style: Session IPA
Availability: Seasonal, 12 oz cans
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.