Bonsai Brewing Project, Whitefish

Story & photography by Lido Vizzutti
It is seemingly an oxymoron of terms: session and India Pale Ale.

Session beers are low alcohol — 5 percent ABV or less, with purists arguing for between 3 and 4 percent. They are brewed with an expectation of consuming multiples in a sitting, or “session,” without becoming overly intoxicated.

IPAs, however, have been pushed to extremes — becoming dryer, more bitter, more unbalanced with penetrating hops, and emphasizing intensity. They are something we drink over a period of time, wafting in hop aromas between sips.

“I used to make so much fun of (session IPAs),” said Graham Hart, owner and head brewer of Bonsai Brewing Project. “Session IPA, light IPA, it’s just a pale ale.”

“Until I tried to make one. Then I was like, ‘Ok, I’m wrong. It’s way harder to make.’ No matter how much fun I made of it for two years, it’s definitely different.”

Enter Hart’s award-winning session IPA, Ăday Āday, a nonchalant, balanced journey through citrus, tropical and piney hop flavors. The kind of beer one can drink after a morning of powder turns and still be able to make the last lift for one more. The kind of beer, as its namesake recommends, that can be enjoyed “all day, every day.”

Session IPAs are a trending, arduous puzzle. In short, when extracting sugars from grain to make a normal IPA, one tries to hit it really dry, while with a session, you want to hit it sweet so that with a tiny amount of malt it barely ferments.

“(Low malt) essentially amplifies the bitterness and the character of the hops. Because there is no body to balance them, it becomes a less balanced beer,” said Hart. “It doesn’t leave a dry beer per se. But that sweet beer is the equivalent to the IPA when it’s dry in body.”

Basically, you’re trying to make a 4.5 percent beer taste like a 7 percent IPA. That’s the challenge. You have to give it body and good hop flavor with hardly any ingredients.

The Ăday Āday was recently recognized at the 2016 Montana Brewers Fall Rendezvous for best IPA. According to Brewers Association definitions, session IPAs at the festival in Missoula were lumped into the overall IPA category, a disadvantage that didn’t keep Bonsai from taking home top honors. The award proved that Ăday Āday is not simply a good session IPA, but a genuinely good IPA.

“To be able to have that IPA character that is super fresh, not very bitter, so your mouth can handle it for a while, and then it doesn’t get you hammered after two of them” when done right, Hart said, “it is the most delicious, easily drinking beer, in my opinion, that is on the market.”

Style Session IPA
IBU 25
ABV 4.7%
Malts Montana Pale, Pilsner
Hops Newport, Amarillo, Mosaic, Citra
Yeast American Ale
Appearance Light straw colored; hop haze
Description Balance of piney hops up front, followed by heavy citrus. Tropical notes grow as one progresses. Mouth feel is thin at first, but not lacking in body or flavor, and builds through the drink.
Where to get it Bonsai Brewing Project is located at 549 Wisconsin Ave. in Whitefish. The Ăday Āday will only be on tap at Bonsai Brewing Project along with their specialty small-batch brews. Find Bonsai beers on tap at Last Chair Kitchen & Bar, Montana Tap House and The Buffalo Café.