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The question

What's the deal with "ISA" beers? I know what IPAs are. But ISA sounds like an espionage group in a John le Carré novel.

The answer

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Good point. No, it does not stand for International Spy Agency. It's an abbreviation of "India session ale," a recent term brewed up by the craft-beer industry. If you're familiar with India pale ale, you know it denotes a venerable, bitter style with centuries-old roots in the trade alliance between England and India. Heavily hopped, and thus bitter, British pale ale stayed fresher on the sea voyage from England because of the preservative character of hops, which gave rise to that style's name.

More recently, craft brewers, especially on the Pacific coast of the United States, championed a particularly strong IPA version. These West Coast IPAs, often reaching as high as 8-per-cent alcohol, led to a backlash. Not surprisingly, some people love gulping beer so much that they prefer to drink many glasses in one sitting than to savour just one concentrated brew over the same amount of time. This gave rise to the "session" beer category – essentially craft beer's analogue to the light-beer megamarket populated by such pioneering brands as Miller, Coors and Bud. With "lite" and "light" co-opted by the corporate establishment, microbrewers felt prompted to devise their own term. Hence "sessionable" beer, the beverage you can down more of over an extended period (or "session").

India session ales generally weigh in at less than 5-per-cent alcohol (some slightly above, but most closer to 4-per-cent), while delivering more of a hoppy kick and robust flavour profile than your typical light beer. To paraphrase an old light-beer slogan, it's everything you always wanted in an IPA, and less.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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