Hot weather. Baseball games. Trips to the beach. Backyard barbecues. And thirst.
What better way to quench that thirst than with an ice-cold beer? Maybe one served in a well-frosted mug⎯then again, maybe not.
Beer ads permeating the media this season would have us believe that the only possible refreshing beer is one that’s just above the freezing point. But if I’m so thirsty that all I want to do is “refreshingly” wet my whistle, a glass of ice water is preferable. If, on the other hand, I want to actually taste a refreshing beer, my choice would be one of the many craftbrewed seasonal beers offered by the hundreds of American micros or brewpubs.
The party line on what constitutes a summer beer is that such brew must be light, refreshing and easy to drink. No dark malts here, so the color is golden and the taste is free of toasty, roasty flavors. Hop additions are mild, so there’s no big burst of flavor and bitterness from hops. Wheat malts are ever popular in summer beers, adding a light crispness to the overall taste.
Then there are the fruit beers. These may not be as prevalent this season as they were a few years ago, but pale ales and light lagers flavored with summer fruits are out there.
Wheat beers are the champs in the summer beer category. The 45 American breweries that produce over 10,000 barrels a year and bottle a summer seasonal will offer 26 wheat beers this year: 15 American style (three with fruit), two German-style weizens, two Belgian-style wits and seven German-style kolsch beers.
Pale ales (blonde or amber), fruit beers and lagers tie for second place in the summer beer survey, with six of each. Three of the fruit beers are based on American-style wheat beers, two on pilsner-style lagers and one on a pale ale. Summer lagers break down into two Munich style, two pilsners, one amber lager and one dark lager.
The list rounds out with four IPA summer specials, one brown ale and one Imperial stout.
Now, these last two entries interest me. Especially the Imperial stout. Dark beers as a summer special. Cool. Who says that a summer beer has to be “light?” It’s not blistering hot 24 hours a day. On a cool summer evening an Imperial stout (or a barley wine or any other strong ale or strong lager) would be just the ticket.
How about that cold, windy day at the beach? A Belgian dubbel or maybe a German dopplebock sounds delicious. Your BBQ party is rained out and the thought of drinking a cold wheat beer suddenly isn’t so appealing? Now might be the perfect time to open a porter or a stout.
In other words, any beer is a summer beer.
Here is our (inevitably incomplete) collection of summer seasonals. Enjoy the variety!
Abita: Abita Wheat
Anderson Valley: High Rollers Wheat Beer
August Schell: Zommerfest (kölsch)
Bert Grant’s: Lazy Days (pale ale)
Boston Beer: Sam Adams Summer Ale (wheat beer w/lemon zest & grains of paradise)
Boulevard: Unfiltered Wheat
Breckenridge: Ballpark Brown (brown ale)
Brooklyn: Blanche de Brooklyn (Belgian style white beer)
Capital: Summer Fest (golden ale)
Catamount: American Wheat
Crooked River: Island Hops (crystal weizen)
Deschutes: Quail Springs IPA
Flying Dog/Broadway: Tire Biter (kölsch)
Frederick: Blue Ridge Wheat (American wheat)
Full Sail: Full Sail Pilsner
Geary: Geary’s Summer Ale (kolsch-inspired)
Goose Island: Summertime Kölsch
Great Lakes: Commodore Perry IPA, Moondog Ale (best bitter), Holy Moses (Belgian-style wit)
Hale’s Ale: Drawbridge Blonde (American wheat ale)
Kalamazoo: Bell Oberon Ale (American wheat ale)
Kemper: Thomas Kemper Viking Fest Summer Ale (wheat beer)
Lagunitas: Maximus (IPA), Imperial Stout
Leinenkugel: Berry Weiss (lager with wheat malt & blend of three berries)
Long Trail: Blackbeary Wheat Summer Brew (American wheat ale w/ blackberry)
Magic Hat: Hocus Pocus (wheat beer)
Mass Bay/Harpoon: Harpoon Summer Beer (kölsch-style)
Odell: Colorado Stream Lager (amber lager)
Old Dominion: Dominion Summer Wheat
Otter Creek: Summer Wheat Ale
Penn Brewery: All Star Lager (Munich-style lager)
Pete’s: Pete’s Summer Brew (golden ale with lemon)
Pittsburgh: I.C. Light Twist (light lager with lime or cherry)
Portland: Kornhauser’s Oast Ale (pale ale with distilled hop oil)
Rockies: Cliff Hanger (amber ale)
Rogue: Buckwheat Ale (pale ale with roasted buckwheat)
Spoetzl/Shiner: Shiner Summer Stock (kölsch-style)
Redhook: Redhook Blonde Ale (pale ale)
Widmer: Sommerbräu (kölsch)
Pyramid Pyramid Sun Fest (pils)
Shipyard: Sirius Summer Wheat Ale (American wheat ale)
Sierra Nevada: Summerfest (wheat beer)
Uinta: Dunkel Lager
Wasatch (Schirf): Summer Brau (Munich-style lager)
Gregg Glaser is the news editor for All About Beer Magazine.