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What I’m Drinking and Why You Should Care

With Memorial Day weekend staring us dead in the face your mind starts to turn to thoughts of vacation, the sun, your barbeque and the beach. Nothing says summertime is approaching like listening to the ballgame or your iPod, sitting in your favorite beach chair, while the warm sun and refreshing breeze hits you in the face, burger and beverage in hand.

Yes, Summer is quickly approaching and your loyal and faithful narrator also has you—my fellow drinker—in his mind on top of all the aforementioned wonderful things he loves about this time of year. Growing up so close to the ocean, summertime conjures up a lot of great memories, and just the thought of an 85-degree day and the sun blazing down is all I need to get the blood flowing and the mouth thirsty.

Summer also conjures up one other thought, usually an unpleasant one: how much your loyal and faithful narrator can’t stand Summer-style beers. But I can’t lie. When the mercury starts to climb above the 90-degree threshold or you’re done sweating after a grueling eight-hour shift at work, the last thing you usually want to drink is some 8 or 9 percent double IPA or a bitter, hoppy ale. You want something refreshing, something to take your mind off of the heat or your day, but most importantly, you still want something that hits your palate right, not just some watered down beer or fruity brew that’s forgettable the second your glass is empty.

I’m going to do this a little differently than I’ve done in the past. I’m doing this not only because I care about what’s in your pint glass, but because it is summertime, and in this day and age, and especially in this wonderful country of ours, there are some decent beers out there specifically designed for the hot and humid conditions.

You all know, hopefully, what a “good” Summer-style beer is supposed to look and taste like. So let’s get that out of the way now – yellow to golden colored; citrusy smell; not much head or lacing to speak of once it’s in your glass; low—think 4.5% to 5.5%—alcohol content. Yeah, not exactly my favorite parameters when selecting what I want to imbibe, be it at the pub or a beer distributor.

Fear not though, there are a couple of brews that have really surprised me. Some in a bad way, some in a good way and some I’m not surprised about because of who’s making them. I’m going to go through nine different Summer-style brews in the order you should be looking out for them and three more of your non-conventional choices that I just couldn’t ignore.

First, the Blue Point Summer Ale. I’ve tipped back the Blue Point brewery’s beers and have been happy about that many times in the past, but I have to say this is one of my least favorite. Only 4.4% and just very uninteresting. No action in the glass and no taste to speak of. I hate to dump on a company that’s done Long Island proud for years, but avoid this at all costs.

The Brooklyn Summer Ale is an English style variation that’s a slight step up from the Blue Point, but is also a subpar beer from a brewery that’s done much better suds in the past. Clocking in at 5%, the Brooklyn is very typical of most summer beers, which is why I’m probably not a big fan. A little more taste than the Blue Point but overall, just your Summer beer drinker’s Summer beer.

The Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat out of Chicago is a little more like it. This pale ale is not your conventional Summer beer per se, but is definitely a notch above the last two beers I mentioned. You could do a lot better than this 4.2% brew, I suppose, but you could also do a lot worse. Nice lemony/grainy feel to it that could have been done wrong, but is very nice on a hot, humid day.

A beer that surprised me—in a good way—was the Smuttynose Summer Weizen. Topping in at 5.5% this wheat ale left some decent lacing in my pint glass and went down pretty easily. Any American brewery throwing around the “weizen” word gets docked a few points in my book, but in terms of being a Summer beer, this is better than average. This Portsmouth, New Hampshire brewery never really amazes me, but never really lets me down either.

Staying in the New England area, my next summer beer that also surprised me was the Magic Hat Elder Betty. Fruit and beer are far from my favorite two things to throw together, but it wasn’t bad at all. The taste smacked of raspberries and, yes, elderberries, but I happily drank it to the bottom of the glass. I will confess, I had it at the end of a particularly hot and sweaty day, so maybe I was biased.

Next up is the Captain Lawrence Captain’s Kolsch which at 5.5% is more along the lines of a beer I would enjoy. On the surface, just your perfect German-style pilsner. Has a little action once it’s in your glass, but a little bit of hops and a nice clean taste to it. My one drawback though, and I’m definitely nitpicking here, I enjoyed this beer a lot more right out of the tap. This up-and-coming brewery is located in the shadow of New York City—Westchester County to be exact—and has just started bottling 12-oz. six-packs. Don’t let that bother you, still a more than decent beer for the upcoming season.

The transition from slightly above average to better starts here with the the Sierra Nevada Summerfest, and it’s exactly what you expect from this consistently good Northern California brewery. A crisp lager that pours well into the glass with the perfect amount of head for a Summer-style beer. Clocking in at exactly 5%, a 6-pack of this pale-golden colored pilsner-styled lager is what will make the warm Summer sun actually feel refreshing on a humid day.

Getting into another class of Summer beer is the Southern Tier Hop Sun. Okay, now we’re talking. 5.1% and just a great beer. Has all the characteristics of a Summer beer, but blows those drawbacks away. This wonderfully semi-cloudy, golden colored-brew put a smile on this German’s face. Considering this came from one of New York State’s best breweries, I am hardly surprised. This is what will piss off the other people at the beach, because you have it and they don’t.

Typically, I’ve saved the best for last. The Victory Summer Love is out of this world for a Summer beer. This ale pours in your glass and between the little sliver of white head to the beautiful golden color to the smell of Summer, this is the best Summer beer for your buck. Forget Summer, I’ll drink this 5.2% ale almost any time of the year. What more do you expect from this Downingtown, PA brewery though? They knock almost every style of beer they make out of the park, every time.

My first so-called “unconventional” choice is the Pretty Things Jack D’Or. This brewery based out of Massachusetts loves to break the mold, and it’s done no different here. A saison style-farmhouse ale tipping in at 6.4% is hardly your older brother’s saison, but they do it so well and to my mind it’s perfect for the summer months. The Pretty Things company only mass produces 22 oz. bottles and I’ve only sampled this on tap, so it might be hard to bring this to a party or the beach but if you see it in the pub, do not hesitate to try it.

The next one comes from the brewery never afraid to break the mold and it’s the Dogfish Head Robert Johnson’s Hellhound On My Ale. Awesome concept, awesome brew. The smell of lemon peels knocks you out right from the second you pour this 22 oz. bottle into a glass. Get a snifter glass, because this “Summer beer” is 10% and something you should—I repeat—should, be sipping. Although this is an American double IPA, this is Summer beer to me, and it just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t recommend a beer that makes your head happy and mouth smile.

Last, but certainly not least, I unleash the Allagash White on you. This is not your quote-unquote Summer beer, but, just simply, wow. You ever see a white beer before? I hate to tell you Belgium, but this fantastic wit beer blows away your Hoegaarden, your Celis and your Leffe. This is quite simply a stunning beer. This Maine brewery makes a lot of fantastic beer, but this is perfect. Allagash has done something I find quite astonishing: it’s out Belgiumed Belgium, and that’s quite an accomplishment. You want something perfect for a hot day, something non-compromising and something with that “wow” factor; this is that beer.

I know, I know, it’s Summer and you’re at the beach or at the lake or at a party, but for Christ’s sake—and your sake, for that matter—get a pint glass, a real glass pint glass, and pour them. Listen, I know most of the beers I mentioned are “just” Summer beers, but you’re depriving yourself the real experience leaving the brew in the bottle. And, if you can find a growler fill at your local beer distributor, all the better. Get 64 oz. of the good stuff and share it with your friends.

6 comments on “What I’m Drinking and Why You Should Care

  1. Just wanted to let my loyal readers–the few of you, at least, haha–that I just picked up the Heavy Seas Sea Nymph (a Summer from a company I love) and the Anderson Valley Summer Solstice (cans) which I’ve heard nothing but great things about. I’ll have details when they’re done.

    BTW…thank you ACMS…I really appreciate you reading and appreciate the kind comments.

  2. The Anderson Valley is great. Very uncharacteristic for a Summer beer. Darker, a little sweeter, a hint of molasses…just an awesome, awesome brew. Highly recommend.
    The Heavy Seas is a straighforward Summer beer. Only 4.2% but fairly tasty. Definitely sticks to the characteristics of a true Summer beer to a tee.
    Happy weekend….cheers.

    • That’s tough to say. Summer beer, by nature, really isn’t light, so I can’t really make the proper recommendation.
      If I had to have a light beer, Abita (New Orleans/Louisiana) makes a good one. Moosehead Light (Canada) is drinkable and Presidente (Dominican Republic) makes a proper light beer.

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