Is it just me, or is Summer beer taken for granted? Summer beer is the plain one in the seasonal beer family, quietly looking on as its siblings get all the attention. Fresh and exciting spring beer, sporting additions of fruit and citrusy hops; malty, chewy autumn beer filled with pumpkin and spice; rich and complex winter beer with its full body and warm character — and then plain, old summer beer.
Summer beer is sometimes unusual and innovative, but it's more typically simple, light and refreshing. To the average beer enthusiast, this may sound a bit boring. But you — the Floridian beer enthusiast — can probably appreciate the merit of those attributes. Although it's pretty toasty here year-round, we're really in the thick of it now, with blazing heat and stifling humidity on the menu for the next few months (when it's not raining, of course).
When mowing a lawn, sitting by a pool, cooking up some barbecue or bringing a cooler of cold ones to the beach (Beach Patrol staff can disregard that last one), a strong Belgian ale or smoky porter just won't do. I don't want complexity — I want refreshment. In preparation, I took a trip to a few local shops and picked up a few of these seasonal beers to see what I'd be cooling off with this summer.
Most summer seasonals are nice, easy-drinking beers.
A good example is the Brooklyn Summer Ale, a simple, clean pale ale with a mild hop bite due to "dry hopping" — the addition of hops after fermentation. And then there's Anchor Summer Beer, an American-style wheat ale from the folks at Anchor Brewing in San Francisco. This is the first of its kind brewed in the U.S., using more than 50 percent wheat malt in its recipe, but it's drier and more hoppy than its European counterparts. It's crisp with a light body, and the hops are slightly bitter but not overpowering.
Wheat beers are not uncommon for summer seasonals, and Sam Adams has an interesting take on the style with its Summer Ale, which uses lemon peel and an African pepper called grains of paradise to round out its otherwise light body. It's very aromatic and refreshing. A more traditional wheat beer is Atlanta Brewing Company's Red Brick Dog Days Ale, which is officially a hefeweizen, but it tastes more dry and spicy to me, almost like a witbier. This one is also clean and crisp, and its hops add a note of citrus to the mix.
Now, I don't mean to suggest that there's no room for creativity with summer seasonals; in fact, some of the more unusual beers I've had lately were summer releases.
Take Shiner's Ruby Redbird, for example. This one is flavored with Texas ruby red grapefruit and ginger, so it's a no-brainer for me, an admitted grapefruit fiend. As it turns out, ginger is the dominant flavor here, with hints of grapefruit popping up throughout. The combination of flavors is somewhat unusual, but it's pretty crisp and definitely refreshing, so why not?
Vermont's Magic Hat Brewing is known for its quirky seasonals, so you won't be surprised to learn that Wacko, its summer offering, has a trick or two up its sleeve. This one starts out light in color, but you wouldn't know it, as it's colored with red beet juice! Body-wise, it's maltier than its cousins, with a nutty, biscuit-like character. I'm not sure how well this would go over poolside, but I'd be willing to give it a shot. This one was quite good; fortunately, there was no discernable beet flavor!
Finally, we come to Anderson Valley's Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema, from Mendocino, Calif. This was a real surprise — a toasty, malty affair, with prominent vanilla and spice flavors. I was caught off-guard after taking the first sip, and it took a few more to decide that I really was enjoying it. Has anyone ever made a beer that tasted just like cream soda before? If not, they have now. Is it good for summer? I don't know, but I would certainly recommend the curious give it a try.
So not all summer beers are boring after all, and the ones that are a bit boring are that way by design. Even the most adventurous beer drinkers occasionally want a nice cold one to work on as the temperature rises. And since most of these are relatively low in alcohol, having a few during the hot, sweaty days won't send you into early retirement for those balmy summer nights.