One of the things I've always loved about the world of craft beer is seasonal-release beers.
Like seasonal fruits, which come and go with the weather, the year can be tracked by seasonal beers. September through October brings us the German Oktoberfest lagers and Märzens, redolent with sweet malts, but finishing dry and lightly hopped to be refreshing. In the fall, pumpkin beers, with or without pumpkin-pie spices, are popular. And as the mercury continues to drop, stronger ales such as Winter Warmers, Imperial Stouts and barley wines make their way onto retail shelves.
Even in Florida, where seasonal changes are not as dramatic, one can mark the year simply by uncapping the latest batch of seasonally released brews. And each brewery places its own unique stamp on their seasonal offering, so that with the right amount of experimentation, all beer drinkers can find a beer that matches what each season represents.
Summer, for example, is about less heavy, more refreshing beers. The warming alcohol and hearty body of an Imperial Stout, so perfect as a nightcap by the fire in February, becomes oppressive and overfilling in muggy August.
Summer is a more active time. Boating, visting the beach, open-air concerts, biking and the myriad activities that draw us out into the warm weather call for a different drinking experience than many beer styles can offer. While many wheat beers, such as Blue Moon, Paulaner Hefe and Shock Top are available year-round, wheat ales typify summer beer drinking by offering refreshment without sacrificing flavor or providing a fizzy, watered-down experience.
There are a few distinct styles of wheat beer, and each offers its own flavors and character.
Due to the popularity of Blue Moon and Hoegaarden, the most common of the wheat styles is Belgian wit. Wit means white, and in Belgium the beer is known as white beer due to its color. Belgian wit beer incorporates spices, the two most popular being coriander and bitter orange peel. They have a fruity flavor, and some American versions, like Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat, can be quite sweet. Most, however, are crisp with a light citrus bite.
Weissbier, which also means white beer, originated in Germany and refers to several types of wheat beers. German wheat beers usually feature a ratio of at least 50 percent malted wheat, but the ratio can be higher.
Hefeweizen is the most well-known of the German weissbiers. Whereas spices are the defining characteristic of Belgian wit, the phenolic yeast flavors imparted by the unique Hefeweizen yeast are the star of the flavor show in Hefeweizen. Banana, cloves, vanilla and even bubble-gum flavors can be present in Hefeweizen. Franziskaner, Paulaner Weihenstephaner (the oldest brewery in the world), Erdinger and Hacker-Pschorr all brew traditional German Hefeweizens.
Lastly, we have the less well-known American wheat style. Like many American versions of classic styles, it's not as easy to pin down. They may or may not be unfiltered like Hefeweizen, and may or may not be spiced like Belgian wit. They also tend to have more hop bitterness and less carbonation than the European versions.
U.S. wheat ales are typically focused on being light and refreshing, and display an overt malt-wheat maltiness. Popular U.S. wheat beers include Bell's Oberon, Samuel Adams Summer Ale and Sierra Nevada Wheat beer. Some wheat ales will also add fruit, as in the case of Sea Dog's Blue Paw (blueberries), Dunedin Apricot Wheat and Peak Pomegranate Wheat beer.
— Joey Redner is a beer enthusiast and the owner of Cigar City Brewing in Tampa.