The Beers I’m Drinking This Summer—and Why

The Beers I’m Drinking This Summer—and Why

Summer Beers Header

Nothing says summer like a refreshing beer on the porch. End the season with a bang with these thirst quenching brews.

By Lorin Wilkerson

A Brief History

While craft beer is as old as the story of beer itself, some researchers think that the very first batch of beer was probably a complete accident. Before the beginning of recorded history, someone in ancient Sumer left either a batch of barley grains or primitive barley bread out in the rain and it got wet. The moist barley sprouted (turned into malt), then the malt/rainwater mixture became infested with wild yeast and fermented. Some adventurous soul decided to drink the undoubtedly strange-smelling concoction and the rest, as they say, is history. Ever since then, people have been coming up with new and clever ways to improve upon and introduce variety into mankind’s most ancient alcoholic beverage.

Fast forward to 1930s America. After the tragic folly of Prohibition was finally put to bed, the hundreds of smaller breweries founded by our enterprising European forebears had been run out of business. A few of the larger ones (among them Miller, Anheuser-Busch, and Coors) managed to stay afloat by diversifying, making food products such as malted milk, sodas and anything else they could think of to keep the doors open. While we can all praise their ingenuity in staying afloat during the long dark years, there was a sad downside to this: the previously diverse American beer industry was reduced to a few regional giants who standardized their brewing practices to the point where virtually the only beers brewed for mass consumption in America were subtle variations of a light, clear German-style lager that left much to be desired by way of color, content and character.

Former police officers sharing a toast during Prohibition

In the mid 70s, thanks to the repealing of a federal statute that prohibited people from making alcohol at home, Americans were once again free to make our own beer and wine. (The prohibition still stands with regards to home-made hard liquor.) It wasn’t long before the first ‘micro-breweries’ began to open up, principally in Northern California and New England. Now 30 years later, the American beer industry is more diverse, dynamic, and robust than ever. We’ve learned much from the Europeans, but America has its own styles and standards, and we are as respected by beer connoisseurs as any other great beer-making nation in the world.

Summer is a great beer-drinking season (of course, so are the other three seasons) and one that offers unique delights and delectable temptations for the discriminating beer lover. The following beers are by no means exclusively summer seasonals, they just happen to be beers that I’ll be drinking a lot of in the hot weather. Keep in mind too that most of the beers I recommend tend to be internationally distributed or from the Pacific Northwest; you will probably find many of these styles in your own region and I wholeheartedly encourage you to try those and support your local breweries. So without further ado, here are the four styles of beer that I will be drinking most this summer.

Blondes are More Fun

There are few things I love more about the summer than the explosion of thirst-quenching blonde ales that hit the shelves. A blonde ale is not to be confused with a lager or pilsner, even though it may resemble them in color. The French and Belgians originated the blonde style of ale, but here I’m principally referring to American blondes. An American blonde ale is much more full-bodied than a lager; more opaque, and with a heavier mouth-feel, more hops and a malty flavor that makes it far more thirst-quenching than a lager to me. If I’ve just come in from a long day at work or play, there is nothing that hits the spot better than an ice-cold glass of blonde beer. Unless it’s a long-legged blonde…oh never mind; I’ll leave that old joke alone. If you’re new to craft beer and just starting to wean yourself from the Silver Bullet teat, American blondes are easily approachable.

PyramidWith this, as with every beer you drink (unless it’s an emergency), pour it into a glass! A wide-mouthed pint glass is what I use for my blondes, and while each style of beer can be appreciated more if it’s in the right glass, the wide-mouthed pint glass is a good fall-back for most beers.

Recommendations: Pyramid Curveball Blonde (WA), Red Hook Blonde (WA), Bridgeport Big Beautiful Blonde (OR). If you can’t find these or another craft-brewed blonde, our friends at InBev (I mean, Anheuser-Busch) put out a mass-produced Beach Bum Blonde, but I don’t think much of this one.

Hefeweizen—Drink Your Wheaties!

When it comes to the easy-drinking, thirst-quenching characteristics I look for in a summer brew, it’s almost a toss-up between blondes and hefeweizens. A hefeweizen is a German style of ale, completely opaque with a light caramel color. The light coloration comes from its use of malted wheat instead of barley, and it is served unfiltered; that is, you’re drinking the yeast right along with the beer. [Hefe – yeast, weizen – wheat.] The yeast lends this beer a cloudiness and texture that make it uniquely beautiful and eminently drinkable.

I’d recommend getting a glass of this on draught, but if you buy a bottled unfiltered wheat beer, always, always pour it into a glass. When I see people drinking hefeweizen straight from the bottle it makes me want to scream. The yeast settles on the bottom of a bottle, and without drinking that your hefeweizen will completely lack the character that makes it unique. There’s a trick to it if you want to get the full effect. Before cracking it, turn your bottle upside down and agitate it gently in a circular motion to loosen up the sediment. Let it sit for a minute. Open it and pour all but the last two inches into a Weizen glass. Vigorously swirl the last couple of inches until it’s almost all foam, then quickly pour it into your glass and let it settle for a moment.

The Widmer Brothers Brewing Company in Portland, OR makes the most famous domestic hefeweizen (although Pyramid may argue with that), and they began the tradition of garnishing hefeweizen with a slice of lemon. This remains controversial amongst connoisseurs; I’ve heard it said that if you ask for a slice of lemon in your weizen beer in Bavaria, you’ll be asked to leave. Last time I checked, we don’t live in Bavaria, and if an American wants a damned slice of lemon in his beer, I’d like to see someone try and stop us…

Paulaner

I happen to enjoy a slice of lemon in my American hefeweizen, although I tend not to use it when I drink German hefes because they have a different, lighter quality and lemon seems to distract from that. I don’t squeeze the lemon juice into my hefe any more however; it’s the bitter lemony flavor of the oils in the rind that I enjoy, not the sour citrusy taste of the juice. I gently squeeze the rind only in several spots to release those oils, then float the whole slice in the foam. So experiment for yourself with this aspect and see if you enjoy it or not. A hefeweizen is another excellent introduction for the newbie craft beer drinker.

Recommendations: Widmer Bros. Hefeweizen (OR), Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse (Germany), Paulaner Hefe-Weizen (Germany). For a delicious twist on this genre, try Pyramid Apricot Weizen (WA).

Pale Ale That Doesn’t Come in a Red Solo Cup

Ok, not that kind of pale ale. I drink lots of pales all year round, more so than blondes or hefes, which are almost exclusively summer beers for me. Despite their name, pale ales are much darker in color than a blonde, and have stronger hop profiles that tend toward a delicious citrus or floral aroma. These beers are great thirst-quenchers too, and by virtue of their more intense flavor I would also recommend them as a barbeque beer: grilled meat tends to have a strong flavor, so a bolder beer will complement your thick steak or juicy burger nicely without overwhelming your meat or being subdued by it.

Sierra Nevada

I’ll include India Pale Ales (IPAs) as a sub-category of this. IPAs were originally brewed with higher amounts of hops, whose acids prevented spoilage on the long trek from England to the British colonial possessions in South Asia before the days of refrigeration. To my mind, the vast majority of American IPAs are ridiculously over-hopped, especially, as much as I hate to say it, Pacific Northwest IPAs. If you’re a total hophead (and there are many of you out there) you’ll no doubt disagree with me. I tend to prefer British or British-style IPAs, which still have a strong hop flavor but balance it out nicely with a good maltiness.

Recommendations: Pales: Sierra Nevada Pale (CA), Deschutes Mirror Pond (OR), St. Peter’s English Ale (England.) British(-style) IPAs: Twisted Thistle IPA (Scotland), St. Peter’s IPA (England), Bridgeport IPA (bottle-conditioned) (OR). Hoppy IPA: Lagunitas IPA (CA), Pelican IPA (OR). These are about as hoppy as I’ll go with an IPA. Hopheads feel free to lambaste me in the comments section.

Yes, I Enjoy a Good Lager/Pilsner

Although I pooh-poohed the ubiquitous lager in the early part of this article, that’s not to say a lager can’t be a quality beer. Hell, I’ll go so far as to say that Budweiser is a good beer for its type, although it’s a type that I rarely want to drink, because I like my beers with more complexity. I include pilsners here because they are really a sub-variety of lager, one that typically uses stronger-flavored Saaz hops. Both styles have deep roots in Central and Eastern Europe; in fact, Pilsner comes from the name of the Czech city of Plzen, where this style is extremely popular.

These beers are brewed with bottom-fermenting yeasts, as opposed to ales, which are brewed with top-fermenting yeast. (Top and bottom here refer to where the yeast tends to settle in the beer once it’s done its job.) These beers are typically much thinner in body than an ale, and for that reason can be good, easy-drinking summer beers as well.

Photo By FXGeek

Recommendations: Allgauer Buble (Germany), Victory Prima Pils (PA), Heineken (the Netherlands), Pabst Blue Ribbon (WI), Hood River Session Lager (OR).

A Toast!

With those things in mind, I’d like to invite all you beer lovers to hoist a foaming mug of your favorite brew. Let’s pause for a moment in honor of that bold, forward-thinking ancient Sumerian who, nursing the world’s first hangover, decided to take the next step and say to himself, “How do I get some more of this and how do I make it better?” Those are the questions that still drive us today.

Lorin Wilkerson is a musician, writer and beer-lover living in Portland Oregon. You can read more at his blog, Musical Oozings.

  • http://midnight.hushedcasket.com Jeff Barnett

    Pilsner is indeed a great style of beer, even though American light lager has largely diluted the genre. I think Pilsner Urquell, brewed in Plzen, is one of the best. In pale ales I think Bass deserves a mention, even if it’s largely commercialized. In IPAs I think Harpoon is hard to beat, but I don’t have a great selection because my of my state’s outdated and regressive beer laws.

    Great article.

  • Pingback: Fun Beer Links: Summer Brews, Beer & Cheese, New Brew Mag | blogaboutbeer.com

  • Pingback: Fun Beer Links: Summer Brews, Beer & Cheese, New Brew Mag | Wasted Student

  • Stillz

    I think Hoegaarden deserves a nod here, as does my favorite American domestic (yes, it’s advertised like crazy, but it’s still real solid): Sam Adams.

  • Lorin

    Yeah, this is by no means meant to be a comprehensive list of good beers in the styles mentioned above. I don’t believe I’ve had a Harpoon; I’ll look for it, as I find myself trying a lot of new IPAs because I’m always looking for ones I enjoy.

    I’ve got a love-hate relationship with Sam Adams: the love part comes from the fact that they do brew some pretty solid beers, especially when looking at the scale on which they brew. They hate part comes from the advertisements; while I love and respect good beer from all parts of the world, I’m a Pacific NW partisan at the same time, and every time I see those commercials, I find myself saying “Ha! Wanna drink some real beer? Come to Portland!” But that’s just me; Sam Adams has a lot of beers, and some of them are really good.

    I think that Victory Prima-Pils is one of the best American pilsners I’ve had; I whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone.

  • Rista

    I am a big fan of the Sam Adams Summer Brew, delicious!

  • http://kitcheneral@yahoo.com Allan

    So like many people you have rated heineken up there with some very good beers. Heineken is basicaly an average beer with a great advertising budget of millions. If you check in some of the beer guides it usualy rates a 3 out of 5.

  • Lorin

    Allan–

    In defense of my selection, I’ll just say this: although some lagers are more complex than others, when I’m drinking a lager it’s generally because I want something that goes down fast and smooth, and Heineken fits the bill. Why else would I put PBR and Session Lager in that list? Just because a beer is popular doesn’t necessarily make it a bad beer…

    But your point is well taken–that’s why I’m an ale man.

  • chad birgy

    let’s go drinkin before the sun goes away!

  • Tim

    I am German and I live in Germany, I’ve been to America several times, the American light beers suck and they don’t even taste like beer. They taste like 90% water and maybe 10% of cheap beer.

    If you wanna go with a nice beer that tastes good and manly try
    Sam Adams (American), Budweiser (Czech and American versions available), Warsteiner (German), Guiness (Irish).

  • TJ Skrodzki

    This is a good start. I love hefeweizens. They are my favorite to drink no matter the time of year. I like the fact that you mentioned how to pour them, as I believe this is crucial to getting the best taste. If you happen to have one, pour them in a hefeweizen glass. A good brew bar will know to do this. Another great hefeweizen, if you can find it, is Weihenstephaner. I can’t find their hefeweizen very often, but when I do I always make sure to get it. It is the beer that reminds me the most of the brief time I got to spend in Germany and Austria.

    Germans and Belgians make some of the best summer beers. They are made to be enjoyed while sitting outside at beer gardens so they always quench your thirst just right.

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    Thanks for the recommendation TJ! I’ll have to give it a try if I can find it.

  • Dmitriy

    If you can find it, Shiner makes a great summer beer called Ruby Redbird, a lager brewed with grapefruit and ginger.