When gearing up for the hot weather, it is easy to look for beers that specifically identify themselves as summer brews, but trickier to identify year-round brews that are both seasonal and nevertheless ideally suited to sultry, sunny days. Fortunately, clues can be found fairly easily. Here are some great suggestions.
Light, spicy and refreshing are the watchwords for summer beer, all of which ably describe Michelob’s Shock Top Belgian White, a citrus peel- and coriander-infused brew broadly based on Belgian-style wheat beer. Orangey on the nose with hints of fresh lemon and a whiff of peppery spice, this thirst-quencher continues fairly sweet and fruity through the palate, ending with a faintly tannic, spiced orange peel finish. (Anheuser-Busch InBev)
To sample the taste that inspired Shock Top, look no further than St. Bernardus Wit (or Witbier), a true-to-form example of a Belgian wheat. A pale gold of hue that almost shimmers when the sunlight hits it in the right way, the St. Bernardus sports a light but flavor-filled character with notes of orange blossom honey in the front and a more reserved, almost apple skin-like crispness in the second half and a faintly peppery finish. It is a wonderful companion to light, summery lunches. (D&V International)
The German style of wheat beer is quite different than the Belgian, of course, with a slightly bigger body and clove and banana notes arising from fermentation rather than spice or fruit additions. The Schneider Organic Wiesen Edel-Weisse is different yet again, with a somewhat fuller body than the regular Schneider Weisse, more obvious fruitiness in the aroma and a hoppiness that is, for a typically malt-driven style, fairly pronounced. Still, this beer, which is modelled after the stronger wheat beers the brewery once made for Oktoberfest, seems ideal for cooler, late summer nights on the patio. (B. United International)
Spiciness of a different sort is provided by the newly popular saison style and its classic interpretation, Saison Dupont. Pronounced “say-zon,” a traditional saison like Dupont’s has no spice added but derives considerable zestiness from both fermentation and hops. Expect complex fruitiness with peppery spice on the nose and as the beer first hits the palate, followed by a growing hop bitterness and more evident white pepper notes in the body and finish. The hop bitterness is accentuated further when this beer is served on draft. (Vanberg & DeWulf)
Domestically, the saison style occasionally does receive some seasoning, as in the new collaboration brew, Saison du BUFF. Spiced with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, this limited edition brew features the second herb prominently in its aroma, with the others becoming more apparent in the body as the beer warms. Expect, too, citrus and peach notes leading to a moderately bitter, somewhat resinous finish. The name, by the way, refers not to drinking au naturale, but is rather an acronym for Brewers United for Freedom of Flavor. (Stone Brewing/Victory Brewing/Dogfish Head Brewery collaboration)
Of course, sometimes one just desires a straight-forward, clean-tasting brew for the heat of summer, like the New Holland Full Circle, an American interpretation of the style known as kölsch, typical to the northern German city of Cologne. Fermented as an ale but conditioned as a lager, which is to say first warm then cool, Full Circle combines the up-front body of a light blonde ale with the back-end crispness of a Bavarian-style lager, resulting in a beer that is both food friendly and consummately thirst quenching. (New Holland Brewing)
Even more to the point is Sierra Nevada Summerfest, a light to medium-bodied pilsner crafted broadly in the Czech style, with soft maltiness, floral and not-too-bitter hoppiness and a dry, palate cleansing finish. Consider it a mainstream lager for the craft beer crowd. (Sierra Nevada Brewing) ·
A veteran beer writer and brewing industry observer, Stephen Beaumont is the author of six books on beer. He travels extensively, hosting beer tastings and beer dinners, and serves as beer consultant to a diverse range of hospitality companies.