Rumor has it that frozen beer machines might be coming to the States but until then, I'm more than content with the domestic variety of summer beers.
It can be hard to determine which beer styles are right for summer. Let’s start with the basics:
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Popular at beer gardens and German beer halls, the Pilsner is great for outdoor drinking. It’s refreshing but not without flavor by any means. A good Pilsner will smell of herbs or flowers and deliver a bit of citrus in the flavor. If done right, it will be refreshing in the summer heat.
You can find a pretty wide variety of imported Pilsners in this country and there’s no denying that Germany has mastered the art of brewing this style. But many domestic breweries have crafted delicious Pils brews and you don’t have to wait for them to ship over the Atlantic.
Victory Prima Pils (Downington, Pa.)
Troegs Sunshine Pils (Hershey, Pa.)
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In my last article, My Love Affair with Beer, I called out New York’s own Captain Lawrence Kolsch as a great example of this style, which was not widely known until pretty recently. The style originated in Köln, Germany, and stayed local until it found its way to our shores.
My first introduction to this style was through Gaffel, a Köln brewery. It’s pale in color, light in bitterness and crisp -- a pleasant way to cool off. Later I discovered Captain Lawrence’s version at a barbecue in the middle of July (deliciously paired with a pig roast).
While the American versions have their own eccentricities (more hops, in most cases), they are still a great way to beat the summer heat.
Alaskan Summer Ale (Juneau, Alaska)
Geary’s Summer Ale (Portland, Me.)
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American Blonde Ale
If a Belgian pale ale and a kölsch had a baby, it would be an American blonde ale. Well, for the most part. This style is first generation American with a malt-forward flavor, undertones of fruit and a bit of hoppy bitterness.
This is by no means a summer-only style. New Belgium, a brewery in Fort Collins, Colo., brews a version styled for the fall as well as another for the summer. But no matter when you drink this, you will enjoy it.
New Belgium Somersault (Fort Collins, Colo.)
Deschutes Twilight Summer Ale (Bend, Ore.)
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Lager gets a bad rap in this country. Budweiser’s claim to the “Great American Lager” isn’t helping. What they make is an adjunct lager – a lager made with ingredients like corn and rice that cut costs and flavor. What I’m talking about is the American pale lager.
You’re still getting a fizzy, yellow concoction, but it’s one that actually tastes good. It’ll ease the bite of the heat but it also might bite you back a little. There’s a mild bitterness to this brew beneath the malt characteristics that offers a bit of complexity you won’t find in the macro-brewed versions.
Bell’s Quinannan Falls Special Lager (Kalamazoo, Mich.)
Coney Island Sword Swallower (New York, N.Y.)
Forget the stupid lemon wedge. If you want to eat fruit, you ordered the wrong thing. Hefeweizen, a wheat style that originated in (you guessed it) Germany, has gone through the ringer since it came to the USA. Blue Moon even advertises their version with an orange. No German would be caught dead with fruit floating in their beer.
Americans should feel the same way. I’m going to tell you a secret: this beer should already have a citrus flavor. I’ve had people argue that the citrus slice is meant to “bring out” the flavor. I say, if you need to add to the beer for that, the brewer has failed. So be careful when ordering your hefeweizen. When you choose wisely, it’s so good!
Sierra Nevada Kellerweiss (Chico, Calif.)
Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat (Frederick, Md.)
It was suggested to me the other day that the American IPA had jumped the shark. If that’s the case, it certainly hasn’t slowed production and demand. Of course, the Imperial IPA (or the double IPA) is even bigger than you’re typical IPA. West Coast brewers started this craziness but it can be a delightful way to pass a summer afternoon.
Higher in hops, malt and even alcohol content, the imperial IPA might be offensive to the tongue if you’re not used to it. Those who adapt find it a robust and flavorful option.
Russian River Pliny the Elder (Santa Rosa, Calif.)
Green Flash Imperial India Pale Ale (San Diego, Calif.)