By Hanna Raskin
Back in the early days of beer-making, brewers were largely stuck producing light, quick-fermenting beers in summertime because they didn’t have access to the fresh hops and cooling systems needed for deeper, darker ales. Nowadays, brewers are free to flout tradition and make a malty stout in mid-July, but the seasonal nature of brewing persists: Turns out that crisp, low-alcohol beers are perfectly suited to hot days of boating and beach volleyball.
Every season has its beers, but the beers of summer are especially popular with the American drinking public. According to Time Magazine, the volume of summer seasonal beers sold nationwide is about double the volume of winter- and spring-specific brews. Sales tend to surge on Memorial Day and July Fourth, a holiday that’s notorious for depleting summer seasonal inventories.
Here, a guide to a few of the styles that are freshly emerging from local taps:
1 Session IPA: Fans of hoppy beers are loath to give up their beloved bitter flavors when summer comes knocking, so sympathetic brewers have lately developed a class of complex, low-alcohol beers. “The brewer’s challenge here is twofold,” Stone Brewing’s Mitch Steele, who wrote a book about IPAs, told CraftBeer.com. “First is achieving a good flavor balance in a beer that is so low in alcohol that there isn’t much else to balance the hop character with, and second, ensuring that the dry hop character doesn’t become overly vegetal, due to the lower alcohol content of the beer.” (Pinata Pirate, COAST Brewing Company)
2 Fruit beer: “If you publicly drink a fruit beer, there’s a 20 to 30 percent chance that your fellow bros will tease you about it,” Slate’s beer writer warned last summer. “Don’t stand for it.” Instead, he recommended popping open a bottle of something “carefree and cheerful” freshened up by raspberries, watermelon or cherries. (Grapefruit Bitter Blonde, Freehouse Brewing)
3 American wheat: Hefeweizen’s American cousin, the domestic wheat is typically grainy, clean and pale gold in color (because craft brewers are an iconoclastic bunch, trust that there’s an exception to every style rule.) The banana and clove notes that characterize German wheats are absent, but the beer often sports a lemon wedge “which many either find to be a flavorful snap ... or an insult and something that damages the beer’s taste,” Beer Advocate says. (Cucumber Thyme, Frothy Beard Brewing Company)
4 Munich helles lager: Angst is so firmly associated with Germany that English speakers never bothered to translate the word. But in the mid-1800s, Munich brewers really had reason to worry: Drinkers were suddenly expressing a preference for pilsners from Bohemia. To keep their customers happy, the beer makers developed a spicy-sweet beer that ran nearly clear by Bavarian standards. Helles, which does require translation, means “bright.” (Old Man Helles, Holy City Brewing)
5 Gose: The clearest evidence that obsessives are driving the craft beer bus comes from gose, former Esquire editor Joe Keohane argued in a Thrillist essay published earlier this year. “The revolution has run out of ideas,” he wrote. “If Gose was worthy of so much excitement and attention, we simply would have gotten to it by now.” Yet for devotees of sour beer, gose was worth the wait: The Leipzig invention is distinguished by sharpness and salt. (Gose, Westbrook Brewing Company)
6 American blonde ale: Craft brewers in the U.S. have unearthed scores of forgotten and neglected beer styles, but they’ve also come up with a few of their own. Based on kolsch, a German beer, American blondes were invented to serve as a gateway beer for drinkers hooked on mass-produced lagers. Generally, American blondes are a little fruity, a little toasty and sweet. The Beer Judge Certification Program describes it as “lawnmower beer.” (Mechanics Ale, Tradesman Brewing Company)
7American pale ale: Eric Asimov of The New York Times has suggested that a Mount Rushmore of craft beer should feature Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewery, Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Bert Grant of Yakima Brewing, all of whom started their careers with pale ales. Derived from a classic British style, American pale ale is supposed to be citrusy, zesty and refreshing. (Pale ale, Palmetto Brewing Company)