With Memorial Day weekend just days away, it’s officially time to fire up the grill and get ready for summer (random temperature drops be damned). So what are you drinking while you’re marinating some meats in advance of a backyard dinner, or during your hours-long sun soak on the beach? Sure, you could go with a glass of white wine or a chilled pour of rosé, but it’s beer that will forever be known as the ultimate session beverage. With an ever-expanding craft beer market unveiling an increasing number of styles and flavors, it’s never been more difficult to choose a brew to pair with your grilled meats and light summer sides. Here is a list of ten lagers, wheat beers, IPAs and ales to seek out for all your warm-weather sipping needs. Cheers!
1. Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen,
Widmer Brothers Brewing Co. (Portland, OR)
This is the beer that made American wheat beer famous, starting way back in the mid-1980s. It pours cloudy (as wheat beers should) but tastes bone-dry clean, with lemony hints throughout. Serving a heavy course at your BBQ? Or just want something that’s not all smack-you-upside-the-head bitter and strong? This is the beer.
2. All Day IPA, Founders Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, MI)
Probably the only thing keeping session beers — those lower-alcohol ales and lagers that came into vogue a few years back — from really breaking out is that many of them taste like watered-down versions of their styles. Founders All Day IPA is not that. The beer actually tastes like a less-bitter version of the brewery’s Centennial IPA. Indeed, at 42 international bittering units (out of 100), it’s bitterer than most session ales available yet still goes down crisply.
3. Anchor California Lager,
Anchor Brewing Co. (San Francisco, CA)
A rare lager offering from America’s oldest craft brewery, Anchor’s California Lager is a nod to that state’s earliest iterations of the grand beer type, including the use of Cluster hops, one of the most widely used varieties in California in the 19th century. The hops don’t really shine here (they’re not supposed to), with a bready, cereal-like taste trumping any bitterness. It’s a perfectly noninvasive accompaniment to copious quantities of meat and sides.
4. Levitation Ale, Stone Brewing Company (Escondido, CA)
Unlike most Stone beers, which usually clock in around 6 percent ABV or higher, this amber ale packs a lot less wallop (4.4 percent ABV) but offers a nice citrus hop punch while still “defying gravity.”
5. Oberon Ale, Bell’s Brewery (Kalamazoo, MI)
This classic Midwestern wheat ale has a ton of spicy Czech Saaz hops. It’s remarkably refreshing and goes down easy…and yes, you may serve it with a slice of orange, as per brewery tradition. Welcome your Blue Moon replacement for the summer.
6. Bitter American, 21st Amendment Brewery (San Francisco, CA)
Checking in at 42 IBUs and just 4.4 percent ABV, this canned creation is a study in easy-drinking restraint — and excessive aromas of citrus. The appealing bitterness is balanced by a biscuity, nutty body courtesy of a British heirloom malt called Golden Promise, loaded with nutty flavor.
7. Hell or High Watermelon, 21st Amendment Brewery (San Francisco, CA)
Here’s a beer that discerning craft beer drinkers love to hate on, but on a hot day there really is nothing better. This wheat beer brewed with watermelons is your answer for a fun summer brew accessible even to the BMC (Bud-Miller-Coors) crowd.
8. Das Überkind, Jester King Brewery (Austin, TX)
Jester King is unique not just because of the brewery’s commitment to organic ingredients but because of its specialization in farmhouse ales: This one is USDA organic, too (you can check their website for a full breakdown of components). This Organic Vieille Saison is aged for months in oak barrels, giving it a funky, fruity tartness that would go well with grilled food. Especially refreshing in the hot weather.
9. Brooklyn Summer Ale, Brooklyn Brewery (Brooklyn, NY)
Many of the bigger craft breweries have some iteration of the more-marketing-than-real-style “summer ale,” and for the most part, they’re all terrible — sugary-sweet beer for people who don’t like beer. Brooklyn Brewery’s Summer Ale is the exception. It’s not too bitter, yet not too sweet — with a strong, citrusy finish from Cascade, Fuggle and Amarillo hops, as well as the German Perle hop, which is starting to turn up more often in American beer.
10. Dos Perros, Yazoo Brewing Company (Nashville, TN)
When you think of good Mexican-style beer, chances are you’re not thinking of ale from Tennessee, but Yazoo’s Dos Perros brown (4.9 percent ABV) might just change your mind. The unique addition of maize is a throwback to the late 1800s, when Austrian rule influenced Mexican brewing. It’s combined with sweet malt and noble hops for a subtle hoppy aroma and taste.
Tom Acitelli, Joshua M. Bernstein and Jon Katz contributed to this story.