The general beer-drinking rule of thumb for the hotter, more humid summer months has typically gone as follows: The beer must be lighter in color, lighter in mouthfeel, lighter in alcohol and, consequently, lighter in taste. But we’re here to tell you that this does not have to be the case. While no one really wants to settle into a room-temperature, molasses-thick porter — one with hints of allspice and coffee — when the mercury pushes 90, no craft-beer drinker really wants something watered down. We have a solution with these 15 fantastic ales and lagers that are not as heavy as those traditional autumn and winter warmers but are hardly weak placeholders for them, either.
Ballast Point Brewing | Grapefruit Sculpin
San Diego-based Ballast Point started as a home-brew store, and the original Sculpin IPA started as a home-brew recipe. This spin on that phenomenally popular recipe includes a massive amount of grapefruit, which only accentuates the original’s fruitiness from the copious amounts of hops (the types of which appear to be a closely guarded secret). As the brewery notes, grapefruit may be a winter fruit, but this beer tastes like summer.
Brooklyn Brewery | Brooklyn Summer Ale
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.
D.L. Geary Brewing | Geary’s IPA
In an era when India pale ale often equals ridiculously hoppy (for the sake of being ridiculously hoppy), D.L. Geary’s version is refreshingly approachable. It still has a bitter bite, thanks to the Cascade, Fuggle, Golding and Mt. Hood hops, but it’s not so in-your-face. This is unsurprising given that Maine’s D.L. Geary Brewing, the oldest craft brewery east of the Rockies, with roots stretching back to 1983, has become justly famous for its milder English-style ales. Try the Hampshire Special Ale if you ever get a chance; it’s what American craft beer might’ve become known for if the West Coast IPAs hadn’t stormed the palatal citadel.
Anchor Brewing | Anchor Summer Wheat
Initially released in 1984, this wheat beer was the first domestically made one in modern times. It comes courtesy of the oldest American craft brewery, the modern iteration of which stretches back 50 summers now to August 1965, when appliance heir Fritz Maytag saved it from going out of business. Eminently drinkable, Anchor Summer Wheat leans less on its main grain and more on the Cascade, Golding and Simcoe hops that give it a lemony aroma and taste.
Lagunitas Brewing | Lagunitas PILS
Just over 20 years ago, Lagunitas Brewing Co. became the first U.S. craft brewery to lead with an IPA as its flagship beer. Ever since, its beers have hewed hoppier and stronger. Lagunitas PILS is no exception. It’s a lager labeled as being in the Czech pilsner style, but with Petaluma, California-based Lagunitas, you never get exactly what you buy — and that’s a good thing. This particular pilsner is crammed with Saaz hops, a traditional bittering agent for the style, giving it a heavier mouthfeel than the typical pilsner. Plus, at 6 percent ABV, it’s a little bit stronger, too. This is the lager for ale drinkers who don’t like lagers.
Brewery Ommegang | Fleur de Houblon
This Belgian pale ale offering from the upstate New York brewery controlled by the family-owned Duvel Moortgart of Flanders tastes and smells exactly as its name implies: like hop flowers. In fact, you will get an entire bouquet of summery buds in general in the nose. Although exceedingly dry and mild, the Bravo hops give it a full, hearty mouthfeel; plus, it’s deceptively strong, at nearly 7 percent alcohol by volume. Enjoy that, too.
Full Sail Brewing | Session Premium Lager
In the mid-1980s, the Hood River operation was the first craft brewery in Oregon to bottle its beers — no small feat given that state’s Valhalla reputation in the genre. One of Full Sail’s most popular regulars is the full-bodied, crisp Session Premium Lager in the stumpy bottle with the classic-looking red label. The beer recently won a New York Times tasting of 20 American lagers, in fact. At barely 5 percent ABV, too, Session Premium was session beer way before the term caught on.
Saint Arnold Brewing | Fancy Lawnmower
Introduced 16 summers ago now by Texas’s oldest craft brewery, Houston-based St. Arnold’s Fancy Lawnmower is exactly what it sounds like: an easy-sipping beer for the hotter months. Done in the straw-colored, mildly bitter German ale style known as Kolsch, Lawnmower gets its lingering floral aroma from a single hop — Hallertau out of, not surprisingly, Germany. The beer is smooth and slightly sweet, similar to a top-notch pale ale. Also, while it’s made partly with wheat malts, it is not a wheat beer.
Coney Island Brewing | Seas the Day IPL
Boston Beer Co., makers of Samuel Adams and the biggest craft brewery in the U.S., now controls the Coney Island brands, including Seas the Day. So if this is as drinkable as the iconic Samuel Adams Boston Lager, don’t be surprised. Crammed full of Galena, Warrior, Cascade, Simcoe, Citra and Centennial hops, Seas the Day India pale lager does not taste all that sharp — bitter, yes, but not super-bitter like its India pale ale cousins. It’s one of the best examples of the relatively new IPL style.
Lost Coast Brewery| Tangerine Wheat Ale
Tangerine? Tangerine. Eureka, California’s Lost Coast Brewing, which turns 25 years old in 2015 and which, frustratingly enough, remains one of only a handful of craft breweries started by women, makes an infused beer that doesn’t overwhelm the palate with fruit. Even with the tangerine flavor added, Tangerine Wheat Ale is more wheat than tangerine, taste-wise. Perle hops provide the finishing aromatic touches.
Founders Brewing | All Day IPA
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 Grand Rapids, Michigan, 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.
Smuttynose Brewing | Farmhouse Ale
The origins of the farmhouse ale or saison style vary — and there’s a debate as to whether it’s a style at all — but what we do know is that the beers, with their hints of citrus fruit and banana, originated in the hop-growing belt from northeastern France through northern Belgium. Smuttynose, a brewery based in coastal New Hampshire and founded by an ex-Brooklyn schoolteacher (and Manhattan doorman) in the mid-1990s, is a solid representation of the style. It’s mild and slightly sweet, with only a fleeting bit of bitterness on the end. Moreover, the recipe can vary from year to year. In 2014, it included a dash of pineapple sage.
Jack’s Abby Brewing | Hoponius Union
Three brothers started Jack’s Abby in the eastern Massachusetts city of Framingham with the somewhat fatalistic business plan of hanging their shingle on craft lagers rather than on regnant craft ales. The gamble seems to have worked: Four years later, Jack’s Abby turns out consistently interesting lagers that are finding wider and wider distribution. Hoponius Union is an excellent example and perfect for the summer. Though its citrusy bitterness is reminiscent of the best West Coast-style IPAs, it is, in fact, an IPL, which gives it a lighter mouthfeel and makes it all the more drinkable.
Left Hand Brewing | Introvert Session IPA
Left Hand Brewing Co.’s Introvert Session IPA is, as of late April, a berry-licious addition to the growing phalanx of stronger-tasting, though not necessarily stronger-in-alcohol session beers. It’s 4.8 percent ABV and does taste strongly of sweeter citrus (the tasting notes from the 21-year-old Longmont, Colorado-based brewery itself cite tropical papaya and kiwi). It finishes in a bitterly refreshing way. This is the session IPA for the summer.
Sierra Nevada Brewing | Kellerweis
This cloudy, orange-hewed wheat beer comes from one of the most influential breweries, craft or otherwise, to launch in the last 40-odd years: Chico, California-based Sierra Nevada. Its Kellerweis is a traditional wheat beer crafted in open fermentation vessels, and with Perle and Sterling hops for bittering. The haze you see when pouring comes from the Hefeweizen ale yeast, and the aroma is all bananas and cloves. This puppy goes down exceedingly smoothly and has been a welcome — and popular — departure for the brewery that all but invented the ultrabitter West Coast style.
Tom Acitelli is the author of The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution . His new book, American Wine: A Coming-of-Age Story , is available for preorder.
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