Summer Beers We’re Hot On

Summer Beers We’re Hot On

The 10 best warm-weather brews of 2008

By Kurt Wolff

Hot weather demands refreshment, so when it comes to summer beer we tend to swing toward the light and breezy. But just because a brewery has slapped the word summer on a label doesn’t mean you’ll know what’s inside the bottle. There are no rules about what constitutes a summer beer, so the term remains open to interpretation, from easy-quaffing lagers to tangy hefeweizens to more substantial ales with caramel undertones. CHOW staffers tasted 10 beers, some specifically designated “summer beer” and some that we just thought might be good for this time of year. Here they are, in our order of preference.

1. Reissdorf Kölsch. An example of a classic regional German beer from Cologne, this light-bodied brew (an ale, not a lager) was the CHOW team’s favorite. We found it easy to drink yet strong on flavor. Kölsch doesn’t whomp you over the head: Its power is in understatement. Tasters called it “refreshing” and “bright,” and hailed it as “subtle and classy” and “the best of the bunch for a hot-weather summer beer.” One taster added, “You could serve this to your townie buds and get away with it.”

2. Anderson Valley Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema. You might expect this California offering, with its medium-brown color and nutty aroma, to be on the heavier side, but it’s full of surprises. Featuring hints of caramel and vanilla, it’s pleasant and easy on the palate (one taster wrote: “I have a crush on this beer”), and definitely light enough for summer drinking. A group favorite.

3. Shipyard Summer Ale. This Maine brewery’s summer offering is actually a wheat beer, though with its pronounced malty character you won’t mistake it for a hefeweizen. It’s slightly sweet—even borderline chocolaty—compared to the others in the bunch, but it’s also well balanced, with no hard corners. Tasters called it “clean,” with a “round finish,” and definitely “easy to drink.”

4. Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager. Sierra Nevada’s signature Pale Ale is known for its hoppiness. The hops are present in the brewery’s Summerfest Lager, too, but here they’re kept on a tight leash. Summerfest is a simple, invigorating beer done well, “like the wealthier cousin of PBR.” Its body is smooth and “sparkly”—“I’d just drink this instead of water,” said one taster—and its flavor is nicely balanced: “It tastes like good times with an old friend.”

5. Hoegaarden. Pierre Celis founded Hoegaarden Brewery in 1966, though this popular Belgian witbier (a pale, wheat-based beer spiced with coriander and dried Curaçao orange peel) has such a firm, confident flavor you’d think it had been around for centuries. Despite its spices, this kicky brew remains magically “light” and “lovely,” and our tasters would gladly spend the day “drinking it on a sunny stoop.”

6. Speakeasy White Lightning American Wheat Beer. This take on Belgian witbier has the typical spicing (coriander and orange peel) but remains American in both name and character (for starters, it uses no Belgian yeast). The spices give it a fruity, herbal undertone (“Like Hoegaarden but with more balls,” as one taster put it), and it’s designed for extended backyard quaffing (“I could drink a lot of this”). Another bonus: “It doesn’t hit you over the head with hops.”

7. Hacker-Pschorr Weisse. Hefeweizen is another classic German style perfectly suited to warm weather. Hacker-Pschorr’s version is a bit less sweet than others, or “kind of a stern, unsmiling wheat beer,” as one taster called it. It’s dry, with a slight yeasty bite that adds a bracing edge. True, it’s a little heavier in body and flavor than the Kölsch, but so is everything on this list.

8. Tomos Watkins Cwrw Haf. Here’s one you don’t see every day. According to the Hurns Brewing Company, the Tomos Watkins ales are “brewed with the Welsh drinker’s palate in mind,” which means (according to Hurns) “slightly sweet, clean finishing without going overboard on bitterness.” That description holds true for the Cwrw Haf summer ale, which perhaps has cool Welsh summers in mind given its pronounced malty character—different from all the other beers we tasted. Still, it’s plenty balanced, not too strong, and likely good with food. One taster explained: “I’d have it with a burger.”

9. Lagunitas Sirius. We went out on a limb with this one. This “Hi-Gravity Cream Ale” isn’t billed as a summer beer (though it’s only available from June to August), and it’s a bit weightier in flavor, body, and alcohol content than most of our choices. But heck if we didn’t dig it nonetheless. It boasts a slight sweetness that’s balanced by bright hops and hints of “lavender tea,” according to one taster. It may be pretty rich for hot weather, but even in summer you sometimes need a little warmth.

10. Big Sky IPA. IPAs tend to be hop bombs and are not normally considered hot-weather bets, but maybe the cold San Francisco summer inspired us to include this one. The body of this Montana offering isn’t terribly heavy, though the hop profile is in your face. Not everyone would call it refreshing, but its vividness does allude to long, light-filled days. Bottom line: If you like hops, you’ll dig it.

CHOW’s The Ten column appears every Tuesday.

Kurt Wolff is editor/manager of Download.com and MP3.com, and author of The Rough Guide to Country Music. He’s written about food, drink, and travel for various publishers including Zagat Surveys, Lonely Planet, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He also wrote a beer column for the Guardian called Hopped Up.