By now, my tendencies toward heavy hops and toward Belgian ales must be pretty clear, but I’m happy to explore the summer side of life. The theory is to aim for light, refreshing, and generally lower-alcohol brews that can carry you through the whole barbecue, or the whole warm summer evening. This is the realm traditionally dominated by Milwaukee Yellow Fizz with the funky metallic aftertastes . . . if they have any taste at all. Let’s look at the styles that the adjunct lagers imitate unsuccessfully (though with vast commercial success).
[We could refer back to the Berliner Weisse like Dogfish's Festina Peche, but we already covered that, not that I would mind another!]
Schlafly Summer Lager. Helles style, meaning very pale indeed. Basic lager with a citrus hint, much higher quality than that stinky yellow stuff. 4.5% ABV and very little hops. Not bad but it reminds me that fundamentally I’m an ale guy. That isn’t true for many of these others.
Anderson Valley Summer Solstice, which they refer to as “cream soda for adults.” Well, I never acquired a taste for cream soda, but I have a taste for this. It pours with a nice frothy head, medium amber and a bit cloudy, delivering caramel in the nose and vivid butterscotch on the palette, 5% ABV. I think this would be a crowd pleaser for the crafty and flavorful enough for all but the diehard hopheads. This is very approachable for those who hate both adjunct beer and hops, and perhaps might be a beer to lure some of the Milwaukee masses to the Craft Side of the Force.
River Horse Summer Blonde. Moving into New Jersey–which I did a long time ago–this gives a quiet head and a pale amber; it’s a smooth summer sipper. At 4.5%, it’s clearly sessionable. There’s a hint of ocean in the nose and on the palette like a distant cousin of an Islay scotch without the peat, and without most of the hops for that matter. Very nice!
Ramstein Blonde Wheat Beer. Staying in New Jersey, from High Point Brewing Company, this is a hefeweizen, 5.5% ABV, pouring a typical hazy wheat yellow with a strong head. Slightly spicy nose, and I guess I’m learning what brewed wheat smells like. On the palette it’s yeasty with a touch of banana, light bodied enough for summer with a bit of fizz. Like most Ramstein beers, I think it can please German purists.
Captain Lawrence Sun Block. Crossing the Hudson to New York, we go further into the wheat style. This has a nice sustained off white head with a bit of hop bite followed by clear orange from those hops. On the palette comes orange peel, then malt and solid grain with a moderate citrusy hop bite. A little pine lingers on the long finish. This is my favorite of the group, but River Horse is gaining on the outside, with Anderson Valley coming on. Mind you, this is the one I bought more of. Twice. And I’m sipping it right now!
Captain Lawrence Golden Delicious, an ale aged in Apple brandy casks. Poured slightly cloudy gold with a foamy head. This gave a cider nose with a hint of brandy, but I knew the brandy was there. On the palette good apple, smooth, a bit of sweetness and a touch of hops on the end, and no question that this had relations with brandy and oak! Very drinkable, but as a trippel style it’s really stretching to call this summery and it probably belongs in the fall with its hefty ABV (at least 10%). I’d drink it anytime, though.
Maredsous Dubbel Belgian abbey ale. A heavy hitter snuck in among the summer crowd. Caramel shading to chocolate over full bodied malt with some Classic Belgian yeast. Maybe a trifle musty…then someone noticed that the bottle says “Best By 02/2011.” So this is 3.5 years past the “best by” date! At 8% abv it survived but must have been much better.