Summertime, and the living is easy.
Or so the song goes. Nothing these days seems all that easy, that’s for sure. Not, at least, from what I can see, looking up from the bottom of my well.
But things don’t have to be so hard this time of year, either. Take, for instance, the search for the right beer to pair with warm-weather fare — like frankfurters or a fish fillet, cooked over an open flame — or warm-weather fun, like sitting around a bonfire on the beach at sunset. This kind of endeavor is worth breaking a sweat over, for sure, but it’s not necessary to do so. There are so many choices available to the discriminating beer-hunter, in a wide range of styles and flavors, that getting it right should be easy. And it is.
So, with summer finally in full swing, I thought I’d take a moment to assemble a mix-a-six’s worth of seasonals and suggest some appropriate food pairings. This is not an official tasting (if there ever is such a thing), just a report on some beers I’ve enjoyed recently and served with dinner to guests. Some of these are brand new, others are just new-to-me brews. One or two won’t fit neatly into a particular category — or even a cardboard carrier. Nonetheless, I liked them enough that I wanted to point them out to you, dear reader, on the off chance that you might need help filling a cooler to take on an afternoon outing or an extended vacation. I am planning to pack several of these with me this week and next. Enjoy!
Summer Beer, Anchor Brewing Company. Labeled as “the first American wheat beer in modern times,” this 25-year-old beverage achieves its light and refreshing quality because it’s fermented with an American top-fermenting “ale” yeast (rather than a more traditional bottom-dwelling German strain), and that emphasizes the all-malt flavors, derived from wheat and barley grains. In other words, it’s a thirst-quencher — crisp, clean, dry, a little sweet and plenty hoppy, with a rush of carbonation and a slightly bitter finish. It’s designed for cooling off on a typically hot summer day or pairing with some typical buttery summery foods, like corn on the cob or steamed lobster. I enjoyed a glassful with a plate of fresh zucchini sauteed with tomatoes and served over vermicelli with feta cheese.
Kellerweis Hefeweizen, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. This expanding brewery has reportedly replaced its rather limpid American hefeweizen with a punched-up, more complex Bavarian year-round brew. Using a traditional open fermentation process, which involves no filtration or pasteurization, the innovative Chico, California-based brewmaster has created a billowy, zesty, wild wheat beer perfect for summer fare. The fruity flavors (there are hints of bananas and citrus) and spicy undertones make it an ideal accompaniment to everything from light starters, like chips and mango salsa, to grilled shrimp and freshly baked blueberry pie (that’s how I drank mine). Best of all, with the yeast still in the bottle — the label even includes serving instructions — you can pour out a hazy, golden beer to match any summer sunset.
Squall IPA, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. At first glance, it appeared that this Delaware-based brewery had simply rechristened its standard 90-minute India Pale Ale as a limited-quantity release, sold in a Champagne bottle with an old-timey seafaring motif on the label. Not surprising, though, this is not just a matter of repackaging — the self-styled makers of “off-centered” beers have all sails set on this one, dropping everything in “unfiltered, unfettered, and unprecedented.” The result of this new tack? A blustery (9% alcohol) bottle-conditioned, imperial-style IPA, dry-hopped with a half-dozen types of hops (most beers get 2-3), full of malty-sweet flavors, refreshing bitterness, and lots of palate-cleansing bubbles. We downed two bottles while eating grilled cheeseburgers on the 4th — and were blown away, left wanting more.
Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Oskar Blues Brewery. The newest addition to the creative Colorado-based brewery’s growing collection of popular fine canned beer, this pilsner would be a standout on its own. It’s got all the trappings of a traditional Czech-style pilsner — a beautiful straw (aka, “yella”) color, a balanced dose of hops aromas and bitterness, and a slightly sweet, dry flavor. Nonetheless there’s a uniquely American, bold, canned-by-hand quality to it, as well. (Watch a video about their innovative canning process here.) I thought it went well with just about everything, from starters to finishers, but I especially enjoyed it with a grilled Ball Park Frank, some spicy brown mustard, and a fresh, biscuity bun. I would prescribe this combination to anyone.
Saranac Summer Brew: Lager and Lemonade, Matt Brewing Company. According to the label, it’s a European tradition to mix lemonade with and beer to create “a refreshing beverage during the summer months.” Tradition or not, I didn’t find the mixture very appealing — mainly because I’m not a fan of fruit-flavored beers. But I was in the minority opinion among my dinner guests, several of whom took the label’s words at face value: to “kick back, relax, and enjoy.” Which is easy to do with this brew, because it’s so low in alcohol (3.5%). Although I didn’t think it held up well against the heavy grilled meats, I’d bet this beer is better suited to lemon-marinated chicken, lightly grilled light fish (such as marinated tilapia), or salads with a vinegar-based dressing.
Sixteen Saison, Avery Brewing Company. To celebrate its “Sweet 16th,” the Boulder-based brewery has cooked up an anniversary ale featuring a unique combination of sweet ingredients, including jasmine, peaches, honey, and Belgian candy sugar. Based on a traditional hearty beer style brewed in Belgium’s farm country, but infused with some American moxie, the result is an almost-saison — a bold beer that pours out cloudy-blond, with lots of frothy foam, hoppy floral notes, and a nice balance of fruit and spices. It’s surprisingly less sweet than expected, slightly tart and dry, assertive, tasty, and drinkable. I would pair this with something light and savory, like Mediterranean chicken salad, or slightly richer, such as grilled salmon steaks with lemon butter — and let the fruit flavors in the beer and foods mingle like teenagers.
So, there you have it, six different summer brews, and their matching foods, all packed up and ready to go on vacation with you. See, wasn’t that easy?
As always, let us know what you think. Have you tried any of this year’s new summer beers? If so, which ones do you like? Or are there other styles or flavors that you prefer with your summer meals? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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