As a contemporary once noted, Sir Thomas More always stayed true to his beliefs, under any and all circumstances, despite what others thought or how they wanted him to behave. He was, in a word, “A man for all seasons.”
And although these are the traits I prefer for our men of principle (presidents, philosophers, and Polycarps alike), they are not well-suited to a glass of beer. No, in fact, I believe the sudsy quaff that fills my schooner should be stubbornly singular. It should reflect only the mood of the season in which I am consuming it.
In the cool gloom of autumn, for instance, there’s nothing like a crisp, sweet Vienna-style Oktoberfest or zesty pumpkin ale to light the night. Same goes for winter: Christmas ales taste like fresh gingerbread for one good reason — they’re warming and filling.
So, in the heat of summer — and we are already stuck in the thick of it, as anyone living in the Mid-Atlantic region can attest — what I seek is a malt beverage to match the qualities of my apparel or the pace of my activities. In other words, I want a drink that’s light in both weight and color (like khaki shorts and an old T-shirt), slow- and easy-going, yet invigorating and refreshing as a dip in the pool.
Following is a sampler of new (or new-to-me) summer brews that I recently sought out, sipped, and smiled upon. They may not be bracing enough to fend off a chilly night, or righteous enough for standing up to a cocky king, but they are ideally suited for the food and frolicking that occurs during this season. Enjoy!
Woody Creek White, Flying Dog Brewery. Here’s an American twist on a Belgian classic — a hoppy witbier. Pale gold in color, effervescent and plenty foamy, with a grainy-fruity aroma (think banana bread), and a hint of herbs and spices, such as anise and nutmeg. Just like its European ancestors, in other words. But it’s also surprisingly tangy and refreshing, with a palate-clearing, slightly bitter aftertaste. In other other words, everything you might want in a summer brew. It’s even bottle-conditioned with a lovely ring of earthy sediment on the bottom for added flavor. Best of all, once in the glass, this “white beer” tastes as good as it looks and smells, especially with grilled, buttery corn on the cob and a hot dog with spicy brown mustard.
Summer Blonde Ale, River Horse Brewing Company. This is a beer that embodies the KISS principle (though not this KISS principal): clean and clear, simple and understated, but not at all plain or underwhelming. In fact, pouring out in a golden cascade, with a slightly sour, citrus aroma and a whiff of spice, this ale’s sweet, yeasty taste and delicately bitter afterbite are simply charming. A low alcohol content (4.5%) only adds to the appeal, making for cool sipping on a hot day. I had fun with this blond and a light dinner of tender cheese tortellini seared with crushed garlic, olive oil, and fresh asparagus spears, and topped by a sprinkling of salty, sharp Parmesan.
Otter Summer, Otter Creek Brewing. I’m often disappointed by Otter Creek’s output. Like their mammalian namesake, their brews often display an aquatic and evasive nature. But this is not just an “otter” beer. Light-bodied and grainy, crisp and tart with a lemony-sour aroma, this small-batch seasonal acts more like a lager than a wheat ale. The label claims it’s “highly drinkable,” which, though it sounds like a lame marketing ploy by a national brand with no other accolades, is nonetheless hard to argue with. It certainly went down well as an accompaniment to a homemade chef salad with zesty Italian dressing.
Wailua Wheat, Kona Brewing Company. Here’s an amber wheat ale with a surprising flavor twist: passion fruit. Normally, I’m not a fan of fruit beers. I can drink one occasionally, and only if the “beer” characteristics outweigh the “fruit.” However, the unusual taste combinations here — a mixture of tangy citrus and hops bitterness, a slight hint of spices and honey, all wrapped in a bready medium body — inspire anything but a normal reaction. In fact, dude, it was, like, “tubular” as an accompaniment to lime-flavored tortilla chips and a peppery salsa.
Anchor Summer Ale, Anchor Brewing Company. The brewery proclaims this new-to-me seasonal, first launched in 1984 (!), as “the first American wheat beer in modern times.” True or not, I’ll say it’s one of the best of its kind I’ve ever had. Light and refreshing, delightfully grainy and sweet (over 50% of its malt comes from malted wheat), crisp and dry, with a hint of citrus and plenty of hops bite, it’s well-suited for pairing with warm-weather fare, like a roasted turkey sandwich on rye (with all the trimmings) and a creamy, dilly red-skin potato salad.
Wacko, Magic Hat Brewing Company. There’s no false advertising here: With its unsettling pink hue, derived from the unusual addition of beet juice, and the Dr. Seuss-like cartoon label, this beer is wack! It’s also a seriously good summer drink. Although I can’t say I’d have requested a beer brewed with beets, the flavors are, well, magical. Offering a nice balance of fruit and malty sweetness, with a light, crisp and refreshing finish, it’s crazy to think this “vegetable beer” wouldn’t mix well with a garden salad, perhaps topped with grilled salmon or shrimp.
Now, if you need more help finding seasonal beers — after you’ve exhausted all the suggestions on Scribbleskiff, of course — I recommend getting a copy of The Beer Trials. It’s a clever, though somewhat limited companion for any would-be craftbeer shopper. With more than 250 full-page reviews — covering everything from well-known brands to lesser-knowns and unheard-ofs — and featuring brief, useful, often-witty descriptions, it’s a comprehensive awareness-raiser. The main flaw: a lack of any food-pairing suggestions, which is a shame since I believe a good beer is best enjoyed with a meal. Overall, though, it’s entertaining and useful — there are several introductory chapters devoted to beer styles, flavors, and ingredients — and manageable enough to tote along to your next trip to the store.
Finally, where should you pour all this single-minded, handcrafted goodness? Into a singular glass made to be handheld, that is. The new Geordie Schooner distributed by Newcastle (they sent me a sample in the mail) is just the right shape and size for creating the perfect pour. It holds a full bottle of its namesake brown ale — and plenty of others, I assure you — and is not too large or unwieldy, like a typical bar glass, nor too dainty, like a wineglass. In fact, it may be the Thomas More of barware: a glass for all seasonals.
As always, tell us what you think. Have you tried any of these new summer beers yet? If so, which was your favorite — and what food made the best pairing? Or are there other seasonals that you think everyone should be trying? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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