I’ve been known to go entire winters without cracking open a single beer. But as temps heat up, it’s hard to resist the appeal of a chilled brew, with sweat beads gathering on the bottle or can. Of course, in spring and summer, we tend to gravitate toward light, crisp and refreshing beers for barbecues, campouts, outdoor concerts and such. It’s time to put away the porters and break out the pilsners. Here are a few of my favorite summer sippers.
Clean, crisp Czech pilsners are always a great warm-weather choice, and it’s hard to beat the world’s most popular one: Pilsner Urquell ($2.09/12 ounces), brewed with Saaz hops since 1842, is slightly sweet and malty—the prototype for pilsner. A better bang-for-the-buck, though, is Lev Lion Lager ($2.10/500 ml.), with hints of honey, toasted bread and slightly spicy hops. And, speaking of bang-for-the-buck, I recently ran across a Czech beer I wasn’t familiar with: Zatec Bright Lager Beer ($1.72/500 ml.). It’s been discontinued at my local store, accounting for the low price. I thought maybe the beer was over the hill, but was surprised to find it nicely hopped with Czech Zatec hops and somewhat malty, with excellent carbonation—an all-around good pils.
A number of America’s best-known craft brewers make special summer beers. These are among the ones I like to sip on the patio. Anchor Steam has been making its Summer Beer ($2.01/12 ounces) for more than 30 years. It’s full of malted wheat goodness, but is light and dry. Noble hops and citrus notes (hints of lemon and lime) dominate Samuel Adams Summer Ale ($1.95/12 ounces), a really bright, refreshing warm-weather brew. From Bend, Ore., comes Deschutes Twilight Ale ($1.95/12 ounces), which employs five different types of whole-flower hops to impart nice grassy and citrus flavors to this great bottle of summer suds. And whenever I’m in New York City, I always make sure to score some Brooklyn Brewery Summer Ale ($1.50/12 ounces), which is dry-hopped and somewhat herbal, but with a firm malt backbone and zippy lemon flourishes.
A couple of German beers always make their way into my summer brew rotation. Up first, Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse ($2.24/500 ml.). This wheat beer is top-fermented and highly carbonated, which also makes it highly drinkable on hot days and nights, although you might get impatient waiting for the abundant head to settle—a classic hefe-weisse. I also really like Ayinger Jahrhundert Bier ($3.11/500 ml.). Like the Franziskaner, this one has a massive white head atop a clear, light golden-colored brew. It’s also nicely carbonated and refreshing, and slightly hoppy—a really nice lager.
A bit closer to home, Uinta Brewing Company has just put a new canning line into its operation and released canned Uinta Sum’r Ale ($1.50/12 ounces). It’s got light citrus notes and a hop profile that I really like. I tried to find out from Uinta what hops they use in their Sum’r Ale, but they weren’t “comfortable” sharing their secrets. Oh well; this is a beer that’ll be well-stocked in my fridge this summer. Another great summer brew from Uinta is Skipping Stone Summer Lager ($1.50/12 ounces), a bit more malty than the Sum’r Ale, but similarly light in body and very crisp—a good partner for sausages from the grill.
Finally, a few “not-the-usual-suspects.” Red Rock’s CoHOPeration ($3.47/500 ml.) was brewed in tandem with Oregon’s Pelican Brewery, a hop lover’s dream come true! Pyramid Apricot Ale ($1.85/12 ounces) has a perfect bitter/sweet balance, and brims with apricot essence. Unibroue Blanche de Chambly ($3.49/12 ounces) is a Belgian-style witbier, nice and spicy. And finally, nothing makes me happier in hot weather than an iced bucket of slammers: Schoenling Little King Cream Ales ($1.19/7 ounces).