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Summer Beers 2011

Since today is the Summer Solstice, thought it would be a good day to talk about summer beers.

Each year I go to my local beer store that sells singles of anything they have in the store (buy 12 and get a 15% disount - which just brings the individual bottle/can prices more in line with buying a six pack) and pick out all the summer beers and grade them based on what I think makes a great summer beer - refreshment, balance, drinkability, and if its flavor is interesting enough to keep me interested in the beer. My selections are mostly New England centric since I live in New England and these are what were available at the store 2 weeks ago:

Peak Organic Summer Session - Pale ale - 4/5
Spritzy carbonation, citrusy hop flavor, light sweetness, finishes with firm hop dryness. Could have been really good but a slight grassy, oxidized hop aroma/flavor held it back.

Berkshire Gold Spike - Kolsch - 4/5
Not advertised as a summer beer per se, but its the right style for warm weather refreshment. German noble hop aroma combines with hay like maltiness to make a very clean, refreshing, drinkable beer.

Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager - Pilsner - 4/5
Clean, crisp, drinkable. Moderate spicy/floral hop aroma and sweet bready malt with a touch of sulfur/mineral flavors from the lager yeast. Interesting enough to get me to buy a few 12 packs each year.

Wachusett Summer- American Wheat - 3.5/5
Brewed with lemon flavoring. Refreshing, clean and well balanced - light lemony snap on the backend.

Narraganset Summer Ale - Pale Ale - 3.5/5
A pretty good pale ale with classic microbrew pale ale flavor (Cascades hops?)- a little sweet with light caramel malt flavor, but has decent balance and a clean finish.

Sam Adams Summer - American Wheat - 3.5/5
Brewed with lemon peel and grains of paradise. More refreshing and less cloying than I remember it being in the past - subdued spices when cold, but grains of paradise leaves an unclean finish when it warms.

Harpoon Summer Ale- Kolsch - 3/5
Doughy malt flavor, lightly carbed for smooth mouthfeel, clean when cold but hop/yeast aroma is slightly pukey when warm.

Brooklyn Summer Ale- Pale ale - 3/5
Bready english pale malt flavor, grassy hops, but englishy hop/yeast profile becomes less clean and not as drinkable as it warms.

Otter Creek Summer Ale -Pale Ale/American Wheat - 3/5
Probably the most interesting summer beer flavorwise, but medium thick mouthfeel and substantial caramel malts make this not quite as refreshing as I'd like.

Southern Tier Hop Sun - American Wheat - 2.5/5
There's no there, there. Very little flavor from hops or malt until it warms then there's a little froot loop fruitiness. Clean and drinkable, but not interesting enough for more than one.

Geary's Summer - Amber ale - 2/5
Advertised as a Kolsch but tastes more like an amber or esb. Nutty, caramelly, clean up front, no buttery diacetyl flavor but finishes with classic diacetyl slickness and a slight astringency.

Goose Island Summertime - Kolsch - 1.5/5
Lemonaid like tartness, substantial sulfur aroma, vinegary malt flavor. Poorly homebrewed kolsch at best.

Mayflower Summer Rye - Rye Ale - 1/5
Looked and tasted like someone mixed 25% lemonade with 75% seltzer water. Light lemony flavor if anything - no spiciness from the yeast like last year which made it interesting. Lots of chalky yeast sediment - if poured, makes it look like milk.

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  1. Nice list. Goose Island Summertime is not very good, but their 312 is much better (American Wheat I believe).
    If you can find them in New England, Iyou may want to try Bells Oberon, Three Floyd's Gumbalhead, and Two Brothers Domaine Dupage. These aren't specifically "summer" beers, but are my favorite summertime beers since moving to the midwest from New England.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Shaggy

      Bell's Oberon is probably one of the best summery type beers I've had - not in new england though. The last time I had it, was at Buddy Guy's in Chicago last May - tasted great even from a plastic cup.

      1. re: LStaff

        bonus question is what was Oberon originally called? I know that one, but can't recall the details to the answer to the second question, which is why was the name changed?

        1. re: Jim Dorsch

          I had to google it. I knew the name was changed at one point, but did not remember the name.

          Death of Solsun, birth of Oberon
          In the mid-1990s all the sororities at Western Michigan University for fall rush used the logo of Bell's Solsun beer on their T-shirts - around 600 of them, according to Bell's Brewing Co. owner Larry Bell.

          Bell wanted to protect his logo so he filed for copyright protection. The Mexican brewing company Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma, which was started in 1890, found out about the Bell's brand and sued over naming rights because it had a product called El Sol (The Sun). The Mexican company let Bell keep the logo, but the name of Solsun had to be changed.

          In 1996, Bell selected the name Oberon, referencing the Fairy King in Shakespeare's play "A Midsummer Night's Dream." He said it was a fun name and also had six letters, like Solsun. In addition, Bell played the part of Oberon in sixth grade. In the play, Oberon gives his wife a potion that causes her to fall in love.

          1. re: LStaff

            Thanks, I couldn't remember who had asked him to change the name.

    2. Great Divide's Collette is a really nice summery saison, in 12-oz bottles.

        1. I have been drinking New Belgium Somersault for the last couple sessions and have to admit, it is really growing on me as my fave this summer. I know they can no longer be considered a microbrew but who cares if it's good. Skinny Dip from last summer was good and different but the new one is a decent sub.

          2 Replies
          1. re: LorenM

            I never feel guilty about drinking New Belgium ....

            1. re: hawkeyeui93

              I've been drinking my share of their Hoptoberfest.

          2. Lots of good choices these days for summer beers, and I like a light and crisp moderate to low ABV beer during the summer....but I do still reach just as often for a Guinness. Don't know why, but it's a damned refreshing summer drink to me.
            Seems to me that the folks in the tropics have the right idea.

            1. Thanks for the great post. I was about to buy a 6-pack of the mayflower (I've really enjoyed several of their offerings), but I'll steer clear.

              1. Saranac Summer - pretty refreshing but a bit too much of a lemon flavor for me.

                Flying Dog Woody Creek White (their summer seasonal) - Belgian style wit beer, enjoyed it more than others I've had in that style lately.

                1. I had some Southern Tier 422 Pale Wheat Ale over the weekend. Not advertised as a summer beer, but was more interesting to me than Hop Sun. It had a nice wheat malt flavor and what seemed like hints of fruity coriander - clean yeast profile and very drinkable.

                  1. Avery White Rascal and Mana Brewery wheat beer brewed w/ pineapple juice.

                    1. Victory's Summer Love is my choice this summer.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: 1stand3rd

                        Anderson Valley Summer Solstice is a good malty beer.

                      2. Big fan of three already mentioned: Sierra Nevada Summerfest, Bell's Oberon, and Victory Summer Love. For pure "lawnmower beer" type of summer beer, I always turn to Bell's Lager of the Lakes. Also a big fan of Surly Hell (pilsner). And Alaska Summer (kolsch)

                        Tried the Brooklyn Summer Ale. Meh.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Brad Ballinger

                          Recently from Brooklyn Brewery, I've tried "The Concoction", which is a Brewmaster Reserve release that they describe as "Based off a delightful Scotch-based cocktail called The Penicillin and combining peat smoked malt, minced ginger, lemon juice and wildflower honey". It's basically a spiced summer ale with a 7.6% ABV. I can't really call this a "good" beer, but it's certainly interesting. I have ordered it multiple times. You can definitely pick up all of the aforementioned flavoring components and if you reflect upon it as a riff off a cocktail, it makes a lot more sense when you drink it. Not for everyone for sure, but it's made for an interesting brunch beer the last few weeks.

                          1. re: Silverjay

                            I tried it recently on tap at Capone's, and I must say that it did include all the taste profiles you described. I am glad I tasted it, but I could NEVER envision myself drinking even a nine oz glass of this. It definitely is an acquired taste.

                            1. re: Silverjay

                              Just tasted the Concoction today! The consensus among bar patrons was mainly negative reviews, although a couple of the bartenders did like it. It smelled like a bunch of herbs but I couldn't put a finger on which ones. And I don't know that I could even begin to describe the flavor! I just had a small sample.

                              Also had the Anchor Summer. Quite drinkable and smooth.

                              1. re: Silverjay

                                It scarred me, Brooklyn Concoction. Had it at Rudy's in New Haven. Was the special. Chalkboard at my end of the bar said it was smoky. I took a sip and made a face. Bartender asked, "Do you hate it?" I said, "I dunno, gimme a while. I gotta get used to it."

                                Sour taste made me want to scrape my tongue. Once it finally dissipated, I was reluctant to reintroduce it. But I made myself take another sip. Worked my way through about two ounces that way. Put down my glass. Started chatting. Tried to walk away from it. Gal I was with reminded me. "Oh, DON'T forget your beer!"

                                I flinched.

                                Noticed chalkboard with specials at other end of the bar on my way out. This one read, "TASTES LIKE LIQUID CHICKEN!"


                            2. Been sampling new beers to me all summer. So far the good have been Bell's Two-Hearted Ale, Victory Summer Love, DFH 60 Minute, and Lagunitas Lil Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale. All good stuff and light for summer.

                              1. My favorites this summer fall between two regional ones: Point's Nude Beach [WI] and Grain Belt Nordeast [MN], which isn't a Summer-only offering, but was finally available for sale outside of Minnesota.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: hawkeyeui93

                                  My favorite summer brews are Bell's Oberon, Surly Hell and my all time favorite beer ever.....Surly Bitter Brewer.

                                2. The sun is shining and I wish I had a Three Floyds Gumballhead. Later in the summer I'll look forward to Alesmith Summer Yulesmith - not necessarily everyone's idea of a summer beer, but I just love it. I also knock back a fair amount of Full Sail Session Lager in the summer - it's refreshing and the price is right.

                                  1. I'm waiting for Victory Summer Love to come back next month.

                                    1. Sierra Nevada summerfest has been quenching my thirst very nicely the last couple of weeks. Here's to reasonably priced, well made, fresh craft lager - we need more.........

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: LStaff

                                        Last summer, I had Victory Summer Love in a bar and really liked it. However, I was too late to buy a case. Everyone was already sold out. I usually pay between $25-$30 for a case of Victory Prima Pils or Hop Devil, but I understand that Summer Love can go for around $40/case. Is that in line with most seasonal beers?

                                        1. re: Philly Ray

                                          Paid $30.49/cs at Joe Canal's (Lawrenceville, NJ) last summer for Summer Love- same price as I paid for Victory Lager and Headwaters Ale around the same time.

                                          (And 50ยข more than the current sale price of HopDevil, Prima and Lager currently. http://jcanals.com/newsletter/pdffile... ).

                                          1. re: JessKidden

                                            I bought two cases yesterday at a beer distributor in Philly for $32.99/case. I called a different place a couple of weeks ago to see if it was in and I could swear they told me that they charge over $40/case.

                                            But now I'm stocked for the beginning of Summer.