Article By: Andy Crouch
Brewers have long embraced the changing consumer drinking patterns that accompany shifting weather patterns, helping fuel the demand for seasonal products. These beers often appear as little known styles, such as Kolsch or Helles, often rebranded by savvy breweries as Summer Ales. People usually associate the summer months with the typical ‘lawnmower beer’, often a freezing cold light lager, preferably in a can, with little hop bite, a low malt level and little character to get in the way of pure refreshment. While certainly hitting the spot on a blisteringly hot day, these beers offer little more than a brief liquid respite from the conditions. For the more discriminating beer drinker, warmer weather offers new opportunities to enjoy a wide range of styles and flavors that are equally as refreshing as the can of Lite.
While the usual summer suspects include hefeweizen, American wheat ale, and maybe even a few India Pale Ales, there exists a whole other range of lesser appreciated beers that remain both approachable and thirst quenching. Far from a lawnmower beer or an extension of the ubiquitous American-style lager, these lighter bodied styles are distinctive, wonderfully expressive beers with independent and valuable characteristics that deserve appreciation. Generally lower in alcohol, these beers offer the session drinker an opportunity to sample a few in a sitting, all without palate or alcohol fatigue.
Often overlooked by hard-core beer geeks, these easy drinking beers represent focused offerings with clean malt and hop flavors, whose subtlety is a thing of beauty too often lost in the sea of palate bruising bigger beers. Their flavors range from soft and gentle hop grassiness to bready and light malt toastiness, depending upon the style, all while remaining accessible for novice drinkers looking to go beyond their usual macro-produced favorites.
When it comes to seasonal appeal, beer beats everything else that you sell. For every change in the weather, from warm to cool, sun to snow, there is a beer style to meet the conditions. In the chilling months of winter, frostbitten beer drinkers sooth their shivering souls with dark, hearty beers, including bocks, porters and imperial stouts. With the brightening of days and spirits, even the briefest hints of renewing sunshine requires the selection of new beers.
If you have spent any time in Germany, especially near Munich, you have likely tried this style of beer (pronounced ‘hell-us’), perhaps without even knowing it at an Oktoberfest celebration. Developed in the late nineteenth-century by Bavarian brewers to compete with their Czech pilsener rivals, this classic lager focuses on a mild yet grainy malt flavor and possesses a light and sometimes spicy hop bitterness. While a bit hoppy, the smooth-drinking bready Munich malt flavor is key to the popularity of the Helles style, which is often sold under the generic Lager designation in southern Germany. With a sustainable, tight white head of foam and striking golden color, a glass of the clean, medium-bodied Helles is sure to catch your eye and convince you to order another round.
Stoudts Brewing Company
alcohol content 4.7% ABV
Another great offering from a brewery that prides itself on its wide-selection of lager beers. The Gold pours a pleasant light golden color with a slight head and moderate carbonation level. The aroma is slightly grassy at times with minute wheat and corny hints. The medium-body provides a quick splash of diverse yet clean malt flavors, ranging from bready to slightly nutty, and the tight carbonation dishes out a brief yet sharp bitterness that corrals all of the flavors into a tightly contained package. Despite its sharper notes, the underlying maltiness results in a smooth, eminently drinkable helles.
Victory Brewing Company
alcohol content 4.8% ABV
Pennsylvania knows how to make lagers. Victory’s Helles offering pours with a brilliant and striking gold color and a prodigious, fluffy white head. The Lager’s aroma boasts bready Munich malts, fresh, clean and zesty hop notes, and an airy grassy quality that attracts you for another pass at the nose. The beer’s flavor is much fuller than the nose suggests, with a pleasant and clean texture, light toasted malt notes, a touch of fruit esters, some hop earthiness, and a carbonation and hop bite that rounds out the maltier edges. Clean and fresh from start to finish, Lager’s crispness is remarkable and irresistible at times.
MUNICH-STYLE GOLDEN LAGER
Thomas Hooker Brewing Company
alcohol content 4.6% ABV
Bright golden with yellow-amber flecks and a small top of tacky white foam, this Helles maintains an even keel between the competing elements of malt and hops. The former dominates the aroma with a mixture of Moravian and German varieties that give off cereal, buttery and lightly toasted notes, while the bittering German and Czech noble hops throw off delicate teems of earthy, herbal bites. Balance is key here and it stays solid from start to finish in this well-constructed lager.
Pennsylvania Brewing Company
alcohol content 4.O% ABV
Rounding out the Helles offerings is yet another classic example from a Pennsylvania brewery. Penn Gold is often considered one of the leading examples of the Helles style produced in America. A deep dusty golden color with small tufts of foam, Penn Gold offers a particularly malty nose balanced by a mere touch of some herbal German noble hops. A cereal grain sweetness pervades the beer, with bready malt diversions, followed by a flavor rounding Hallertau spiciness. Well-rounded on all accounts, the Penn Gold typifies the drinkability of the Helles style.
As with many styles, the Blonde/Golden Ale style is a twist on another classic style, this time the German Kolsch. Very light in color, usually pale gold or straw, the best examples are crisp and dry, well-attenuated, with a mild maltiness for balance. A popular entry-level take on the prototypical American lager, craft brewers often use the beer to transition macro drinkers to a more flavorful alternative. Different versions of this beer may weigh heavier on the bready or toasted malt side or even exhibit some mild bitterness and a light fruitiness.
alcohol content 7.5% ABV
Hailing from their brewery on Nantucket, this full bodied golden ale is a touch stronger in terms of alcohol and flavor than most traditional versions of the style. Often served in a 75Oml bottle, Bailey’s pours a deep gold color with orange hints and substantial lacing. The nose boasts an eclectic array of grassy, fruity and lightly malty aromas, clean and encouraging, with a touch of carbonation bite and zest. The medium body offers another round of light pale maltiness mixed with an earthy hop character and a solid, present bitterness that continues through to a mildly fruity finish. A definite step up from more tepid Blonde Ale offerings.
One of a handful of truly American styles of beer to pre-date the craft beer movement, Cream Ales are often described as a hybrid-style, bridging the gap between ales and lagers. Brewed with either an ale or lager yeast, and sometimes both, sometimes warm fermented and cold conditioned, the style was created to compete with the developing American light lager category. Larger brewers will sometimes use adjuncts, such as rice or corn, to help lighten the beer’s body, while craft brewers often choose to produce fuller all-malt varieties. Cream Ales and Lagers are pale in color, light in body, with very little bitterness, a mild fruit ester aroma, and a gentle pale malt flavor that is smoothed out when lagered.
Lagunitas Brewing Company
alcohol content 7.O% ABV
This bigger offering from Lagunitas starts with a translucent orange hue and a craggy off-white head. The aroma is filled with fresh candy malt notes, wrapped in thin blankets of herbal, grassy and slightly fruity hop notes. Upping the alcohol level here results in some rather unusual complexity, bounding from the honey-like malt notes to an array of fruits, including orange and apple, and topped off with a mild earthy backbone. The finish remains dry with fruity and bitter hop accents and the cold-conditioning that often mellows the Cream Ale style occasionally peeks its head through the layered mixture of flavors.
A step up in terms of flavor from many more traditional Cream Ales.
The Tap Brewing Company
alcohol content 4.5% ABV
Located in an historic building in downtown Haverhill, the brewery uses its Cream Ale as an entry level beer for its beer wary customers. As a tool towards this end, the HaverAle boasts a deep golden color with a moderate off-white head that leaves some lacing on the glass. Full of caramel and toasted malt notes, with hints of fruit and a touch of earthy hops, the aroma well-characterizes this classic American style’s balance between ale and lager characteristics. The ensuing flavor tends towards the maltier side, with caramel taking the lead, followed by a mellow fruity finish.
Things do tend to get a bit hazy when people contemplate the distinctions between certain European lager styles, but it is slight differences that make these beers classics. Take the Dortmunder style for example, a nineteenth-century development of the German town of the same name. Dortmunder beers, occasionally referred to as ‘Exports’ due to an old German tax system designation, offer the best of both beer worlds; a sweet and sometimes bready European malt flavor, similar to the Helles style, mixed with a pronounced mid-level bitterness and noble hoppiness, reminiscent of the German Pilsener branch of lager brewing. A style that is having great difficulty retaining interest in its home country, Americans produce a handful of excellent versions of this classic style.
SUMMER of LAGER
alcohol content 6.2% ABV
Another offering from the farm brewery on Nantucket Island, not far from the relaxed glitz of the place, the Summer of Lager shares its home with the family’s that is also home to a winery and distillery. It pours a deep gold and slightly hazed color with substantial light foam and aroma that is clean and slightly corny at times, with European malt notes and a whiff of fruit esters with an added touch of wheat. As the bright beer warms, its clean, bready malt flavors come to rest on top of a reserved but earthy and even spicy noble hop bitterness. The finish mixes the toasted malt and herbal hop bitterness for a dry and refreshing finish.
Great Lakes Brewing Company
alcohol content 5.8% ABV
The pride of a particularly deep portfolio at this Midwestern brewing powerhouse, the Dortmunder Gold is perhaps America’s best version of the style and remains a classic beer for transitioning hesitant macro drinkers to the glories of craft beer. Pouring a deep golden color with amber flecks and a sizable sustained off-white head, the clean aroma ignites with subtle yet passionate hints of European malt with touches of wheat and bready, toasted malt. The flavor-forward, accessible body presents a short bolt of light fruity notes that quickly gives way to a well-structured, mildly toasted malt base, and a clean, crisp and sometimes flinty finish.
DOG DAYS DORTMUNDER
Two Brothers Brewing Company
alcohol content 4.9% ABV
This seasonal offering helps folks in the Chicago metro area and beyond deal with the brutally hot days of summer. Filling the glass with a rich, bright golden yellow color and a substantial head, Dog Days is a good looking beer. The aroma fuses gentle toasted and caramel malt notes with waves of fresh, herbal, noble hops for a clean, drinkable lager. The dominating malt flavors give way towards a moderate but pleasant earthy bitterness that keeps the structure sound.
When customers come in looking
for some relief from the growing heat,
or just a solid glass of beer,
think of these easy drinking styles. The artful balancing of full flavor, approachability, and thirst quenching qualities makes these styles the perfect accompaniment to summer outdoor activities, whether it be fishing, gardening, or just enjoying an escape from the great indoors.