Summer Beers with Brains

Who said heat calls for swill?

By Lessley Anderson and Roxanne Webber

Bell's Oberon
Bell’s Oberon

Dogfish Head Festina Pêche
Dogfish Head Festina Pêche

Oskar Blues Mama's Little Yella Pils
Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils

We’ve been conditioned to think that a summer beer must be light, watery, and tasteless. While it’s true that you don’t want to drink a thick, chewy porter in the heat, there are plenty of flavorful beers that can be quite refreshing. CHOW staffers tasted selections from all over the world and chose 10 amazing summer beers for 2009. Some must be obtained from either specialty importers like Shelton Brothers or through trading on sites like Others are available nationally. Joining us for the tasting: San Francisco craft brewer Dave McLean, owner of Magnolia Pub & Brewery and the Alembic bar. To find out how to correctly pour these beers, watch Dave’s video.

1. Sierra Nevada Kellerweis. The latest release from craft beer leader Sierra is a Bavarian-style hefeweizen (a German wheat beer) that’s light-bodied but bright and satisfying, with hints of clove and citrus. It would be perfect with hot dogs. (Another beer we liked that’s similar but harder to find is Royal Weisse from Pennsylvania brewery Sly Fox. It’s good for camping because it’s sold in cans.)

2. Bell’s Oberon. A favorite among Midwestern Chowhounds, this wheat beer from Kalamazoo, Michigan, is effervescent, golden, and crisp, but with a little hoppy bitterness that gives it an invigorating finish.

3. Dogfish Head Festina Pêche. The summer release from experimental Delaware craft brewer Dogfish Head is fashioned after a somewhat obscure style of German wheat beer called a Berliner Weisse. Dogfish Head’s version is brewed with peach juice, in a nod to how Germans traditionally serve it (they sometimes add fruit syrup to counteract the beer’s aggressive tartness). Yet it’s not at all sweet; it’s like classy, sour spiked lemonade. Dave thinks its acidity is begging to cut through the fat of a bacon burger.

4. Russian River Brewing Company Blind Pig IPA. Beers containing massive amounts of grapefruity-tasting, West Coast–grown hops have become wildly popular. Once you acquire the taste, it becomes difficult not to want more—a condition Russian River Brewing Company’s Vinnie Cilurzo calls the “lupulin threshold shift.” Contrary to what you might think, extra-bitter IPAs like Blind Pig are great for summer, the same way plunging into a very cold stream is good for summer: clears out your senses.

5. Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils. This is the type of light, crisp pilsner you’re used to from Budweiser and Tecate, but classed up with a malty backbone and low-key spice from the hops. Dave calls this Colorado offering: “What Americans think of as ‘lawn mower beer,’ only good.” In other words, serve this to random in-laws and they will not think you’re weird. Bonus points for the fact that it comes in a can!

6. The Bruery Trade Winds Tripel Ale. Pounding Belgian tripels on a hot summer day might sound all wrong because of their high alcohol content, full body, and often very intense and sweet flavors. However, Orange County’s Bruery makes the style work for the season by keeping the sweetness and heavy body in check. The resulting beer is refreshing, crisp, and light, with lots of carbonation. But don’t worry, summer partyers, the Bruery retained the 8 percent alcohol by volume.

7. Nøgne ∅ Saison. Norwegian microbrewer Nøgne ∅ makes its saison with wheat and lager malt and two types of hops. The beer pours light and frothy, with a hazy golden color and a good amount of carbonation. No surprises here: It tastes wheaty with a good kick of hops, but also has spice, citrus, and fruit flavors hanging out, which gives it a fresh smell. A taster said she really wanted to drink some with grilled corn on the cob.

8. Brouwerij Kerkom Bink Blond. Overall an easy, light-bodied drinker, but still flavorful and interesting enough to bring as a hostess gift for your beer nerd friends. Bink is considered one of the hoppiest Belgian beers, but it still maintains some of the malty fruitiness of a golden ale. If you were picking up one beer for a summer bash, this would be a safe bet.

9. Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca. Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin brews this witbier year-round, but we think it’s particularly good in the summer because it falls on the tart end of the witbier spectrum, as opposed to the baking-spice-flavored versions that abound. It’s very light-bodied, dry, and refreshing.

10. Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus. If you’re scared to try a raspberry beer because you think it’s going to taste like candy or resemble last summer’s horrific raspberry-pomegranate-flavored Michelob Ultra, it’s time to face your fears and pick up this beer by the venerable Belgian lambic brewery Cantillon. It’s made by fermenting lambic in wooden casks with fresh raspberries (no artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners are added), which results in a beer with an incredibly true raspberry smell, a mouth-puckering tartness, a superdry finish, and a beautiful reddish-coppery color.

Also: Take a look at our picks for 2007 and 2008. They’re still good!

CHOW’s The Ten column appears every Tuesday.

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