Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and basically non-review posts here at the Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…
Memorial Day is upon us, and with it, the unofficial launch of summer. However, by the reckoning of the brewery releases, summer has been going on since late March / early April as the yellow labeled beers were appearing on shelves. That’s a Diversion for another time, but summer brings to mind lighter beers and for me, wheat-based beers. I’ll feature the big four that seem to be the most prominent summer beers (at least distributed in my area of Central New Jersey) then touch on some others. Once you’ve made it through the post, feel free to call out your favorites in the comments.
The elephant in the room is Boston Beer’s Sam Adams Summer Ale, as it should be since 2017 marks the 21st year Jim Koch’s Boston Beer has released the seasonal favorite. Summer ale is brewed with wheat, lemon zest and “grains of paradise.” For my palate, a is very refreshing beer that all other summer beers were compared against. For years, that was my go-to summer beer and my favorite of their regularly released beers. It is still an enjoyable beer, but over the past few years, other breweries have latched on to the trend by the market leader.
The other elephant in the room, especially if you tune into the Major League Baseball channel for more than five minutes, is Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. Quite a few people will look down their nose at this beer and style, but it is certainly refreshing. The style is a call-back (like many styles, natch), to the Germans and their Radler style of beer. So named after the German word for cyclist, the beer is traditionally a 50/50 mix of beer and lemonade given to bicycle messengers/delivery people to refresh and rehydrate in the heat. Leinenkugel started the trend in the US and quite a few breweries are selling this refreshing style of brew during spring/summer, many tweaking the flavor profile with blueberry, watermelon, ginger, pumpkin (in the fall), and grapefruit (the most disgusting fruit).
Sierra Nevada brews a special pilsner for distribution in the summer season, Summerfest. Pilsner is a very popular style, but is especially suited to summer-time consumption. The style is very crisp and on a hot day extremely refreshing. I think it was first released in 2001. At least that is when the venerable Beer Advocate added it to their beer reviews.
The pilsner style is great for summer and the craft brew innovator smartly capitalized on that years ago. I try to get at least a sixpack of this every year and with my growing predilection for Pilsners, I think I may have more of this one over the summer months. This one is available in both cans and bottles.
Last but not least, the fourth of the big Summer Beers (at least in the Northeast), would be Yuengling Summer Wheat. For years, Yuengling stuck by a relatively consistent portfolio of beers, but in 2014 they launched Summer Wheat, which is their interpretation of a German Hefeweizen. Frankly, for a brewery as old as Yuengling is, it took them a surprisingly long time to release such a traditional style. In my opinion, the wait was worth it. Hefeweizen is one of my top 2 or 3 favorite styles of beer and the fine folks at Yuengling have crafted a fantastic interpretation of the style.
When my wife and I visited the brewery in late April in 2015, they had tapped the first keg of the season that day, so that was quite fortunate timing. The only thing Yuengling needs to do with this beer is distribute in cans.
Two other local NJ favorites are River Horse’s Summer Blonde, a crisp, blonde ale and Flying Fish’s Farmhouse Summer Ale, the Jersey craft-stalwart’s take on a Saison. One state over, Victory brews Summer Love for the summer months, a golden ale.
Breaking away from those specific beers branded as “Summer,” pilsners make for solid summer beers, some great ones include Two Roads Ol’ Factory Pils, Founder’s recently re-released PC Pils, and what many consider the flagship pilsner of American Craft Beer – Victory’s Prima Pils. All of these beers are available in cans, which makes them easier to transport, keep in coolers, and trash. There’s something about enjoying a crushable beer in a can that just feels right when sitting by a pool.
Wheat beers also work well in the summer, a very popular Pale Wheat Ale is Bell’s Oberon Ale. The style is similar to Sam Adams Summer Wheat, but the beer has a more orange hue and more of a kick of spice at the end of the beer. Unfortunately, Oberon Ale has limited availability in New Jersey. I’m lucky enough to be friends with a co-worker who lives in Pennsylvania who gave me a couple of bottles. I’ll be posting a review of it in the near future.
I could also easily pass a summer afternoon throwing back a classic German Hefeweizen like Weihenstephaner’s Hefeweissbier or one of Schneider & Sohn’s many variations on the Hefeweizen. For American interpretations of the classic German Style, the pillar of American Craft’s take on it is Widmer’s Hefeweizen. Sierra Nevada’s Kellerweis is a fantastic interpretation of a Hefeweizen, once a seasonal release but now year-round.
The last style I’ll touch on is Gose. A recently “rediscoverd” style, Gose (pronounced Go-zuh) is unsurprisingly an old German style, with a sour/salty flavor profile. The pop of flavor on a warm summer day is really nice, and especially when a brewery like Victory throws cherries into the mix for their Kirsch Gose, or Long Trail throws cranberries into their Gose. Westbrook makes two wonderful Gose beers, their standard Gose and their more seasonal and more difficult to find Key Lime Pie Gose, too. The balance of sweet, tart, and sour, plus the typically low ABV, fits well with warm weather beer drinking.
Ciders are also great for summertime consumption, but that could be an entire Draught Diversion itself and this Diversion has probably reached its limit of keeping your attention.
So, what do prefer to throw back during the warm summer months?