I didn’t think it was possible, either. Sure, we drink them happily, but people have come to understand them as thirst-quenching light beverages you can have six of when survival depends on constantly having a frosty can in your hand. To borrow a phrase from the rosé-verse, it’s #summerwater.
And for the avid beer enthusiast, “water” is not a word you want anywhere near your malty hop concoctions. But fret not! We tasted a very wide selection of the ones on our shelves, and lived to tell you this: these guys have some serious flavor.
And really, we should expect no less from the innovative brewing outlets making this bunch of seasonal offerings. From fruit beers & sour ales to lagers & hefeweizens, just about every refreshing style is represented here, all in unique presentations that challenge our basic notions of what a summer beer should taste like. Read on to find the one that suits your palate and needs, whether you’re the IPA lover going camping this weekend, or the Blue Moon-advocate trying to appeal to your friends on the golf course.
- Harpoon Summer—To start, the lightest of the bunch is definitely this 4.8% kolsch brewed by Rich & Dan of Harpoon after they visited Germany and fell in love with the style. It drinks like a lager, with an ultra-smooth buttery body, lemony hop bitterness, and an aroma reminiscent of some of the bigger-name crushable pale ales & lagers (which we won’t name here).
- Brooklyn Summer Ale—Brewed in the style of lighter “dinner ales” (also known as family ales or luncheon ales) popular in England in the 1800s, this faintly earthy & spicy beer uses English barley malts to attain a flavor like fresh bread, while German & American hops give a crisp floral finish. This is not a beer jam-packed with flavor, but the ones present are subtle and balanced, making it a perfect beer to have with a meal. 5%
- Cisco Summer of Lager—A classic Bohemian pilsner, brewed in the traditional Bavarian style common in colder climates (where you can pretend to be while you enjoy this bottom-fermenting lager from Nantucket). Bready malts and an assertive noble hop finish offer nothing fancy, just an elegantly-executed take on an archetypal beer. 5.5%
- Baxter Summer Swelter—Not quite a wheat beer and not quite a fruit beer, this canned offering starts with the standard summer base of wheat malts and citrusy hops, then throws caution to the wind by adding kaffir lime leaves, lemon & lime peel, and lemongrass. Unfiltered and medium-bodied, the sweet cloudiness of this beer is cut by conspicuous dry lime peel. It transports you to a tropical climate, and made us immediately crave coconut curry. Enjoy with Indian, Thai, Mexican—any cuisine that features limes prominently. 4.7%
- Peak Organic Summer Session—Summer beers showcase the myriad things brewers can accomplish with the basic formula of wheat malts and fruity hops, and Peak’s summer crusher shows us just how much a difference farm-fresh ingredients make. Using several local farms to grow their wheat & hops (some of whom we get produce & grain from at AP), Peak has created a summer beer for IPA lovers, with vegetal aromas, crazy fresh leafy flavors, and a sweet Amarillo hop profile. This beer is cloudy with a complex mouthfeel, and straight up smells like a salad. 5%
- Mayflower Summer Rye Ale—A spicy little number from Plymouth, MA that employs rye to keep bready malts dry & refreshing. This ale is smooth, with a faint fruity bitterness, thirst-quenching sour notes, and a lean finish that makes it great with food. 3.8%
- Anderson Valley Summer Solstice—And now, for something completely different. This beer is summery in the way that frappes are—milky & soft, with a faint aroma of bourbon and a finish that is all caramel. It’s easy to see why Anderson Valley refers to this as adult cream soda. Darker than the others, this beer has a touch of spice and a malty body, with flavors nearly identical to our Big Picture Farm caramels. Drink this one ice cold to guarantee refreshing summery brightness, or let it linger in your glass on a cool night to really capture all of its nuanced flavors. 5%
- Ithaca Cayuga Cruiser—It wouldn’t be a summer beer list without a Berliner Weisse, and we’re pretty into this 4.2% one, which was brewed by Ithaca for the 2014 SAVOR craft beer fest in Washington, D.C. Presenting right out of the gates with a lactic tang and faint sweet fruits like apricot & banana, this beer finishes dry & tart, optimal for the all-day, err-day lemonade drinker (if it’s too tart, do like the Germans and add a little fruit syrup to any Berliner Weisse to make it more palatable—we like the Quince & Apple Rhubarb Hops or Tart Cherry Grenadine).
- Mystic Hazey Jane—A summer saison! A style not otherwise represented on this list, from a brewery in Chelsea, MA who have dedicated their livelihood to perfecting it. This wild-yeast-infused wheat beer is kept crisp with citrusy American & Japanese hops, for a profile that is all funk, pepper, melon, & candied citrus peels. A style originally brewed for migrant farmers who worked in the fields all day but didn’t have potable water, this 6% saison wants to be your summer water.
- 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon— A lot of shade gets thrown at fruit beers. And for a while, it was rightfully so—in the infantile stages of the American craft brewing scene, the ones on the market were almost intolerably sweet & syrupy. But just as the white zinfandels of the 80s & 90s have blossomed into a sophisticated rosé trend, we think fruit beers are ready for their comeback. And no one is more suited to be their ambassador than this dangerously drinkable summer-in-a-can from San Francisco’s 21st Amendment. Made with 100% pure fresh watermelon & pale white wheat malts, this is sweet yet dry, crisp yet oh-so-fruit juicy. A wheat beer that isn’t thick, a fruit beer that isn’t cloying—in short, not too far from perfection. 4.9%
- Uinta Sum’r— A citrusy American blond ale, brewed with Japanese Sorachi hops. This 4% golden brew is fresh, clean, and smooth, with a pleasant hop presence that takes a backseat to the dominant light malts. A hazy pale straw body and fluffy, creamy head make it oh-so-inviting on a hot day.
- Port Brewing SPA—The highest ABV on the list at 6%, and by far the hoppiest, San Marcos, CA’s Port Brewing has crafted a Summer Pale Ale with a massive dose of West Coast hops to really make you feel like you’re partying in the Golden State. Subtle pine and a tangerine bitterness on the finish make for a food-friendly beer that we think belongs on your porch on those nights when it’s too hot to sleep inside.
- The Bruery Hottenroth— One of the best parts of Berliner Weisse (and sour beers in general) is their ratio of alcohol to flavor. If you shy away from summer beers because weak ABV often equals weak taste, try this 3.1% (3.1%!) lacto/brett fermented mother pucker, where a golden low-gravity wheat beer with zero hop bitterness somehow manages to pack more flavor than practically anything on this list (think Sweet Tarts & Sour Patch Kids).
- Narragansett Del’s Shandy— Aside from the obvious seasonal ingredients required to make a good summer, Narragansett has landed on one here that is ubiquitous, though not discussed much when it comes to crafting a beer—nostalgia. No one goes through summer without a few glimpses into summers past, a few walks down an ancient boardwalk or enjoying an ice cream treat that was invented decades ago. If you knew Del’s as a kid, or if you were practically a Narragansett shareholder in college (or both), this beer is a real treat. Cereal grain malts keep it classic ‘gansett, while sticky sweet lemon make it Del’s. We recommend drinking this freezing cold on a hot day. 5%