Sunday, June 8, 2008

Picks for Summer 2008

Now I get to break down my picks for this summer. Starting with the most common beers that you would find at most restaurants and grocery stores to the beers you really have to look for in North Idaho.

Last year I gave kudos to Coors with their “Blue Moon” Belgian-style wheat ale which is now a favorite for many beer consumers year round…but now I get to give their competition a plug.

Anheuser-Busch’s Beach Bum Blonde Ale

As the summer months gradually increase the temperatures of our weekends, adults everywhere can look forward to enjoying one of A-B’s specialty, seasonal beers while relaxing in the sun. Now available for a second year in bottles and some taps around town, Beach Bum Blonde Ale, an all-malt, traditional American blonde ale, is just the thing to refresh beach bums traveling to the coastline or those who prefer to stay home. This blonde ale, which draws its deep golden color from a choice selection of pale and caramel roasted barley malt, is brewed with imported Alsace and Hallertau hops, as well as Cascade hops from the Pacific Northwest. Using a dry-hopping technique, hops are not only added to the brew kettle, but also included in the aging tank, giving the specialty beer its distinct and pronounced hop aroma. Beach Bum Blonde Ale’s slight malty sweetness makes it a delicious complement to summertime fare, including barbecue dishes, fresh salads and fish. To best showcase its deep, golden color, pour and enjoy this seasonal ale in a pub-style glass.

Pyramid’s Curve Ball
This beer I have to plug again. Inspired by the traditional Kölsch style beers of Cologne, Germany, Curve Ball boasts a clean, crisp, slightly herbal taste and a lighter body. With its new and improved taste to compete with the “other” citrus summer beers, Curve Ball is the perfect accompaniment to summer grilling and ballpark outings.

Big Sky’s Summer Honey (Great on Tap)
When the days get longer and the air gets warmer, we get outside quite a bit. And we build a big thirst. Summer Honey helps us shake off the winter and slakes our thirst for a refreshing brew. Summer Honey is a full-flavored summer seasonal ale. Brewed with a unique, balanced blend of spices, Northwest Hops, and Montana honey. Summer Honey is brewed during the early days of spring and released around the first of May each year. Light colored, light bodied, and very drinkable, Summer Honey sacrifices nothing to create a flavorful beer that can be enjoyed during the height of the summer.

Skinny Dip
From the makers of Fat Tire of which I just have to use their verbiage because it’s just so witty,
New Belgium’s Skinny Dip is a full-bodied, figure-friendly beer that’s designed for the summer dress code. With the same amount of calories as most light beers, it makes this brew perfect for the lightly attired summer months.
Cascade hops frolic with kaffir lime and ample malt to create a bright, citrusy nose that’s as crisp as chilling in a mountain pond. If you like the taste of Fat Tire, you will love this brew. Skinny Dip is a most revealing beverage.

"Fruity" Beer
Now I’m going to begin a tradition of including a “fruity” beer to my summer line-up. This year’s entry is from Hawaii, the Kona Brewing Company’s Wailua Wheat Ale. This golden, sun colored ale has a bright, citrusy flavor that comes from the tropical passion fruit that they brew into each batch. It’s a slightly tart, refreshing wheat ale with a fresh citrus aroma and crisp finish. Tropical passion fruit is added late in the brewing process to retain the delicate fruity flavor and aroma. Wailua Wheat is an excellent beer to enjoy after a day on the water or at the beach (or even after mowing the lawn or playing softball in your "pau hana" summer league!). It typically pairs well with lighter fare like grilled fish and shrimp, roasted chicken, salads and Asian foods. Perhaps even a dish of vanilla ice cream. Wailua Wheat’s packaging is eye catching and inviting, featuring a paradisiacal Wailua Falls scene from old Hawaii.

Hard to Find Favorites
My “newest”, hard to find, favorite summertime beer is Anderson Valley’s Summer Solstice Seasonal Ale.
This copper colored ale is smooth, malty, and lightly sweet, with a delicate hint of spice for that oh-so-drinkable, extra velvety flavor. The character is lighter in body than its cousin, their wildly popular Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale. This beer is silky and creamy, perfect for our warm weather. But why do they call it Cerveza Crema? Two reasons: One, this beer has become a favorite among many of their Hispanic friends, so it's named in their honor. Two, it sounds cool, and cool is what you want when it’s hot. Serve at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit for the most optimal flavor and enjoyment.

The hardest beer for me to locate is from the makers of Shiner Bock. Spoetzl Brewery’s Shiner Summer Stock.
This brew has an appearance of brilliant clarity and an extremely light yellow color. The aroma is one of soft sweet malt. There's a little hint of caramel along with a very slight scent of pear ester. Even though this beer is light on the aromatics, I like the generally complex way that a lot of things seem to be going on at once. The flavor of this beer is soft and gentle with a sweet clean maltiness. It tastes of fresh pale malt with just the slightest hint of softly, barely toasted sweet bread. The beer is extremely well balanced. It is sweet, but there is an unmistakable lightly pepper-like hop edge. This is such a soft, delicate beer that there is absolutely no room for flavor flaws to hide.

Summer Brews

For beer lovers, this expanding seasonal choice is a nice problem to have. But it begs some questions: What makes for a great summer brew? What traditions are behind these seasonals? And what foods work best with these beers?

Ideally, great summer beers should be crisp, refreshing, and food-friendly, with light to medium body and moderate alcohol, yet still be packed with aroma and flavor. Various beer types qualify, but the best summer "models" tend to hail from Germany and Belgium, two centers of brewing excellence. And for quality summer quaffing, no style outshines the wheat-based brews from these two beer-loving countries. 


Most beers are made with at least some malted barley, for practical reasons. With a hard husk and relative lack of glutens, barley performs poorly in the bakery but ideally for malting and beer brewing. Wheat is the exact opposite: The grain has no encasement and it's rich in glutens and other proteins useful in bread-making, but it tends to gum up the brewing process. In fact, it's almost impossible to make beer solely from wheat.

In the Middle Ages, when all beer production was "micro," farmer-brewers rarely had the luxury to choose which grain to use, they simply employed what was available. In southern Germany and present-day Belgium, wheat was part of the mix. Through trial and error, it was discovered that including a proportion of wheat in the mash leads to a highly desirable beverage, a lighter-bodied beer with refreshing, thirst-quenching acidity. And so, a great beer style for the hot weather evolved. 

Because of the paler color and yeasty haze of these ales (yes, they are technically ales, made with top-fermenting yeast), especially compared with the darker beers, people called them "white" beers —witbier or bière blanche in Belgium, and Weissbier in Germany. 


A true holdover from the spice trade era (15th and 16th centuries), the Belgian witbier is brewed from malted barley and raw wheat, and spiced (mostly) with coriander and Curaçao bitter orange peel. Hops come into play nowadays, but subtly. A bright, refreshing style that almost died out after WWII, this hazy, pale yellow-gold beer has made a big comeback in its homeland and has a bevy of sincere imitators in the U.S. and elsewhere. Even Coors Brewing Company puts out a Belgian-style white under the Blue Moon label. An excellent Belgian prototype widely available is Hoegaarden.


Go to any outdoor café or Biergarten in Bavaria during the warm weather, and you'll find scores of tall, slender glasses used solely for Weissbier on the picnic-style tables, bearing insignias from breweries like Schneider, Franziskaner, and Weihenstephaner (the "world's oldest brewery" — since 1040!). While there are various styles of Weiss or Weizen (wheat), including the oxymoronic Dunkelweiss (literally "dark white"), the Hefeweizen ("yeast-wheat") is the choice for the summer. 

As the name indicates, this "bottle-conditioned" beer contains unfiltered yeast sediment — accounting for the cloudy appearance — and full flavor. Most Hefes are brewed with at least 50 percent malted wheat and are delicately hopped with aromatic, citric strains. Unlike their Belgian colleagues, however, German brewers still observe the German Beer Purity Law of 1516, meaning that spices and other flavorings (besides hops) are verboten in the brewing process. And yet, the orangeish, thick-headed Hefes are often chock-full of amazing fruity and spicy elements, ranging from fresh apples, banana, and Juicy Fruit gum to cloves and nutmeg. The responsible agent: ancient strains of yeast, enhancing the naturally fruity arc of the wheat. 

These beers are arguably best on a hot day after a workout — extremely restorative. They are fantastic food companions too, with slightly more heft than the Belgian witbier. Fruity, spicy, and geyserlike in carbonation, Hefes are second to none with spicy ethnic foods, especially Mexican, Chinese, and Indian, which have their share of fats and oils to cut through.