The Wine Country’s Beer Specialist
As the weather warms up, my beer desires turn to the delicious, quenching beers of summer. While a light and fizzy American lager can be appealing on a hot day, I am frankly bored with the generally hop free, watery, mass market, millions-of-bottle-production beer—might as well drink water. Sure, it can be somewhat quenching, but since it is frequently devoid of the tastes and flavors of what I consider a real beer, I tend to look elsewhere for my summer beer drinking satisfaction.
A good place to start is a beer from a place where they know all about hot weather—Kenya in equatorial east Africa. Tusker, a light classic lager produced in Kenya from entirely local pure spring water, barley and fresh hops, has a crystalline purity and refreshing, perfectly balanced hop signature that the American mass market beers can only dream about.
And at 4.2% alcohol, it won't put you out of commission for further summer fun when the sun goes down. At our recent Beer Ventures Summer Beer tasting event, Tusker was preferred over a famous Belgian lager that shall remain nameless, and, although the Tusker sold out that night, we have another shipment of this difficult to get beer arriving by the time this is published. On a personal note, I was fortunate enough to have visited Kenya and experienced the exceptional quenching qualities of this super-clean delicious lager while sitting on the veranda of a grand old hotel in Rift Valley during a tropical lightning storm on a 85 degree afternoon. $2.19 per 12 oz btl.
In Europe, where beer drinking is a culturally ingrained year-round activity and centuries of tradition have developed that call for certain styles of beer to be consumed during a particular season, the prescribed summer beers are the slightly cloudy, crisp wheat influenced Wit, Weiss and Saison style beers.
The Saison or Farmhouse ale is specifically brewed in the winter for consumption in the summer and the Wit and Weiss beer styles both feature the addition of wheat to the usual all-barley basic beer recipe. This, coupled with light hopping, the use of distinctive yeast strains and no filtration, lead to the light and dry, yeasty malty and ever so slightly sour flavor that lends these beers so well to quenching that summer thirst.
As the results of our recent tasting event confirmed, many times a true original is frequently best. The Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, considered by many to be the original German weissbier, was the hit of the event. Its exceptional smoothness, purity and depth made one wish for a hot day and a cold glass. This beer would be great with mild summer sausages from the grill (think hot dogs) and other lighter barbecue fare. It sports a friendly 5.4% alcohol so you don't get all headache-y and logy after a bottle or two on a hot afternoon.
Many other breweries make this kind of beer, and many of them are exceptional, but the combination of their centuries old recipe, special, closely guarded yeast strain and exceptional production standards, make for what could be the perfect Weissbier. They certainly have had time to perfect the recipe: the Weihenstephaner brewery, in Friesing, Germany, is the oldest brewery in the world, dating back to the 11th century. $2.69 per 16.9 oz btl.
Lest you start thinking that I don't like any American beers, which is far, far from the truth, the Allagash White Ale, produced by the Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine, is my choice for a brilliant example of the Wit beer style, a style originated in Belgium. After pouring, you're greeted by a clean and delightful slightly yeasty aroma, with hints of coriander and white pepper, typical of the style without being over the top or "dirty", as some of the Belgian beers can get. The beer is slightly cloudy due to the lack of filtration and silky and smooth in the mouth, with a bit of malty sweetness a hint of apricot and those delectable citrusy spices white ales are famous for.
Very clean and, to use this word again, quenching and at 5.2% alcohol, you can have more than one and still safely operate the barbecue. $2.69 per 12 oz btl
The Saison or Farmhouse style of beer, historically brewed in Belgium in the countryside in the winter to be drank in the summer, is a light bodied, fruity, earthy, slightly tart yet lightly sweet and spicy rustic ale. We are lucky enough to have an exceptional example of this style, the Saison Dupont from the Brasserie Dupont in Tourpes, Belgium.
It's very complex and incredibly smooth with a delightful earthy quality, some bright fruitiness, chalky yeasty notes with some nice maltiness thrown in to boot. There is also some up-front herbaceousness and a dry clean finish. An excellent food beer for flavorful cuisines, as the dry, clean finish cuts through bold flavors nicely, preparing the mouth for the next bite. This beer carries a 6.5% alcohol and comes in a big bottle suitable for sharing with friends. This beer was also a big hit at our recent tasting. $9.39 per 750 ml btl