By Nathan Berrong
(CNN) — Summer is in full swing and as temperatures continue to rise, there is a plethora of ways to combat the scorching sun. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable way than a few cold and refreshing craft beers.
The perfect beer for summer should be crisp, light in body and color, refreshing, easy to drink, transportable and have a lower alcohol content. Based on this criteria, I’ve chosen the 13 best beers for summer 2013. This list isn’t exhaustive because, believe it or not, I don’t have access to every beer. However, these are my 13 favorite beers that I’ve had the pleasure to try – and they’re sure to help you beat the heat.
21st Amendment Brewery: Hell or High Watermelon
Simply put, this beer is “summer in a can.” This seasonal release from San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery is always stocked in my fridge during the summer months, and it’s one of the few beers I can think of that never gets old. The idea of watermelon in a beer may sound off-putting but the watermelon is faint yet present; it’s there only long enough to taste it without overpowering the wheat flavor. I challenge you to find a better beer to drink when it’s hot outside.
Firestone Walker Brewing Company: Pils
This brewery can do no wrong in my book. Everything they put out is topnotch, and beer nerds all over the country geek out with each new offering. If you think you don’t like the pilsner style, this is the one that will change your mind. Firestone Walker Pils is a pale yellow lager with a clean, mild but pronounced hoppiness upfront; at the finish, hints of toast. As a twist on a traditional pils, Firestone Walker dry hops theirs with German Saphir, which adds a touch of Bergamot zest and lemongrass. Thank you, Firestone Walker, for making me revisit a style that I had mostly written off years ago.
SweetWater Brewing Company: Waterkeeper Hefeweizen
SweetWater Brewery is one of the oldest breweries that is still making beer in the great state of Georgia. The brewery is only 16 years old, which tells you all you need to know about how Georgia stacks up against other well-established beer states. (Sidenote: Hey, State of Georgia! Ease up on the restrictive beer laws and let’s get some more craft breweries in production.) Even if my home state doesn’t have the beer scene akin to Washington or California, we still know how to make some damn fine beer. And SweetWater’s summer release, Waterkeeper, is a testament to that. It’s a German hefeweizen and apart from being a refreshing and incredible beer, it’s brewed (and named) to raise awareness for The Waterkeeper Alliance, a non-profit that aims to clean up and restore waterways all over the world.
Hill Farmstead Brewery: Arthur Saison
Hill Farmstead is one of the most talked about craft breweries in America right now. This is impressive when you consider the brewery is in its infancy (3 years old!), and it speaks to the high quality of the beers they’re producing. Arthur is Hill Farmstead’s take on a saison and is made with a house yeast and local well water. The beer is named after the founder’s grandfather’s youngest brother, Arthur, and the brewery is on the land that was once home to him and his 13 siblings. Arthur is considered one of the best saisons in the world, and has white pepper and grassy notes that are synonymous with the style. What really sets it apart though is the sheer drinkability and balance that is so desirable, but rarely found today in extreme beers.
Maine Beer Company: Peeper
Maine Beer Company is another relatively new U.S. craft brewery and much like Hill Farmstead, they are making big waves in the beer scene. Apart from producing exceptional ales, they also have exceptional packaging. Their labels are classy, clean and simple, and I’m a sucker for a beer that not only tastes good but looks good too. Peeper is a pale ale that contains four different kinds of hops and finishes at 5.5%. It’s a great American pale ale that would be perfect at a barbecue, especially if actual barbecue will be consumed. Hops + spicy/tangy/sweet = delicious.
Golden Road Brewing: Cabrillo Klsch
Los Angeles’ Golden Road has set the bar for American-made Kölsch-style beers with their Cabrillo Kölsch. The style is hard to pin down and falls somewhere between an ale and a lager. Golden Road uses ale yeast but ferments it at cooler temperatures like a lager. The nose of the beer contains some peppery notes but the taste has light citrus flavors and finishes extremely clean and crisp. It’s refreshing and makes for an exceptional summer beer.
Samuel Adams: Boston Lager
Samuel Adams Boston Lager is the staple craft beer. It recently underwent a makeover of sorts, just in time for summer. The iconic brew is now available for the first time ever in cans. But, as founder Jim Koch told me, it’s not just any regular aluminum can: The brewery invested $1 million to create their own can – aptly named the “Sam Can” – in order to ensure the quality and taste that Boston Lager fans have become accustomed to. “Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved the outdoors,” said Koch. “Some people don’t know that I was an Outward Bound instructor early in my professional life. I can’t wait to pack a few cans of Boston Lager in a pack before I head out on a hike or go camping, as a lot of parks don’t allow visitors to bring in glass.”
Bison Brewing Company: Hop Cuvée
Bison Brewing is an organic brewery out of Berkeley, California, and their Hop Cuvée is the best organic, hop-centric beer I’ve tried. The 2013 Hop Cuvée includes two new varietals of organic hops, Citra and Simcoe, and the classic Centennial hop. It’s a traditional West Coast IPA that is piney, crisp and finishes dry. And at only 5.5% ABV, it makes for a perfect summer beer.
Boulevard Brewing Company: Reverb Imperial Pilsner
Reverb Imperial Pilsner is part of Boulevard’s Smokestack Series of beers that come in 750-ml bottles (the size of a standard wine bottle). The beers are meant for sharing, and this beer would make for a perfect housewarming gift or picnic beer this summer. Boulevard takes the traditional pilsner and turns it up to 11 with Reverb, clocking in at close to 8% ABV. The pilsner style is extremely hard to brew because any flaws in the beer are immediately detected (unlike beers with a lot of ingredients or are barrel-aged, which aid in covering up off flavors). This beer has no flaws, and for a style that seemingly tastes so simple, this beer stands out as a true work of craftsmanship.
New Glarus Brewing: Thumbprint Berliner Weiss
Thumbprint Berliner Weiss is a German-style wheat beer that has recently grown in popularity in American craft beer circles. This light, effervescent beer is around 3% ABV, and tastes like tart lemons with a dry, almost white wine-like finish. New Glarus describes the beer as “…a kaleidoscope of fresh flavor. Barrel fermentation, Riesling grapes and Wisconsin White Wheat are bottle fermented with five proprietary yeast strains. A connoisseur’s rare jewel both spirited and subtle, enjoy your sparkling toast under summer stars.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Odell Brewing Company: Celastrina
The second saison on the list, this one is from Colorado’s Odell Brewery and is called Celastrina, or Hops Blue. The name comes from the tiny blue butterfly that lives on wild hop plants along Colorado’s Front Range. Celastrina is a cloudy blonde ale with banana, clove and grassy notes; it has a subtle spicy character in the finish. One of the coolest things about this beer is that $1 from each bottle sold goes to the Colorado Natural Heritage Program to help fund research of the Hops Blue butterfly. The beer comes in large format bottles which makes it perfect for enjoying with a meal (freshwater fish) like you would a white wine.
Westbrook Brewing Company: Gose
Pronounced “Goes-uh”, this German-style beer is gaining popularity here in the states. The beer is unfiltered and contains upwards of 60% malted wheat which creates a hazy, yellow ale that is surprisingly refreshing and usually a bit tart. I use “surprisingly” because the beer contains a decent amount of coriander and salt, and you wouldn’t think a salty beer would (A) be refreshing or desirable in the summer, and (B) taste good. But, it is and it does. I am personally a big fan of this style, but not all Gose beers created equal. Westbrook’s Gose, however, is one of the best I’ve ever had. If you can wrap your mind around the idea of drinking a beer that is slighty sour, salty, citrusy and sessionable at only 4%, this is definitely the summer beer for you.
Surly Brewing Co.: Furious
Furious is an aggressive, hop-bomb of an IPA that makes for a great summer beer. The beer is only available in cans (and kegs) making it perfect for, well, anywhere since cans are allowed in many places that bottles are not. One of the greatest things about this beer is that it packs a ton of flavor and complexity while being relatively low in alcohol at only 6.2%. Another great thing about Furious? Instead of the typical 12-ounce cans, Surly puts this one in pint-sized cans (16 ounces), and more beer is never a bad thing. Sweet honey notes balance the bitter and citrus hops flavors. It’s just an all around perfect example of an IPA in the summer.
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