Take a look outside. The snow has melted, the brisk New England air is starting to warm up and the trees are coming back to life. With all these changes happening outside, the infinite number of beer options is changing inside. Spring and summertime brings us a blend of malty, sweet, creamy, wheat flavors and snappy, refreshing, lighter bodied lager beer.
When a beer can bring you back to your favorite lunch spot in a public park, or a sandy local beach, or a campground you have found something; taste buds, meet your brain, brain meet your taste buds. Your brain has made a connection— drinking a specific beer triggers your memory to recall a fond time with family and friends. Thankfully, all those lighter bodied college-aged beers have left my memory leaving room for the good ones present and future. I, too, was lighter in body in those days.
Drinking an Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale in the can brings my memory back to the beaches of Plymouth, MA on a hot July afternoon. A tall draft pour of Allagash White brings me back to downtown Portland, Maine drinking on the historic old port waterfront. Drinking Wachusett Country Ale brings me back to music fests at the base of the ski mountain in Princeton, MA. Sipping a bottle of Newport Storm Amber Ale transports me back to walking famous Thames Street in Newport RI. What is your favorite beer related memory? Take a moment and ask yourself, “What’s the first beer I look for when I reach my summer vacation spot?” The summer vacation spot you worked so hard to earn, the beer that you drank when you got there.
~ By Certified Cicerone R, Jean-Marc Aubuchon
Beer styles change with the seasons. The classic “summer style” can vary greatly, so be sure to read the bottle label of your favorite craft beer or bottom of the six-pack holder for brewer’s notes. Generally speaking summer ales are brewed with a portion of wheat malt, which adds a fuller body, and creamy soft flavors. Brewing this style of ale commands a fruity yeast strain, imparting a lemon-like flavor to beer and further enhanced by adding spices such as black pepper, curacao and coriander to liven up the offerings. Ideally, the alcohol content on these ales is lower as most can expect to indulge in more than one as the temperatures rise. Alcohol should be in the 4.0% to 6.0% range. “Session” beers can run even lower ABV than that, below four percent. The “session beer” was made popular by British breweries creating the ‘bitter,’ ‘mild,’ and ‘special bitter’ styles that were designed to consume more than one in a session of drinking, keeping the conversations flowing without over indulgence.
Men drink beer, women drink wine. This stereotype is exactly that, a stereotype. Yeah, my mom prefers chardonnay to an imperial stout and my father prefers a cool, craft lager or amber ale but this isn’t always the case. “For most of recent history, beer drinkers have been predominantly male. However, things have changed in recent years, and women now make up 25% of those choosing to imbibe beer as opposed to wine or other alcoholic beverages.” (www.beerarmy. com) In my experience working beer festivals, women’s tastes will vary from the hoppiest IPA to the sweetest fruit forward summer style. Owner Tom Powers of the Union Brewhouse in Weymouth agrees, “The ladies like their blueberry beers with a scoop of blueberries. The lighter, fruitier beers of summer do seem to bring out more female drinkers too.” Women craft beer drinkers are a fast-growing portion of the population. “According to a 2012 Gallup poll, beer has been the favorite beverage among drinkers since 1985. It typically held second place as the adult beverage of choice for females, but recently, beer has edged out wine among women ages 18 to 34.” (www.jsonline.com) I remember my first beer festival in Boston thinking, “Where are all the women?” I couldn’t be more wrong now as the population of women beer drinkers has increased and their attendance at beer-centric events has also increased. These social settings are perfect to meet someone who has something in common with you… a love of beer! Beer fans are easy to get along with, the first to arrive and the last to leave a party—and hopefully if they are a true fan will bring their own brews to trade and share with the party host.
Let’s explore some beer flavors of the season and how they pair with summer dishes. Remember that beer can be a better pairing for food than wine due to the higher carbonation and greater number of flavors, dynamic to subtle. White ale, Belgian wit, American wheat, all three of these styles are a perfect match for your first course, often including fresh greens and peppers. The crisp flavors of fresh cut lettuce pair nicely with the snappy, lemon-fruity flavors of a wheat based beer, local or foreign.
Lager style beer is the quintessential addition to any summer outdoor event. As this article gives the heavy nod towards craft ales, let’s remember the popularity of a well-made American style lager. When I say ‘American style’ I mean brewed here in the ‘ole USA and using primarily American grown hops and malts. Let’s face it, these beers are easy to drink and very refreshing. That is the goal of the hardworking lager yeast strain, crisp clean flavors and a medium bodied mouth feel. A tough yeast that is put through almost thirty days of 40-48 degree fermentation temperatures, then lagered even cooler at 30-34 degrees for another two to four weeks, adding more flavor and body, a true labor of love. Let us appreciate this style of beer for what it is, low in alcohol, crisp and dry in flavor a true thirst quencher. Salads and fruity dishes pair well with this style, however it will also battle the heat of a spicier dish with the higher carbonation moving the temperature off your tongue, literally.
Summer equals grilling. I love this time of year, slowly sipping malty amber ale in the hot sun, grilling a serious slab of meat on a smoky grille. Amber ales, pale ales and brown ales all pair well with savory, salty burgers and grilled sausages. Tom Powers weighs in, “Spicy foods are great with summer beers too. The fruity beer balances out the heat and the low alcohol allows you have a couple more.” The caramel, sweet flavors of the beer enhance the savory, meaty flavors of a hamburger or hotdog. Also, take it easy on the grilling spices, these can definitely overpower the beer, a pinch means a pinch.
Desserts…child and adult alike there is always room for a slice or a scoop. Bring yourself back in time with your parents piling into the minivan and driving to the local ice cream shop. Adults, this trip can be accomplished at home by drinking a chocolate stout! Soft, creamy, coffee, chocolate flavors of an imperial stout or a chocolate stout will put a smile on your face. Some of the beers are actually brewed with chocolate, some using the slow roasted flavors of kilned malt to trick your palate into tasting a childhood favorite flavor. I’d suggest adult beer floats, simply add one heavy scoop of vanilla bean ice cream into your pint glass full of dark, sweet beer and we have a winner!
I hope I was some help to those looking for summer beer options. I encourage you to bring a new style of beer to the party, gamble on a new four- or six-pack that you haven’t heard of and wow your friends with your crafty beer knowledge. Branch out and grab life by the cans! Canned craft beer has been around for years, but is now in full swing. Lighter and easy to recycle, aluminum keeps the light out and the beer colder for longer, viva la can! Life is hard, beer is easy. Cheers.