Funky, Fresh, and Fruity: Summer Beers For The Adventurous Drinker

by | Jun 25, 2014 | EAT DRINK

Looking for a refreshing and complex adult beverage to help take your mind off of how humid Virginia is? Something low enough in alcohol, so that you won’t drink two and fall off your bar stool?

Looking for a refreshing and complex adult beverage to help take your mind off of how humid Virginia is? Something low enough in alcohol, so that you won’t drink two and fall off your bar stool? And perhaps something that has neither “Lite” nor “Light” in the name? Check out the list below.

While not all of these beers are necessarily summer seasonals, they are all certainly worth checking out if you’re looking for a vacation from light lager land, Margaritaville, or any other beverage-based burg.

Sixpoint Brewery – Brooklyn, NY

Sweet Action (Cream Ale/Pale Ale)

This is the definitive, original Sixpoint beer, and one of the the tastiest, year-round sessionable (that’s nerd for “easy-drinking”) ales on the market. Although their IPAs, such as their double (or imperial, if you’re the in the pinky-raising mood) IPA Resin, and the massive, 11.1 percent winter seasonal Hi-Res, hog a lot of the attention, Sweet Action is more than deserving of praise and purchase. For one, Sixpoint just switched up their already attractive packaging for this beer, along with their Bengali IPA, and The Crisp pilsner. Instead of Sixpoint’s usual four pack format, the three aforementioned beers are now available in the more attractive six pack of twelve ounce cans, albeit tall and skinny cans that slightly resemble those of energy drinks. This makes these already sessionable products more attractive, as sixteen ounces is just a few too many, for a one or two beer drinking session. This beer is more than just a pretty face though. At first, your nose may be overtaken by the citrusy, hoppy aroma. That’s mostly from dry-hopping, a post-fermentation process in which hops are added to a finished beer, purely for aromatic purposes. The taste and body are exceptionally more compelling for non-hopheads. Sweet Action is light without being thin, hoppy without being astringent, malty without being overly sweet, and yeasty without being funky or too spice-like. In other words, it’s excellently balanced, a brilliantly economical merger of a cream ale, a pale ale, and a wheat beer. The new six packs just recently hit the Virginia market, and should retail for a little over ten dollars. It’s worth it.

Rad (Wheat Beer/Fruit Beer)

Although it’s sad to see Sixpoint’s former summer seasonal Apollo go draft-only, its replacement is a more than worthy successor. The name is meant to suggest that the beer is similar to a traditional radler, which is a mixed drink created from a half and half ratio of beer (likely something light such as a pilsner) and lemon soda in Europe, which they call lemonade, thus the lost-in-translation American version of the radler, made with what we in the United States refer to as lemonade. The name “radler” literally means “cyclist” in German, alluding to the drink’s popularity as a post-ride drink, and the logo for Rad cleverly integrates what seems to be bicycle spokes overlaid on the cross-section of some sort of citrus fruit. While it remains a mystery as to what fruit juices exactly Sixpoint is adding (although the website seems to suggest lemons, oranges, and maybe grapefruit), the beverage is a blend of an unfiltered wheat beer, and a juice blend added after fermentation, resulting in a cloudy, brownish pink color reminiscent of, well, beer and grapefruit juice. It has a very bright and spritely aroma that showcases a yeast, possibly yeasts, that seems similar to those of both a belgian wheat and a saison. The taste is tart, and packed full of citrus, with a clear, but not overwhelming, grapefruit bitterness that shines through. The beer is incredibly refreshing because of the taste, and the luscious, creamy mouthfeel gives way to a finish dry enough to make you clamor for more. Though it’s not the prettiest beer on the planet, it has a very low ABV of 3.2%, making it even easier-drinking than most lagers, and an excellent choice after a ride through the city.

Brewery Ommegang – Cooperstown, NY
Fleur de Houblon (Belgian Pale Ale)

Image via Study Beers

The name of this beer literally translates to “hop flower,” but it is not quite as hoppy as say, an IPA, and the hop flavors present do not translate as being overly bitter or piney. Rather, the Bravo hops used in this beer impart pleasant fruit and floral notes (I found last year’s to have a rather juicy lime flavor), with only a subtle bitterness, which contrasts nicely with the light malt bill and bright, spicy yeast notes. The result of these components coming together is a nicely balanced, incredibly refreshing ale that practically forces you to sit back and dissect the flavor and aroma, while not being so rich and complex that you can’t drink a few during a hot afternoon. Lightweights beware though — this is the highest ABV beer on the list, with this year’s vintage clocking in at 6.8%. Ommegang continues to be one of the best U.S. breweries making Belgian-style beers (probably partially due to their affiliation with Duvel) and this beer is a fantastic entry point for any drinker unfamiliar with their beer, or with Belgian beer styles in general.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. – Chico, CA

Summerfest (Pilsner)

Sierra Nevada is a name that most drinkers already know, either by familiarity with their beers, or simply by seeing their six packs and tap handles all over the country. They are mainly known for one beer: their classic Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which is essentially synonymous with the brewery name at this point. While their pale ale is a fantastic beer, and likely not being dethroned as the classic example of the style any time soon, their portfolio aside from that beer is diverse and well-rounded. With enticing and innovative new offerings being introduced all the time, such as their limited Single, Fresh, Wet, and Wild IPAs, as well as their Belgian-style Ovila series (produced in collaboration with the Trappist monks of New Clairvaux) as well as a stable of year-round and seasonal beers, Sierra Nevada is no slouch, even at 35 years in. Summerfest is Sierra Nevada’s pilsner, a style that the brewery manages to knock out of the ballpark, while adding their signature hoppy flair to. The beer clocks in at 5.0 percent ABV, right around the percentage of mass-produced bastardizations of the style, that most television and movie characters are probably referring to when they walk into a generic roadside bar, and say in a stentorian tone “I’ll have a beer.” While Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is definitely refreshing on a summer day, the assertive, yet not overpowering hopping, light and effervescent body, and smooth, clean finish of Summerfest make it one of the most refreshing beers in Sierra Nevada’s catalog. The most common packing for Summerfest is bottled six-packs, but river-ready canned twelve-packs are also available at some stores.

Dogfish Head Brewery – Milton, DE

Festina Pêche (Neo-Berliner Weisse/Fruit Beer)

Dogfish Head’s seasonal beers are now all fruit or vegetable beers, as of the introduction of Piercing Pils, a pilsner brewed with pears, this past winter. This seems like a smart move on Dogfish Head’s part, as it allows them to use fresh ingredients that are in season when the beers are being brewed, such as real pumpkin meat used in their fall seasonal, Punkin. Festina Pêche is their summer beer, and it’s perfectly suited to summer in every way: it is light, but flavorful, effervescent, and sessionable, at only 4.5 percent ABV. The beer has a very light straw color, and upon first pouring, has many visible bubbles streaming up the glass that disappear as it warms, and the head dissipates even faster, making it look somewhat like a champagne. The aroma is reminiscent of sour green apples, mixed with yeasty smell of a wheat beer, as well as a cereal-like malt aroma. The taste follows with the yeast and malt components being slightly more forward, balancing out the sour component, with the peach flavor appearing subtly at first, and becoming more apparent as the beer warms. It is not as overly bubbly as it first looks; rather, it is smooth on the tongue and finishes somewhat dry. If you’re thinking this description sounds somewhat like a wheat beer, you’re headed in the right direction. This beer was brewed to simulate an older, now uncommon wheat beer style known as the Berliner Weisse, that has seen somewhat of a resurgence within the American craft beer community. The style was originally concocted in the sixteenth century, but dropped off in popularity over the years. Traditionally, the style is served with an optional shot of syrup, sometimes fruit, sometimes woodruff (an herb also known as Sweet Baby’s Breath). Dogfish Head decided to make the flavor ratio of their version simple by adding peach to the fermentation, making a sort of pre-blended Berliner Weisse, and it works marvelously. This beer, as with every Dogfish Head seasonal product, is available in bottled four packs.

Founder’s Brewing Co. – Grand Rapids, MI

Rübæus (Fruit Beer)

Billed as “Not another boring summer wheat beer or lemonade shandy” on the Founder’s website, this beer is indeed a bit different from a typical summer seasonal. For starters, the beer’s color is a reddish purple, which may raise a few eyebrows, and that color is from the massive amount of raspberries used to brew this beer, which may raise a few more eyebrows — maybe you’re up to both — if you’re overjoyed about a vibrantly-colored fruit beer. The multiple additions of raspberries leads to the beer being extremely fruit-forward in all aspects. The taste is sweet, but not cloyingly so, with a slight tartness to it, as well as a decent amount of malt character backing all of that fruit character up. All of the residual sugars from the fruit lead the beer to be a bit more filling than most beers on this list, so it’s not exactly bikini beer, but having one or two cold bottles of Rübæus on a hot day is very refreshing, akin to a 5.7 percent alcohol raspberry soda. The cost of a four pack will likely vary, depending on where it is purchased, but it will likely be over ten dollars, presumably due to the costly amount of fruit used.

Brasserie Dupont – Tourpes, Belgium

Saison Dupont (Saison)

Given that this beer is both the flagship beer of the brewery, as well as probably the most world-famous example of the saison style, Saison Dupont is not exactly a summer seasonal, but the style itself has its origins as a summer refresher. Saisons, also called Farmhouse Ales, were originally brewed in farmhouses — natch — during the winter in Belgium, and were consumed during the summer, by saisonniers, or seasonal workers. Originally, there were no stylistic guidelines for saisons, as the recipes and ingredients varied from farm to farm, but since their somewhat recent rise in popularity in the U.S., Saison Dupont has become the standard-bearer, as it is probably the most widely available and most affordable example of an authentic Belgian saison. The beer is fairly sessionable at 6.5 percent alcohol, which is not quite as low in alcohol as saisons of old (estimated to be around three or four percent), but it is still extremely satisfying on a hot summer day, or really at any time of the year. Given that it is still mainly packaged in green bottles, there is a chance of light pollution giving it a slightly unusual aroma, typically referred to as “skunky” in the beer world. Green glass, as opposed to brown glass, or even better, aluminum cans, lets more light hit the beer within, sometimes causing what are considered to be off flavors, although there are some out there that enjoy skunk — Heineken anyone? That said, pleasant yeast notes that provide the beer with pepper, citrus, and tropical fruit notes, as well as a pleasing effervescence, should help the drinker forget all about any initial strange smell or flavor. The somewhat bitter hop character in Saison Dupont finishes out what is an already full-flavored, layered beer with a nice bite, and the yeast provides an amazingly dry finish reminiscent of champagne. While there are plenty of good saisons made in the U.S., this is the beer that many of those beers want to be, so pick up a 750 or 375 milliliter bottle soon, and grab a nice glass, so you can appreciate the large fluffy head on this beer. Just grab one from the back of the shelf and don’t let it see sunlight until you’ve popped the cork out. Or, attempt to search out some of the newer, less common, 11.2 ounce brown bottle four packs that have been popping up.

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

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