As summer days get longer, our thoughts naturally turn to the return of our favorite seasonal brews from craft breweries around the country. There's no strict rule about what a summer seasonal can be: some are light and golden, while others are rich and creamy. All are designed to refresh, and only available during the summer months. (So buy 'em while you can!)
While some summer beers are overly fruity and others just fizzy and flavorless, these favorites are full of flavor and food-friendly, ready for an afternoon out in the sun.
Bell's Oberon Ale
If you don't remember reading A Midsummer Night's Dream in high school either, you may not recognize Oberon as the trickster king of the fairies, an apt namesake for a summer wheat ale. Citrus, clove and coriander on the nose with a grainy malt and a slight lemony tartness make Bell's pale wheat ale taste like sunshine in a bottle. A slight floral quality and just a touch of bitterness on the finish keep things interesting. Crisp and refreshing, perfect for afternoons lazing by a body of water.
Left Hand Brewing Company Good Juju
From the 20kg of freshly juiced organic ginger in every 60 barrel batch to the psychedelic label, Good Juju is not your average summer ale. Lots of fresh ginger on the nose carries through and lingers slightly on the finish, but a pale, biscuity malt backbone keeps the flavor fresh and delicate rather than overwhelming. I tend to associate ginger more with winter than summer, but the lack of any other baking spice flavors keeps the ginger as a blast of freshness on the palate. Drinking this beer made me want Thai food - a green curry with seafood or a cold, crunchy papaya salad.
This is the summer seasonal for people who love hops but can't drink IPAs all day, or a good introduction to semi-hoppy beers for those who fear them. It's definitely hop-forward, but the zesty, floral, tropical-fruity Amarillo hops and a honeyed, earthy malt character avoid excessive bitterness. Well-balanced and light while still packing a lot of flavor, this is a great beer to bring to a barbecue - pair with something spicy and sweet like a mango salsa on grilled salmon to complement the unique character of the Amarillo hops.
Victory Summer Love
Between the grassy noble hops and clean, pale malts, Summer Love is a Golden Ale that drinks more like a German pilsner. A nice grainy malt character balances out the slightly bitter, herbaceous hop character. Pleasantly carbonated, with a lingering bitterness, it's a great beer for a baseball game in the middle of the day. Pair it with a hot dog or a salad and be sure to wear sunscreen.
Anderson Valley Brewing Summer Solstice
I scoffed a little when someone described Summer Solstice as "cream soda for grown-ups", but between its caramely malt and vanilla notes with a touch of spice and soft carbonation the description is pretty spot on. A little bit of herbaceous, citrusy hop character rounds out the butterscotch-y malt and keeps it from being unpleasantly sweet. Northern California summer can be a fickle mistress, and this beer could stand up to the occasional foggy and overcast July day. Smooth and easy drinking, Summer Solstice would be great with anything off the grill - throw some caramelized onions on your burger and call it a day.
Uinta's certified organic Sum'r ale is probably the lightest of the seasonals I sampled. A grainy, crackery malt makes a solid background for the lemony Sorachi Ace hops, a new-ish hop variety developed for Sapporo Breweries and made commercially available after 2006. The can makes Sum'r ideal for summer excursions - bring it to the river or take it hiking with you (just make sure it's cold). It's mellow enough to pair with lighter foods like a chicken salad or sushi, but highly carbonated and clean enough to be pleasant with grilled vegetables or meat too.
What are your favorite summer-only beers?
About the Author: Caitlin Whiteside is a beer nerd, bartender, and homebrewer in Northern California. If she's not drinking beer or enabling others to drink beer, she's probably thinking about beer.
Bell's Oberon, Uinta Sum'r, Deschutes Twilight and Left Hand Good Juju were provided as samples for review consideration.