Serious Beer: Summer Seasonals


[Photograph: Maggie Hoffman]

Here at Serious Beer HQ, we can tell that summer is upon us. No, it's not the first sunburn of the year or the first evening grilling on the balcony—we know because all the special summer-release beers are showing up at breweries and bottle shops.

Though one store clerk snorted at us that he "doesn't drink that light stuff," we urge you to give our top summer seasonals a try—the best of the bunch are refreshing, flavorful, and fun. Good summer beers aren't just light beers to keep you company while you're mowing the lawn; they're food-friendly options to pair with curry and sushi, barbecue and burritos. One of the best parts: as long as you're drinking this year's batch, you know it hasn't been sitting around for long. And when it comes to beer, freshness does make a difference.

We rounded up 24 specially-released-for-summer beers, but more are showing up in the stores every day. Got a favorite summer seasonal? Let us know in the comments!

Serious Beer Ratings

***** Our new favorite **** Awesome, worth remembering *** We'd consider buying this again ** There are probably better options * No, thanks, I'll have water.

Ratings are subject to personal taste.

Our Favorite Summer Seasonals

Bell's Oberon Michigan, 5.8% ABV If you live in a place where Bell's is distributed and your fridge isn't full of Oberon right now, you should go take care of that and then meet us back here. This American wheat ale is clean and drinkable, crisp and beautifully integrated. It has subtle grassy hop notes and a hint of apricot and citrus, a whisper of vanilla and a long wheaty finish. It's a simple-seeming beer that rewards careful attention; the delicate flavors unfold as you continue to taste it. Good stuff. ****1/4

Goose Island Summertime Illinois, 4.7% ABV This fresh-tasting Kölsch-style beer would be perfect with a lobster roll or a mustard-smeared bratwurst. It pours light yellow-gold and has a nice creamy mouthfeel. It's dry and balanced with hints of apricot and peach (it could totally replace a bellini at brunch!) We're big fans. ****

Blue Point Summer Ale New York, 4.39% ABV Vibrant and fresh, with hints of lime, kumquat, and honeydew, this bright and flavorful part-wheat beer is one of the best summer seasonals available locally. One taster noted a slight quinine flavor, but all agreed that it was a favorite. ****

Boulevard Brewing ZŌN Missouri, 4.4% ABV Make your Blue Moon-drinking friends try this Belgian-style witbier as soon as possible--this one is rich and creamy, with nice yeasty ale character and subtle fresh coriander flavor. The bright burst of orange peel reminded some tasters of Orangina soda. Well balanced and perfectly refreshing, this well-made beer should be paired with a giant bowl of guacamole and a really hot day. ****

Firestone Walker Solace California, 6% ABV The brewery calls this beer a Belgo-Bavarian Zwickle Saison; we just call it delicious. It pours unfiltered hazy orange, with rich notes of caramelized banana and rum-roasted pineapple. Crisp hops keep it refreshing, adding guava and tangerine notes to an earthy Wheat Smacks maltiness. Try this with Asian dishes made with ginger and/or orange, or pair with grilled fish or shrimp. ***3/4

Choc Summer Belgian-Style Blonde Ale Oklahoma This might be a bit richer and sweeter than you're looking for in summer, but it's a solid Belgian-style beer. It's full-bodied and cloudy, with hints of clove, banana, caramel, and orange peel. ***3/4

Brooklyn Summer Ale New York, 4.5% ABV It was interesting to stack up our local directly against the rest: be assured, New Yorkers, it's a solid choice. More flavorful than many other summer options, the Brooklyn Summer is mostly malty, with hints of fresh sourdough bread and a burst carbonation and bittering hops (we tasted sage, lemongrass, and orange zest). The finish is clean. ***3/4

Sierra Nevada Summerfest California, 5% ABV This flavorful take on pilsner is well integrated and a bit mellower than we expected. It still bursts with pungent, resiny hops--this is Sierra Nevada, after all. We tasted a hint of orange/lemon oil and were slightly reminded of the scent of Pinesol, but not in a bad way. ***3/4

More Summer Sippers

Smuttynose Summer Weizen Ale New Hampshire, 5.8% ABV This beer has a subtle floral note (the brewers tossed a bunch of chamomile flowers in at the end of the boil) but it's not overwhelming. This well-integrated beer is very dry with mellow wheat and yeast flavors. ***1/2

Schlafly Helles-Style Summer Lager Missouri, 4.5% ABV This refreshing beer pours pale yellow, and would definitely be gulpable on a hot day. It's clean with a hint of toasted popcorn sweetness; there's very little bitterness here, which might make it appeal to those who are new to craft beer. ***1/2

Peak Organic Summer Session Ale Maine, 5% ABV There's no warning on the bottle, but this is a pretty seriously hoppy beer! The scent is pine and floral, and the first sip yields a burst of dry grapefruity flavor. The crackery malts and Amarillo hops make this a very flavorful and super-dry beer; it will definitely be too bitter for some. ***1/4

Breckenridge Summerbright Colorado, 4.5% ABV This crisp, sessionable beer has grainy cornbread flavor and enough citrusy crispness to balance it. I would be happy to have this one in the fridge, though some of our tasters wanted something bolder. ***1/4

Saint Arnold Summer Pils Texas, 4.9% ABV This beer's a little smoother and richer than most pilsners, without some of the sharpness we've come to expect from the style. We tasted a hint of peach and apple on this generally delicate and drinkable beer. ***1/4

Sweetwater Road Trip Georgia, 5.3% ABV With crisp, piney bitterness and sweet malt, this beer veers toward grassy. Some tasters felt that the flavors got a little muddy. ***1/4

Anderson Valley Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema California 5.6% ABV This super-malty, copper-brown beer may not be what your usually expect from a summer ale, but once you get over that it's pretty tasty. We noted hints of maple candy and coffee syrup; some tasters found it a little too sweet for them but thought it might go nicely with molasses-barbecued ribs or chicken in mole sauce. ***

Harpoon Summer Beer Massachusetts and Vermont, 5% ABV This Kölsch-style offering from Harpoon is dry and crisply bitter; it has hints of lemon pith, fruity green grapes, and almost no sweetness. Though some tasters found it a little bit metallic, others thought it would be perfectly refreshing on a super-hot day. ***

Anchor Summer Beer California, 4.6% ABV This beer was the first American wheat beer brewed in modern times. It's solid and simple, wheaty and dry. It's quite mellow and drinkable, if unexciting. We prefer Anchor's other offerings. **3/4

Schell's Zommerfest Minnesota, 5% ABV A drinkable spin on the Kölsch style, though not as full-flavored as some of the others. It packs a bitter punch and finishes very clean and crisp, with a hint of grassiness. Not a bad choice, especially if available fresh locally (and probably better on tap). **3/4

River Horse Summer Blonde New Jersey, 4% ABV This is a simple beer with a bit of toasted grain flavor and a sprinkle of lemon/lime. It's a little thin, but drinkable. **3/4

Not Really Our Thing

Copper Canyon Summerzest Blonde Ale Michigan, 5.5% ABV This beer brewed with ginger, orange and lemongrass, adding spice and richness to the nice caramel malt flavor. The dry flavor of the spices might not be what everyone's looking for in the summer, but the tartness of this beer makes it refreshing. Pair with pad thai. **3/4

Pyramid Curve Ball Blonde Washington/Oregon/California, 5% ABV Drinkable, but simple. The grainy malt contributes a rye toast flavor, though we found this a little sour. **1/2

Troegs Sunshine Pils Pennsylvania, 5.3% ABV Even though our tasters are generally fans of bitter beers, this one was a bit over the top for them. On the front end, there's a hint of mango sweetness, but the crisp bitterness then overwhelms and a hint of charcoal lingers on the finish. **1/2

Geary's Summer Ale Maine, 6% ABV This Kölsch-style beer pours darker than the Goose Island, and has a bit of spicy nutmeg and clove flavor, banana esters, and a grassy bitterness. Some tasters liked it, but others wished the flavors were a bit more integrated (and detected a hint of Band-Aid flavor.) There's a bit of toasted grain nuttiness that might make this a good beer to pair with barbecue. **1/2

Blue Moon Honey Moon Summer Ale Colorado, 5.6% ABV This beer (manufactured like its year-round sibling by Molson Coors) is pretty much flavorless. We were able to detect a hint of honey, but not much of the orange peel that it's supposedly brewed with. Skip. *3/4

Disclosure: The Boulevard, Firestone Walker, Choc, Schlafly, Breckenridge, Saint Arnold, Sweetwater, Schell's, Copper Canyon, and Pyramid beers were review samples.