Judging by Internet chatter and recent beer releases, the next big thing to hit craft beer isn't "big" at all. Brewers and drinkers alike are seeking out flavor in smaller, more sessionable packages. Big beers aren't going anywhere (at least not anytime soon), but the thought of being able to sit down and have more than a couple without completely numbing your tastebuds or forgetting the name of the person on the stool next to you is gaining traction. And the timing couldn't be better: These lighter yet flavorful beers are perfect for warm weather drinking.
Last week we covered some fine examples of recently released hoppy session lagers and ales. This week we're adding 5 favorites that rely more on yeast and malt and don't lean quite as heavily on the hops. Though some are a little above 5% ABV, we'd still consider them easy-drinking.
Perennial Artisan Ales Saison de Lis
Perennial's year-round Saison de Lis (5.0% ABV) is brewed with chamomile, which provides a floral aroma that practically jumps out of the glass. The flowers enhance the spiciness of the yeast and carry through long into the finish. Midsip white grape and honey complement the beer's soft malt center. Lively effervescence amps up the dryness. Since Perennial opened their doors in St. Louis last September, there's been a bottle of this in my luggage every time I've flown back to NYC.
Stoudt's Brewing Co. Pils
A great, no-nonsense Pilsner is a beautiful thing. Stoudt's German-style Pilsner (5.4% ABV)—a drier and crisper cousin to the Czech style—is a brilliant golden straw colored beer with a fluffy white head. It boasts a perfectly balanced combination of spicy noble hops and nutty and bready malt. It finishes clean with crisp carbonation and a lingering hop bite. Consider this Exhibit A in the argument that fizzy yellow beer doesn't have to suck.
Professor Fritz Briem 1809 Berliner Weisse
It's a little funky, not as sour, and, at 5.0% ABV, almost double the strength of many other examples of the style, but Professor Fritz Briem works. Berliner Weisse is the low-alcohol sparkling lemonade of the beer world and it's often tamed by all but the purists with a sweetened fruit or woodruff syrup to put the pucker factor in check. No need here, the lactic character is on the milder side against the beer's wheat and citrus. Some wild yeast notes add some depth to this pleasant fruity, moderately tart beer.
Bell's Brewery Oberon Ale
Oberon is a hazy golden American wheat ale that displays strength in its simplicity. There's plenty of slightly sweet wheat in the aroma along with spicy Saaz hops. Though it barely edges itself out of most agreed-upon definitions of "session strength" at 5.8% ABV, Oberon keeps it light with strong carbonation and refreshing orange and lemon accenting its smooth and creamy wheat malt. Accessible but by no means dumbed down, this is a beer that everyone at the BBQ will enjoy.
Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. Captain's Kölsch
Long a draft staple, Captain Lawrence started churning out six-packs of Captain's Kölsch (5.5% ABV) just in time for this year's warm weather drinking. The aroma is light and sweet Pilsner malt with subtle cherry and apple. It pours a brilliantly clear pale gold with a persistent bright white head. The flavor is all soft malt and slightly sweet fruit with a balancing charge of peppery Crystal hops. This beer is thirst-quenching and for my money, Kölsch is the ultimate lawnmower beer.
What's your go-to beer when it's hot out?