In Florida, we canít count ballots but we know summer beers
Styles & Seasonals
June 16, 2002 Written by Aurelius
Tallahassee, FLORIDA -
Iím from Tallahassee, Florida. We may not be able to count election ballots down here, but one thing that we know is summer. The Good Lord has seen fit to bestow summer upon us from the second week in February to the third week in October every year, without benefit of a nearby beach. The humidity is akin to being smothered with a wet sauna towel. Please donít come crying tome about living in "Hot-lanta", or San Diego or (snicker) anyplace north of St. Louis. Iíll see you your heat, and raise you our humidity.
I reckon thereís a season for everything. All things being equal, thereís nothing that I enjoy more than a smoky pint of porter or a snifter of rich, fruity bitter ale. But, there comes that íHellís Hingesí season when no amount of applied ice can possibly redeem your stash of oatmeal stout. So here I sit this first week of June, watching the afternoon rain drip off the Spanish moss and wondering why I bought up all that Oktoberfest.
Fortunately, Iím not the first one to have faced this hellish oppression. Good men through the ages have sought shelter from the sun, and good brewers have stepped up to offer relief. Summer beers are about refreshment. Many regional and micro breweries offer a ísummerí brew. These are typically light lagers, blonde/pale ales or wheat beers.
Summer brews are like summer itself -- the important thing is that you keep it breezy and casual and donít screw things up. Weíre not painting the Sistine Chapel here, weíre trying to get a reasonable facsimile of Elvis onto black velvet.
I try to judge summer brews somewhat by their own aesthetic framework. To use a baseball analogy, the challenge isnít to hit it out of the park, but to consistently get on base. The assumption is that the sample in question is ice cold, and that Iím going to have at least two. Of my top 50 beers, which are dominated by chewy ales and porters, only about 3 would pass for summer fare. In the second tier of my ratings, the lagers, wheats and blondes are better represented. This generally means that theyíre a bit thinner, simpler -- which makes them ideal for hot weather consumption.
There are beers that you drink more of during the summertime, then there are beers that were *made* for summertime. The whole notion of a seasonal beer implies that you craft the recipe to be a little different than the usual fare, suitable to the occasion. For summer beer, that usually means adding a little zip to the flavor profile (additional hops, spices or citrus,) lightening the palate, increasing the carbonation, or perhaps reducing the alcohol content a bit.
There are many seasonals which are earmarked as such, but a lot of year-round brews fit the same profile. Letís talk about these characteristics, and look at some representative examples...
The refreshing, vibrant, often citrusy notes of American hops has become a staple of many summer brews, as with Harpoon Summer Beer. And thereís something about citrus that suggests coolness --lemonade, margaritas, so that is always a winner. Whereas many winter beers have lower carbonation, that sometimes leads to a heavier mouthfeel, so it is not surprising to see summer ales with the additional bite of high carbonation, like Cooperís Sparkling Ale. Wheat beers tend to be staple because they often combine the desirable qualities of a lighter body, high carbonation and cool spice and fruit overtones, so see if you can round up a bottle of North Coast Blue Star.
Given these wide parameters, there are hundreds of labels that will slake your thirst during the season. My personal recommendations for the sticky season: