Chinese medicine recommends “drinking with the seasons” — that is, consuming scented tea in the spring, green tea in the summer, oolong tea in the fall and black tea in the winter, so that the drink complements the mood and temperature of the season. These are wise words, proven unequivocally by another of our favorite beverages: beer. In the winter, for example, a roasty, toasty stout complements a cold evening beside a fire, but in the summer, the thought of consuming a 14 percent ABV Russian imperial ruins the appetite for a drink entirely. No, as the weather turns warmer we thirst for something whiter, lighter, a bit more refreshing. Fragrant farmhouse ales (also called “saisons”) fit the bill, as do floral pale ales and low ABV session IPAs. ‘Tis the season for lazy Saturdays, day hikes and easy drinking. Put some fire to that charcoal and crack open a cold one — one of these would be fine.
Firestone Walker Easy Jack
Session IPA: Firestone Walker just slips into the list of the 20 largest craft breweries in the country, but, unlike many other breweries, their size doesn’t mean a loss of quality. If you can find it, their Parabola is one of the best Russian Imperial Stouts around, and their Double Jack, which is much more widely available, consistently makes it on to lists of Best Double IPAs. On April 1st, the brewery released a new beer: the 4.5 percent ABV Easy Jack Session IPA. The unique combination of hops — Bavarian Mandarina and Hallertau Melon from Germany, Mosaic from the U.S. and a secret blend from New Zealand — gives the beer notes of grapefruit rind and apricot.
If You Can’t Find It, Drink: Founders All Day IPA.
Green Flash 30th Street
American Pale Ale: Technically, 30th Street debuted in 2008 and then was rereleased in 2012 as part of Green Flash’s Brewing It Forward philanthropy event. However, Green Flash released the beer outside San Diego for the first time this April as part of their Hop Odyssey series. The 6 percent ABV 30th Street uses Warrior, Cascade and El Dorado hops, which give the beer a full-bodied, hoppy sweetness that make it taste more like an IPA than an APA (though the high carbonation and fruity esters found in APAs make them solid summer beers in their own right). The 30th Street is a limited release, so pick it up while you can.
If You Can’t Find It, Drink: Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
The keen observer will notice that there’s an essential summer style, the wheat beer, missing from this list. You see, there really weren’t any recent releases that tickled our top-fermented fancy. Luckily, this is less of a problem because there’s really only one wheat beer you need, and it’s a wily veteran.
Bell’s Oberon clocks in at 5.8 percent ABV and is seasonally released between Major League Baseball’s opening day and Labor Day. A perfect balance between citrus, spicy hops and smooth wheat malt makes it one of the best summer beers you can get your hands on. Added bonus: Bell’s just started canning it for added “cracking open a beer on a hot day” sensation (and maybe something to do with freshness and portability).
Great Divide 20th Anniversary
Belgian Strong Pale Ale: Back in 1994, the Great Divide brewery opened in Denver and started producing treats like the Oatmeal Yeti Imperial Stout. To celebrate their 20th Anniversary, Great Divide made this powerful 8.2 percent ABV Belgian-style ale fermented with Viognier grape juice. It smells of clover and funk, and tastes of Belgian yeast and grape juice. The dry, wine-like finish makes it a great choice to pair with lighter foods like seafood, or even cheesecake. Like the Green Flash 30th Street, it’s a limited release, so if you want it, grab it now.
If You Can’t Find It, Drink: Green Flash Rayon Vert.
Saison: Saisons, which originated from the Wallonia region of southern Belgium, are typically highly carbonated, fruity, spicy, barnyard-y brews, and this 6.1 percent ABV saison (made with Tettnang, Bravo and Cascade hops) is no different. Just as Allagash White evokes a sense of fall, the Saison evokes a sense of summer, trading typical brettanomyces funk for easy-drinking, herbaceous spice and sweetness. It joins the White, Dubbel, Tripel, Black, Curieux and House as part of Allagash’s full-time lineup. Welcome to the team, you orange-labeled beauty.
If You Can’t Find It, Drink: Ommegang Hennepin.
Eviltwin Brewing Ryan and the Beaster Bunny
Saison: It seems like every day Evil Twin Brewing comes out with a new beer, but that happens when you’re a “gypsy” brewery — owner Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø conceives their recipes, but brews them using other brewerys’ facilities. The 7 percent ABV Ryan and the Beaster Bunny comes from Two Roads Brewing in Stratford, Connecticut. On the nose, one gets lemon and bread, and in the mouth, citrus. It tastes like a lighter version of the Allagash saison.
If You Can’t Find It, Drink: Goose Island Sofie.
Stone Go To IPA
Session IPA: Stone created the Go To (or Go Two, get it?) IPA to answer for all the “weak” session IPAs that sacrifice flavor for a low ABV. To make the beer, they use a technique called “hop bursting”, which we imagined was a beery version of a “Shiva blast” but is actually adding a massive amount of hops during the final stage of brewing. Prepare your taste buds for a well-balanced IPA that tastes of grapefruit over a creamy malt backbone.
If You Can’t Find It, Drink: Stone IPA.