Summer beer lists tend to focus exclusively on lighter styles: Goses, Radlers, wheat and fruit craft beers — the usual suspects.
During the dog days of summer, we prefer those styles to, say, Russian Imperial stouts. But let’s be real here. If you’re a fanatic like us, you don’t just ignore heftier IPAs, DIPAs, barrel-aged beers, and “non-summery” beers for three months.
This year, we wanted a more inclusive summer craft beer list. So along with the summer seasonal beer styles we know and love, we’ve included a wider mix of 2016 picks from a few of our favorite beer sites, and why we love ’em, to help us all muddle through the tough choices.
Enjoy this expert roundup and tell us about your favorite summer beers of 2016 in the Hop Nation community.
Summer Beer Picks and Tips from Top Tasters
We gotta admit, as craft beer enthusiasts and writers, we admire the way beer scribe Aaron Goldfarb describes his summer picks almost as much as the beers themselves. In his 2016 summer beer roundup for Esquire, we found three new brews that instantly went on our to-devour list. Here’s are a few of his picks that caught our eye.
Okay, let’s forget about his Eagles jabs for a moment, and consider this megacollaboration. This is a mid-Atlantic craft beer supergroup, where 7 of our personal favorites from the Greater Philadelphia region busted out a new summer beer that defies current trends. For going against the grain, and showcasing the skills of seven first-class breweries, Brotherly Suds was an immediate addition to our list, as it should be to yours. This brew was a big hit at Philly Beer Week 2016.
Earlier this year seven Philadelphia-area brewers got together and, no, it wasn’t simply so they could bitch about how much Sam Bradford sucks. Instead, the septuplet decided to collaborate on a beer they could serve their fair city all summer long. The breweries are some of the biggest in the business—Yards, Flying Fish, Sly Fox, Troegs, Iron Hill, Stoudt’s, and Victory—and the style of the beer is intriguing too. They’re calling it a ryebock lager—essentially a German-style offering made with spicy rye and a hearty dose of noble hops.
Dry Hopped Sour/Wild Ale
We like the nomadic, mobile brewing approach of Grimm Artisanal Ales. And the fact that their beers are becoming more widely available. But this IPA/sour combo profile? Tipping point, unlocked.
Grimm Lucky Cloud
Grimm Artisanal Ales has seemingly come out of nowhere to not just become one of New York City’s best breweries, but one of the entire east coast’s. Fitting, as they are a nomadic brewer with no actual brewing space in Brooklyn (aside from owners Joe and Lauren Grimm’s apartment). Instead, the Grimms make their exotic beers in other people’s breweries up and down the east coast, everywhere from Virginia…to nearby Staten Island. The good news: these beers are distributed to numerous states. The bad news: people are catching on and they are selling out quickly. Perfect for kicking off summer is Lucky Cloud, a sort of IPA/sour ale hybrid—hazy and fruit-juicy like the former, acidic and tartly tropical like the latter.
Bouncing over to the West Coast, a completely different style beer caught our eye: wine-barrel-aged, dry-hopped sour ale with citrus and fruit infusions. While that’s not a lighter, summery profile that we’d always go for, Almanac Tropical Platypus sounds like a winner. Let’s find out when the heat peaks.
Read more: 10 Beers to Keep on Your Radar This Summer
Along with the fine taste and posts we’ve seen from the Paste Magazine crew, they showcased a bunch of brilliant beers from the 2016 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival. You couldn’t make it to the festival either? Let’s all make up for it by chasing down some of these standout beer picks from John Verive and Jim Vorel.
Gin Barrel Aged Pilsner
Not content with simply showing off a different style than sours, the Half Acre Brewing squad unleashed a pilsner-rum/gin-barrel-spice combo that reads like “Whaaat?” but got us intrigued. Not your everyday summer seasonal approach by a long shot. And that earned their Gin Barrel Aged Pony Pils a spot on here, too.
Half Acre Brewing — Gin Barrel Aged Pony Pils
While many other attending breweries at the festival filled their rare beer slot with weighty stouts and funky sour brews, Chicago’s Half Acre Brewing brought a pilsner. Not just any hoppy lager, this special treatment of the brewery’s Pony Pilsner brings some big botanical flavors to a balanced and pleasant pils that’s already great on a hot day.
Adding gin-soaked oak aging to a delicate pils seems like a trainwreck in the making, but Half Acre’s brewers manage to juggle the additional elements with panache. The base beer gets just a few weeks of contact time with freshly dumped barrels from Corsair Distillery. The barrels, first used for spiced rum before aging gin, provide some vanilla and spice character alongside a more assertive juniper and rosemary punch. The brewers say the brew is overwhelming when sampled straight from the barrel, so they dial-in the flavor profile by blending the aged pils back into a fresh batch of Pony Pilsner. It’s a complex harmony of pils malt, european hops and bold botanical flavors that remains approachable and quaffable, even if you’re not a gin lover.
As John Verive notes in another of his picks, session IPAs have a love-it-or-hate-it reputation, and apart from the best-known examples, they can be a risky proposition. But we’d gamble on The Coachman based on its hoppy mix and full-bodied feel. A fresh session IPA choice for long summer afternoons? Check.
Societe Brewing — The Coachman
Session IPAs were one of the most popular styles at last year’s Invitational, and although there were fewer pouring this year, those that were on offer were excellent. Perhaps the most excellent was this example from San Diego’s Societe Brewing. The session IPA sub-style is polarizing, with detractors calling most examples watery or one-dimensional; I’ve long been a proponent of these easy-to-drink ales that bring a big hop assault to a lighter, more refreshing package. The Coachman stands up against prime examples of the SIPA ideal (e.g. Pizza Port Ponto, Firestone Walker’s own Easy Jack, Founder’s All Day IPA, etc), especially in the critical consideration of how many pints you can sit through before getting stultified. “Sessionable” is usually defined at a sub-5% ABV, but more important than just the lower alcohol, a truly sessionable beer needs to hold the drinker’s interest through a session’s-worth of pints. A beer that you’re bored with after one glass is no session beer, and The Coachman has enough body (there’s a big dose of malted wheat to improve the texture) and enough complex hop character from the melange of Saaz, Simcoe and Mosaic hops to keep you going back sip after sip. – John Verive
Okay, this pick from Jim Vorel is a curve ball, with two iconic craft brewers producing a killer pilsner (which couldn’t be much further from their brands’ stylistic reputations). It’s a bold move, and if you’re seeing a trend with this list, you’re absolutely right (and thanks for reading this far). Points to Firestone Walker and Russian River for originality, experimenting with a style that’s often overlooked not just in summer but year-round by craft fanatics, and releasing what sounds like the perfect baseball game day beer: STiVO Pilsner.
Firestone Walker/Russian River — STiVO Pilsner Collaboration
This is a beer that everyone at the festival was aware of in advance and that everyone coming through the doors to pick up their tasting glass received a ticket to try. It was, therefore, something that everyone was looking forward to critiquing, and it passed that test as one of the finest pilsners at a festival that was surprisingly pils-heavy. We would like to think this is at least in part due to an ongoing pilsner revival (we’re about to do pilsner blind-tasting at Pasteourselves), or perhaps just thanks to the fact that the festival was so damned hot, but the collaboration of STiVO brought together two of the West Coast’s best pils—Russian River’s STS and Firestone’s Pivo—into something altogether new, although subtly so.
The result is a pilsner that splits the difference (and the hop bill) between the two. It’s slightly bigger in ABV, but still quite dry and very crisp, with firm, expressive hops that lean toward grassy and herbal flavors, perhaps with a twist of lemon. Which is to say, it’s a very drinkable, damn refreshing pils—a delicious beer, although hardly the one that almost any fan of Russian River or Firestone Walker would have expected. For two breweries renowned for hop bombs (Pliny the Elder, Double Jack) or world-class barrel-aged beer and sours, to collaborate on their version of the perfect American/German pilsner was truly a unique and ultimately inspired choice. The proof is in the results.
While we’re not enthusiastic about beer shakes, we loved Outside Magazine’s summer beer picks for 2016. Especially columnist AC Shilton‘s take on the trend of special IPA releases for summer. Shilton notes that in the past three years, hop producers in Idaho dramatically increased their output of experimental hops — making for a big wave of new flavors and recipes now ready for your craft beer glassware.
Among the three very different IPAs from three of our longtime favorite breweries, we think Hop Slice from the heroes at Deschutes is one more session IPA to push up your summer beer list. Honestly, we
could drink their Chainbreaker White IPA year-round, but warmly welcome this citrus-driven recipe to the mix.
Deschutes Hop Slice: Sometimes you want to drink a few IPAs and still be able to paddle your kayak in a (semi) straight line. For that scenario, stock your cooler with this Meyer lemon-infused session IPA. The sweet-tart notes of citrus make the beer more refreshing than heavy, though it’s brewed with three types of hops.
When it comes to fruit beers, we’re very wary of overly sweet or artificial-tasting concoctions that hide the hoppiness we crave most. Despite our reservations, we’re open minded and willing to explore — especially when Dogfish Head is involved. Like their Flesh And Blood IPA for instance. Strong on citrus and ABV at 8.5%, plus a nod to experimental hops? Say no more, except maybe, Will that be cash or credit?
Dogfish Head Flesh And Blood IPA: A fruity beer for people who don’t like fruity beers. Mixed with blood orange juice, orange peel, and a touch of lemon, and featuring multiple hops including the experimental HBC 431, this 8.5 percent imperial IPA is robust, well-balanced, and hardy.
You might know Troegs from some of their best-known beers (and our favorites): Mad Elf, Nugget Nectar, Sunshine Pils or DreamWeaver Wheat. They’re known for versatility, which makes it easy for us to covet their Nimble Giant double IPA. Proximity doesn’t hurt, either.
Tröegs Independent Brewing Nimble Giant: At 9 percent ABV and 69 IBU (International Bitterness Units—the scale ranges from 0 to 100), this double IPA is everything a double IPA should be. It has hints of “grapefruit rind, honeysuckle, and the forest floor.” Classy and shockingly strong.
Read More: The 3 Best Beer Trends of Summer 2016
Ok, let’s wrap this one up. We could keep going and going, with more picks and styles and reviews … but let’s face it, summer would be over before we hit ’em all. At a certain point we all need to stop researching and reading and get down to the business of buying, drinking and (hopefully) enjoying the hell outta these beers. So, let’s get out there and toast to summertime beers of many styles!
What’s on your summer beer list? How do you like these picks? What beers are you loving this summer? Let us know your summer beer picks here.