The spectrum of summer-friendly beers has gotten pretty damn big. Not that long ago, you basically had the choice between a pale ale and a shitty mass produced lager if you wanted something relatively light and refreshing to drink in the sun. Maybe a hefeweizen if you were lucky. But now? Craft breweries are slaying old school summer friendly styles like the gose and Berliner Weisse; they’re tackling pilsners and lagers; you’ve still got those easy going pales but also session IPAs, saisons and farmhouse ales…there are so many more craft beer options if you’re sitting in a tube on a river now. It’s a wonderful time to be alive.
Because I grew up in Atlanta, I will always equate summer drinking with Sweetwater Brewing. Specifically, their Blue, a wheat beer brewed with blueberries. It’s a year-round brew, but I always reached for it when it was hot. The Atlanta-based brewery has three new beers that are on the market now through the end of summer. You can get a couple of them in their new Summer Variety Pack, which also comes with 420, Goin’ Coastal, IPA and TripleTail. I sat down and worked my way through all three new beers, because it’s hot outside and I’m wearing flip flops. Here are my thoughts.
“Lover” might be one of my least favorite words in the English language, right up there with “moist,” but I’m not going to let my own personal hang ups affect my thoughts on this Berliner Weisse, which is brewed with mango, passion fruit and guava. It pours clear with a thin head that disappears as soon as you’re done pouring the can into the glass, and smells like the mango it’s brewed with. But the taste is all passion fruit, not in a sweet, ripe bowl of fruit kind of way but in a tart “I picked this fruit a little too soon” kind of way. But that’s what you’d expect from a Berliner Weisse and that’s one of the reasons why I love this style. They’re tart without being sour, light on the tongue and the ABV and typically lack any malt depth while still managing to bring a certain level of sweetness. The Berliner Weisse is complex, but still super easy to drink. And Tropical Lover nails the style. It’s 4.5% ABV, available in 12 ounce cans and on draft.
Oh pilsners, how I love thee. They’re crisp and light, dry and bready…and they have helped define summer drinking for the last god knows how many decades. But this pilsner is a bit different. It’s hopped with Crystal, Mandarina Bavaria and Ciara, and pours slightly cloudy with that signature pilsner pillowy head. But all those hops help this beer transcend standard pilsner confines. First and foremost, it smells like a dank West Coast IPA. Like someone stored weed with a bunch of mangos. The hops play a significant role in the character of the beer as well, providing a citrusy element that you don’t necessarily find in a lot of pilsners. That citrus sweetness transitions quickly to bitter orange peel, before giving way to a super dry finish, like you’ve been eating crackers and sand all day (but in a good way). It’s incredibly easy to drink, but still complex enough to keep things interesting. This is the summer pilsner for IPA fans. It’s 5.3% ABV, and available in tall boy cans.
Sweetwater’s Hatchery Series focuses on small batch, experimental brews and so far, they’ve been intriguing without being too damn weird. A chocolate milk stout, a New England IPA, a black lager…and this Golden Summer Ale, the 6th beer in the series, follows suit. Summer ales are easy drinking beers that are also easy to overlook (why not just grab a lager, you might ask yourself), but Sweetwater loads this beer with hops from Australian and New Zealand and marries those Southern Hemisphere weeds with malted oats. The result? Subtlety in a glass. It pours light gold with a thick head that lingers for days. There’s some faint fruitiness on the nose, but it’s so subtle I think it might just be my imagination. And the sip is dominated by really pleasant bread notes, like biscuits. It has a slick, almost greasy mouthfeel (greasy biscuits!), and the hops come in to add a layer of bright, bitter fruit on the back end of the sip. It’s 4.8% ABV, and available in bottles and on draft. You can even find it in that summer variety pack.