Hoppy Summer Pours
Pick beers like a pro with these expert tips
To quench summer thirst, beer enthusiasts need easy-drinking brews like lagers, shandies, and IPAs, often featuring refreshing notes of fruit. Here are three of our favorites to help cool down after the heat of the grill.
LOCAL TWIST CITRUS WHEAT from Schell’s Brewing Company
A refreshing low-calorie grapefruit-and-orange citric wheat sure to quench any summer thirst.
BACKWOODS BASTARD from Founders Brewing Company
This warming bourbon-style beer is the ultimate pairing for anything charred, smoked, or sauced. Pairs beautifully with grilled veggies and other flame-licked summer foods.
PEAR OF PEACHES (IMPERIAL HAZY IPA) from Avery Brewing Company
This perfectly hopped IPA—loaded with luscious notes of pear and peaches—will have your mouth watering through every sip.
Be sure to start with intensity. Lighter foods need lighter beers. More flavor-intensive foods require heavier beers. Be sure to consider the whole preparation, not just the main ingredient. Sauces and spices can easily turn that lightweight grilled chicken breast into a heavyweight.
Consider light and dark. By “light” and “dark” I don’t mean color. I’m talking about the quality of flavors in both the dish and the dram. Light flavors are bright and refreshing, with a touch of acidity, like fish with fruit salsa. These foods call for dry, crisp beers, with those same fresh, fruity and spicy qualities: Kölsch, pilsner, wheat beers, and citrusy pale ales. Dark-flavored foods are redolent with roast, toast, and earthy, savory goodness, such as mushroom risotto. These foods pair well with dark flavored beers like porters, bocks, and funky bières de garde. Additional picks include:
312 URBAN WHEAT ALE from Goose Island Beer Co.
A thirst quencher with smooth bready sweetness followed by a zippy but gently spicy hop bite, while whiffs of citrus float in the background.
ELIOT NESS AMBER LAGER from Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Sweet caramel and toasted bread crust dominate, with moderate bitterness to balance. A crisp, dry finish keeps it light and drinkable. Perfect for a picnic.
Look for complements and contrasts. The sweet, caramelized maltiness of a German doppelbock is a great complement to roasted sweet potatoes or baked winter squash. Salty foods do well with the contrasting fruitiness and light, citric acidity of a hefeweizen.
Hops intensify heat, malt calms it down.
As a general rule, bitter beers with high levels of hop flavor will pump up the volume on spicy foods, while sweeter, malt-balanced beers envelop them in a flame-taming blanket.
Carbonation and hops clear the palate. Like acidity in wine, carbonation and hops in beer will clear away the tongue-coating fat of rich foods and creamy cheese. They leave your palate clean for the next bite.
The three components of a beer’s appearance are clarity, color, and foam. Clarity ranges from clear to hazy to so cloudy you can’t see through the beer. Color can be light, medium, or dark. For foam, consider the texture, amount, and how long it lasts. Your local vendor should be able to tell you how the type of beer you’re tasting should appear—so you can judge whether it’s successful or not.
You’ll get the best sense of a beer’s aroma right after it’s poured. You’re looking for characteristics of malt, which can smell like baked goods, roast coffee, or chocolate; hops, which have plant-related scents like citrus, pine, hay, herbs, or spice; and yeast, which can be fruity or spicy like bananas, oranges, cloves, or pepper.
In addition to the flavors you noted in the aroma, when tasting, you’ll also find elements of sweetness, bitterness, and balance. Also, pay attention to the same qualities you noticed in aroma, and note which you taste most. Is it mostly malt? Mostly hops? Mostly fermentation?
Here you’re paying attention to the body of the beer. Is it a really light, crisp beer, or is it full and chewy? Carbonation also comes into play. Some will have really low carbonation; others are super-effervescent. Also, notice the creaminess—is it velvety?—or astringency, and whether it warms you as you drink.
This plays into both aroma and taste. If the beer isn’t well brewed, it will feel and taste solvent-y and hot. But if the alcohol is well integrated, you’ll find some nice sweetness or even rose-like, floral tones.
Appearance, aroma, taste, mouthfeel, and alcohol content are more objective observations—you shouldn’t make any judgments when noticing them. But the overall impression is subjective: It’s what you feel after tasting, when you sum it all up and decide whether you like the beer or not.
WHAT DOES “CRAFT” REALLY MEAN?
Webster’s dictionary defines craft as “an activity that involves making something in a skillful way by using your hands.” But the Brewers Association defines a craft brewery as an independently owned, “small” brewery—one that produces 6,000,000 barrels or fewer—that uses traditional ingredients and processes. “But that definition says nothing about quality, and some small operations don’t fit under the guidelines,” says Michael Agnew, a Certified Cicerone and author of A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland.