As you laze through the easy days of summer, your mind drifts into another world where palm trees sway as gently as the hips of a samba dancer. The sun beats, warm and soothing, on your torso as you listen to waves breaking on the shore. Gulls drift overhead, cawing as they dive toward the sand with precision movements. In this relaxed state, you dream of session beers, those low alcohol wonders of summer that make for a soft, easy buzz.
Lou Bryson, author of four brewery guidebooks targeting the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., would be proud of you. His advocacy for session beers is a growing movement, one that can hardly be debated on a steamy, humid day when quick hydration becomes a necessity.
But some beers that “look” like session beers can get you in deep trouble if you don’t mind your p’s and q’s. Many people think beer that is light in color is light in alcohol; but the black and gutsy Guinness Irish Stout has only 4.2% ABV. Malheur Bière Brut, on the other hand - with the clear, straw-like clarity of champagne, has 12% ABV. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. The consequences of not knowing can be as stiff as the drink itself.
But not all beer drinkers are innocent of the ABV factor. Sometimes you might want a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of hit that launches you into the stratosphere at the speed of light. Me, too. With beer, there’s something for everybody.
Which summer sizzlers have that not-to-be-missed factor? I can only start with a few to get your imagination going. The rest is up to you and your keen sense of Sherlock Holmes-ian doggedness. I already mentioned Malheur Bière Brut – ditto with DeuS. Both are light on the tongue, with alcohol levels out the wazoo.
But take a look at A Little Simpin’ Sumpin’ Ale from Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma, California. Typically, the ABV in wheat beers slide in at 4.5 to 5%, along with gentle flavors that seduce the parched palate. A Little Sumpin’ teases you with its honey orange body and mousse-like head. Its grapefruit aroma says ‘summer’ as it mixes in with biscuity malt flavors, a silky mouthfeel, and dry, minty aftertaste. With all those C-hops – Cascade, Columbus, and Chinook – the citrus takes center stage, but those higher levels of wheat and barley malts push the ABV up to 7.5% ABV.
Saison Brett from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City Missouri is a hazy yellow Saison, one of Boulevard’s Smokestack Series, with champagne-like carbonation and a fluffy head of eggshell white. Rich flavors of grain and herbal grasses mix with lemon zest and earth, delivering a funky little beast with an ABV of 8.5%. Easy drinkability is the danger factor, but one which I treasure exploring in the heat of the afternoon.
Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project of Cambridge, Massachusetts rolls into the high ABV market with a spring release of Fluffy White Rabbits that lasts well into the summer. In Yorkshire, England, folks commonly wish each other “white rabbits” as a token of good luck. Just having a few gulps of Fluffy White Rabbits will confirm your own good fortune as you become immersed in Weyermann malts from Germany and Fawcett malts from Yorkshire, pushing the ABV to 8.5%. Lasting flavors of peaches, apricots, apple, tropical fruit and orange peel emerge from a blended balance of Saaz, Strisselspalt, and Styrian Goldings hops.
The Bruery of Placentia, California digs its heels into the sand with an American Blonde Ale from the Preservation Series: Or Xata. A tribute to horchata, a traditional, rice-based beverage that can calm the burn of spicy, Mexican food, Or Xata clocks-in with a firm 7% ABV, hidden beneath a malty sweetness that celebrates cakey flavors of vanilla, cinnamon, and light rum.
The real surprise comes with Regular Coffee Cream Ale from Carlton Brewing Company in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. As a classic Jersey-ism, regular coffee for work is prepared with “milk and two sugars.” This hazy golden beer, lit with orange highlights, imitates that regional “ism”, culling the best of local coffee in summery iced splendor. Created with a blend of Mexican Chiapas and Ethiopian Sidamo from Fair Mountain Coffee Roasters, this over-the-edge cream ale nails the rich aromas of morning coffee, while creating the illusion of creamy satin in your mouth. But watch out … at 12% ABV, this Regular Coffee is three times more potent than any session beer, while quenching your thirst with three times the satisfaction factor.