In days of yorei, the harbingers of my summer times were the sudden bloom of wildflowers, the incessant buzz of insect symphonies in their endless circadian rhythms, and the first warm days of late spring where the winds cut through you and stirred the blood, coagulated with the cold of winter, and everything was wet and green and alive.
Ok, so these are actually mostly from Texas. But you get the point. Green! Alive! Other cliché!
In my middleii years, the world now filtered through adult eyes, and in the vast eternal summer that is the Texas Gulf Coast, one has to rely on more subtle clues for the progression of the seasons. Some rely on the artificial boundaries of the school year, some on the three-digit temperature boundaryiii, and so on, each to his own private game with the universe.
Me, I rely on beeriv.
More specifically, I rely on the summer seasonal brews. Now, I am a fan of beer. I have have mentioned this once or twice before. Now that I am older, I tend to enjoy the sort of beers that occasionally have seasonal specialtiesv. Occasionally, that means sampling the sort of beer that would make my German friend Hellmut recite the 1516 Bavarian Purity Lawvi. However, since I am not bound to imbibe only those beers made with a strict limit of barley, water and hope, my summer beer vista is wide open and spectacular.
Like this, but with beer.
So that brings us to the crux of this post. As a celebration of all things summer in Texas, I sampled a six-pack of summer specialtiesvii. Following are a few brief thoughts on each with a corresponding rating. Give his famous pronouncementviii that God made beer because he loves us and wants us to be happy, I have elected to rate these summer potables on a scale of 1 to 5 Benjamin Franklins.
The contestants, post-sampling: a fine selection of local and national brews.
Sam Adams Summer Ale – In this case, I kinda cheated. Sam Adams Summer Ale is not new to me. I discovered it in grad school, where my friend Scott and I shared many a tall glass of it at the bar-below-the-other-bar (you know the one I mean, Scott). But it fit the category, so there you are. It's a nice light wheat beer, excellent very cold, with a touch of lemon like a nice heffe-weisen, and something called “grains of paradise”, an archaic brewing spice. Very Summer, very drinkable. I give it three Franklins.
Deschutes Twilight Summer Ale – Deschutes Brewery is hit or miss for me, and even the hits are rarely out of the park. While this beer purports itself to be a Summer Ale, there wasn't much to it that said “Summer!” to me. It was decent enough, but pretty forgettable. Also, the name is too reminiscent of Sparkly Vampires™. Sadly, just one lonely Franklin for you, Deschutes.
St. Arnolds Weedwacker – While I generally love this local Houston micro-brew (a statement I never thought would come out of my mouth...), I was hesitant to add it to my list. The Weedwacker is a variation of St. Arnolds Lawnmower, which, unfortunately enough, really did taste a bit like cut grass. These guys are beer fanatics (more on it here), and they've really stepped up the game on this one. They took what was the runt of their litter, supercharged it with some Bavarian yeast, and BAM! It hits you in the mouth just like you might expect of its drunken saint namesake. Equivalently, it has a nice, almost repentant finish...just like you'd expect of a drunken saint who has just hit you in the face. Not my favorite Arnold's by a mile, but a decent summer brew. Flavorful, if not light.
New Belgium's Sommersault – New Belgium is one of my favorite breweries. I really have to work hard to find one of theirs I don't like, and they have several places in my top ten. A really great macro microbrewery known for fantastic seasonal brews. Their summer seasonal, “Sommersault” is not among the best of the best they offer, but is a quality take on the fruit/beer junction (Sorry Hellmut, Bavaria, et al. ) There is just a hint of Apricot...and I do mean hint. Had I not read the label, I would not have placed it (as opposed to the also good Pyramid Apricot Ale), and a touch of ginger. It's a light, refreshing summer beer, and the citrus notes work well with the hops chosen. Unlike some others, the essences are not the show here, and the beer underneath the apricot and ginger traces could easily stand on its own.
Magic Hat Wacko – Magic Hat has moved beyond being just a novelty, but none of their brews really stands out to me. Great design, but the product is usually acceptable, but not noteworthy. Wacko is...well...aptly named. I understand wanting to set one's self apart from the Heffe-weisens and fruit beers that form the core of the summer offerings. But they went with beets. Yep, beets. Oddly enough, it kinda works. The beet seems mostly for coloring, and not to the point of looking like Kool-Aid. There's a slight earthy sweetness, but nothing recognizeable. It was a nice beer. Just nice. Nothing remarkable, other than the novelty of a beet-based beer, but pretty drinkable.
Shiner Ruby Redbird – Shiner is one of those great Texas traditions that has universal appealix For my non-Texas friends, Shiner is Texas' Yuenglingx; perhaps even more so. The Spoetzl brewery puts out a pretty decent field of brews, including the only “light” beer on the larger producer side of things that's worth drinking, to me. You can tell these guys have a lot of fun with it, but really take their beer seriously. They specialize in beers that speak to east Texas' German heritage, but that doesn't stop them from going outside the lines now and again. Ruby Redbird is just such a brew. Not as odd as beets, but grapefruit is certainly not the first place one's mind goes as a precursor to “-flavored beer”. But the grapefruit essence is far from overwhelming, and really works well with the beer and the light touch of ginger. To me, this is what summer beer is supposed to be..light, refreshing, easy drinking and with a uniqeuly summary character. I got this one mostly as a joke, but ended up going back for a six-pack. It is some seriously tasty beer, despite its seemingly incongrous elements.
ii.e., ye olde 1980's, where if you don't allow for the somewhat rosy and overly sentimental bit to follow, one might assume was a time of rampant, flowery prose.
iiOr middling? Midden? Mediocre?
iiiNot the most helpful, as this is often broken by late May.
iv...and here you thought this was going to be another flowery, wistful reminiscence post..
vI am not a beer snob in the traditional sense of snobbery, as I will gratefully accept any cold beer with a good friend on a hot day. However, in personal preference, I lean toward the good stuff.
viIn Hellmut's defense, he never actually RECITED it...just referenced it occasionally when one of us was in danger of going astray.
viiOur supermarket gives me the lovely option of creating my own six pack from a sampling of beers that change on a weekly basis. This makes my summer sampler a much less time and cost-intensive process. And for the sake of SCIENCE (!), I did not sample them all at once. That may have improved the general levity of this post, but would have greatly reduced my ability, especially these days where two beers in a row is a “party”, to discern subtle difference and accurately make observations.
viiiWell, ok, so he didn't ACTUALLY say this...what he said, in a letter to André Morellet, was“Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.” When I looked this up, I almost decided to use Sam Adams (the Founding Father) for the rating instead. However, it turns out Sam was not an actual brewer, contrary to popular belief, but a partner in a malting business. Seeing as old Ben was just an all around cool fellow anyway, I went with the populay mythology.
ixUnlike other great Texas traditions like Lonestar beer, drilling every last inch of ground for oil, and Bush presidencies.
xFor those further North, a better Labatt's. For those further west...umm...like a beer version of In-and-Out Burger? Nothing fancy, but good all around.