The beers of summer

Mowing the lawn? Mow a few of these down
By JOSH SMITH  |  July 28, 2010

PARADISE FOUND The lawn, and the reward.

In the country that gave birth to supersizing and the stretch Hummer, bigger is often confused with better. The world of American craft beer is no exception.

Jim Koch of Samuel Adams is proud to take credit for launching the era of extreme beer in 1994 with his 17.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) Triple Bock. That record as the strongest beer ever brewed has been broken repeatedly, along with other boundaries like the number of IBUs (International Bitterness Units) that hop monsters can top out at. While rarely to my own taste, extreme beer shouldn't be dismissed merely as a passing fad. Without extreme brewing, I doubt craft beer would contain such a wide variety of ingredients (like seaweed), techniques (aging in bourbon barrels), or styles (such as the newly-emerging black IPA).

That said, I think many craft brewers are ready to come back down to earth. Let's face it, beers with a blinding bitterness (think BrewDog's Nanny State and its 225 IBUs) are only going to scare off potential converts to craft beer. Even less extreme, malty standards like Bocks and Browns tend to turn off macro-drinkers as too filling. Sometimes you do need a lighter, more drinkable beer; perhaps for that upcoming barbecue or for when you're out mowing the lawn this summer.

What I refer to as a lawn mower beer is called a session beer in craft beer circles. Session beers contain no more than 5% alcohol, a critical consideration since obviously too many beers in a row with high ABV will result in intoxication (not the end goal of craft beer drinking, mind you). Almost as importantly, a session beer must be balanced; too many IBUs or too heavy a malt profile will overwhelm a drinker's palate. With these guidelines in mind, here are my favorite session beers for the dog days of summer.

Pale Ales are a great place to start for their balance and flavor. SMUTTYNOSE SHOALS PALE ALE is one of my all-time favorites for its bitterness reminiscent of a traditional English Bitter you could drink by the mug-full. BOULDER HAZED & INFUSED is certainly infused with a lot of hops, but is still drinkable pale ale. If you aren't a self-avowed hop-head like me, STOUDT'S AMERICAN PALE ALE is equally well-crafted but a lighter and better-balanced beer.

Less common but equally well-suited to summer drinking is the Blonde Ale style. SIXPOINT SWEET ACTION out of New York is my favorite, with a distinct fruity flavor that conjures up the sublime sensation of sucking on a giant peach. Two standard-bearers from Maine, SHIPYARD EXPORT ALE and GRITTY McDUFF's VACATIONLAND SUMMER ALE, offer a choice between light bitterness and a sweeter, malty profile, respectively. In Massachusetts, IPSWICH SUMMER ALE is far more flavorful than most other summer seasonals, and MAYFLOWER GOLDEN ALE pairs well with most any meal.

A few other notable session brews have a little farther to travel to get to Rhode Island. Oregon's WIDMER HEFEWEIZEN bears little resemblance to a traditional German Hefeweizen, but has a pleasingly light body and citrus flavor. The import HOEGAARDEN ORIGINAL WHITE ALE is another beer with remarkable thirst-quenching abilities and is a common sight on tap. And one of the oldest beers in America, San Francisco's ANCHOR STEAM BEER, is just as widely available and has a very unique earthiness to it.

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