Summer, the season of backyard barbecues and beer. Many people have their “go-to” summer beer, but with the rich history of summer beers and the plethora of options to choose from today, it can be a great time to try something new.
It’s only fair to start off an article on summer beers with Germany, the country that gave birth to the lagering process that produces the majority of all beer consumed today. Before the invention of refrigeration, beer had to be lagered in the icy winter conditions and wasn’t ready to drink until the warmer months. Many of the popular styles today, such as Pilsner, are as a result of this cold treatment. Some of the most well-known styles are below:
Originally from Cologne, Kӧlsch is an all-barley beer fermented with an ale yeast at near freezing temperatures. Light, crisp, and clear, Kӧlsch beer is characterized by its subtle, slightly fruity flavor. Being a controlled appellation beer, only true Kӧlsch can be brewed in Cologne. Breweries in America have Kӧlsch-style lagers, such as Magnolia Brewing’s Kalifornia Kӧlsch.
Commercial Example: Any Kӧlsch from the region
Pilsner / Pils
Known as the world’s most popular beer, the Pilsner hails from the city of Plzeň, in Czechia. To stay true to the style, a Pilsner must consist of a generous dose of Saaz hops and 100% Pilsner malt. Modern descendants, such as Budweiser, use a multitude of adjuncts like corn and rice to keep the cost down, and bitter with hop extract of varying origin. Anyone who has drunk beer has likely had a Pils of some form, and none would argue how refreshing it is on even the hottest of summer days.
Commercial Example: Pilsner Urquell
Witbier / Weissbier
Famous in Belgium and Germany, both Witbier and Weissbier mean “white beer”, referring to the characteristic pale colour that results from the high wheat content typical of the style. The major differences between the regional styles lie within the notes of spice and fruit present in the Belgian variety. Due to the complex ester and flavor compounds the yeast produce, these beers are best enjoyed at a slightly warmer temperature, with their fruity and zesty flavor still making them a perfect match for summer.
Commercial Examples: Hoegaarden Witbier, Schneider Weisse Weissbier
Saison / Biere de Garde
Saison, or “season” in its native French-speaking region of Belgium, is one of the original summer beers. Brewed in the winter to avoid spoiling, each farmhouse brewed their own recipe with spices and other local ingredients making it hard to pin down definitive characteristics. Workers of the farm would be entitled to a portion of saison each day to quench their thirst in the hot summer sun. While modern saisons have held true to the spicy, fruity nature of their ancestor, the beer has moved to a higher %ABV, making it a beer for cool evenings, rather than hot workdays
Commercial Example: Saison Dupont
Session/Day-Time IPA: The last 10 years have seen an astronomical rise in the popularity of the India Pale Ale (IPA) style. Often fermented to over 7% in ABV, it can be hard to drink more than a few in a single sitting. To keep consumers happy in the summer with the hop explosion of an IPA, many craft breweries are offering “Day Time” or “Session” IPAs that are lower in alcohol. Sitting more comfortably in the 4-5% range, session IPAs can be just as delicious and refreshing as their bigger siblings but without the debilitating side-effects.
Commercial Example: Lagunitas Day-Time IPA
Fruit/Vegetable Beers: Another popular style in the last few years that has come out of craft breweries is fruit beer. While definitely not a new idea – Belgian lambics have been around for centuries – these beers are brewed specifically with summer in mind and include ingredients such as watermelon, grapefruit, and lemons. Though sometimes derogatorily referred to as “prisoner’s hooch”, the popularity of these beers among otherwise non-beer drinkers is a testament to their pleasant taste and refreshing nature during hot summer weather.
Commercial Example: 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon
Extract and All Grain brewers alike can make an excellent summer beer – with or without a lagering setup. For example, Saison yeast flourishes in the warmer temperatures above 70, giving off the distinct twang the style is known for. Ballast Point brewery in San Diego maintain a number of recipes for homebrewers to try, two of which are included below.
Ballast Point Session Saison – 5 gallon All Grain
4 lbs Pilsner Malt
1 lb Vienna Malt
1 lb Munich 10L Malt
1 lb Flaked Rye
1 lb Flaked Wheat
Mash temp: 147 F; Mash time: 60 min
Mash notes: Add up to 0.25 lbs of Rice Hulls mixed throughout the grain to prevent a stuck mash from the addition of rye and wheat adjuncts.
Boil Total Time: 60 minutes
0.4 oz Northern Brewer 60 min
0.8 oz Tettnang Whirlpool
Ferment with White Labs Belgian Saison I Yeast (WLP565).
Fermentation Notes: Knockout at 68 F and free rise during fermentation for 14 days.
Kӧlsch – 5 gallon extract
6 lbs Pale malt extract
1 lb Wheat malt extract
1/2 lb 10L Crystal malt, steeped in hot water for 60 minutes
Boil Total Time: 60 minutes
1 oz Northern Brewer (6.9%) 60 min
1 oz Tettnanger 10 min
1 oz Tettnanger 2 min
Ferment with White Labs California Ale Yeast (WLP001)