Attention. The following is an Official Joe Sixpack Heat Advisory:
With temperatures approaching the 100-degree mark, sizzled citizens risk severe health problems unless they drink ample liquids. Heat exhaustion, heat stroke and the dreaded dry mouth are potentially severe consequences should you ignore this advisory.
If you are reading this from the comfort of a barstool, stay put. All others are instructed to report immediately to the nearest cool, dark tavern and commence immediate malt-beverage irrigation.
Now, I’ll concede the unfortunate fact that alcohol consumption increases dehydration, and thus does not technically cool you off. But a nice cold beer sure takes the edge off this insufferable heat wave.
The problem for many beer drinkers is finding something that does the trick without the bloat. When megabrewers tackled this dilemma, they came up lite.
Thankfully, there are plenty of alternatives.
Wheat beer, made with a higher concentration of wheat (as opposed to solely barley) malt, is the most common prescription for heat-related ailments. Light in color and body, its sensuous aroma of banana or clover (a natural result of the yeast fermentation) gives it a refreshing character that’s like sticking an air conditioner up your nose.
The Belgians call it white beer (wit in Flemish, blanche in French) because of its cloudy, pale yellow color. My home-brew recipe for this style calls for ample amounts of dried orange peel and crushed coriander, which give the beer a light, flowery aroma. Unless you’re drinking in my back yard, seek out Hoegaarden and Blanche de Bruges from Belgium.
The Germans (who do wheat the best) call theirs weizen and drink it for breakfast. If you order a weizen in a bar, it is properly poured by stuffing the entire, overturned bottle inside a long glass, then gradually removing it as the thick, foamy head climbs to the top. Often, it’s served with a slice of lemon for added (but unnecessary) flavor. Seek out Ayinger Dunkles Ur-Weise or Schneider Aventinus.
The Americans call it just plain wheat beer, and unfortunately that’s often what it is: just plain. One of the few excellent American wheats is Celis White, produced by ex-Hoegaarden brewer Pierre Celis in Austin, Texas. Though absent from the local scene for a couple of years, it returned (under partial ownership of Miller Brewing) two months ago. Some friends have noticed a decline in its flavor, but it’s still an excellent choice when your shorts are sticking to your crotch.
If you want to support local craft-brewers, check out Victory Sunrise Weissbier from Downingtown or the moderately strong (6 percent alcohol) Valley Forge Peach Wheat, available in bottles.
Though not a wheat beer, Saison is another fine thirst-quencher. This crisp, spicy brew from French-speaking southern Belgium was traditionally made to cool off summertime workers and picnicking families. They’re usually orange with a distinctive tartness. Seek out Belgium’s Saison Dupont, available in 25-ounce bottles, or Yards Saison, on draft, from the sweatmeisters in Manayunk.
If you feel daring, douse the furnace in your mouth with a cold glass of gueuze (if you’re a Yank, say it gooz; otherwise, it’s gerze). It’s a type of naturally fermented lambic that is as sparkling as a flute of champagne.
The other night, some pals sampled the only gueuze on tap in America at Monk’s Cafe (264 S. 16th St.). While other local barkeeps protested that the gueuze importer had shut them out from the kegged brew, Monk’s cornered the market by agreeing to sell a full skid of a dozen kegs.
Co-owner Tom Peters said the draft gueuze, from Lindemans, is one of his most popular brands at the Old World-style oak bar at the rear of his cafe. Even on a night when the air conditioning was down, the room was packed.
On my right, Eric Velasco, a beer writer visiting from Macon, Ga., almost fell out of his seat when he took his first whiff. “It smells like the inside of my high school gym locker,” he gulped.
But beyond the funky, earthy smell lies a tart, refreshing taste. “A lot of beer-drinkers will enjoy this if they can just get beyond the fact that it doesn’t taste like the beer they’ve been drinking all their life,” Eric said.
Fellow DN staffer Scott Flander is still puckered from his first glass of gueuze. “Tha stuff ith like thucking a thour lemon,” he told our startled waitress.
If you can’t make it into Center City, there is plenty of bottled gueuze to be had in Fairmount, at Bridgid’s (726 N. 24th St.) and Cuvee Notredame (1701 Green St.).
A final note on the beers of summer: Don’t serve them too cold. That kills the taste and spoils their refreshing character. Somewhere around 50 degrees is fine.