On hot days, taste finds a watery grave

You know what they say about summer in Philadelphia: It’s not the heat, it’s the lousy lagers.

These tongue-wagging temps bring out the worst in beer. We should be swimming in a pool of tasty, thirst-quenching suds. Instead, nearly every back-yard barbecue, every Delaware Avenue deck bar is a reservoir of weak-butted light American lager.

It’s as if the afternoon sun had dried up all our full-bodied ales – perfect refreshment in a less harsh environment – and left behind only the stuff that could withstand a thermonuclear blast: Bud Blight, Coors Extra Cold, Miller Yuck. You know, factory-made beers distinctive only for their complete absence of anything resembling taste.

And God help us if there’s ever a lime shortage. They’ll have to set up emergency counseling for the millions of suddenly helpless fruit-top Corona sippers.

What’s a beer lover to do?

Joe Sixpack, dizzily suffering symptoms of Stage 3 heat stroke, sought help this week from a pair of beer pros: Ben Myers (Lower Merion High ’88, now living in L.A.), whose “Best American Beers” has just hit the bookstores, and Lew Bryson, author of “Pennsylvania Breweries” and a contributor to Myers’ book.

Sixpack: You’re at a picnic.¬†You’re dying of thirst. But there’s nothing in the cooler but light beer. What do you do?

Myers: I’d drink it, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to a party like that.

Bryson: I’ll have iced tea. Actually, I’ve taken to carrying a flask with me. Usually they’ll have ginger ale, so I bring bourbon or rye. Wild Turkey rye and a big, old piece of lemon make a great summertime drink.

Sixpack: Do you ever drink light American lagers?

Myers: The honest answer is no. It’s not like they’re bad, it’s just that they don’t do anything for me.

Bryson: I almost always drink American light lagers when I’m grilling out back. Everybody else is inside in the air conditioning and I’m sweating up a storm outside. But I’ll lean toward Pennsylvania regional beers, like Straub or Yuengling.

Sixpack: How about beer in cans?

Myers: I’m a believer in the idea that beer always tastes better in glass. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a beer out of can.

Bryson: Wow, I hardly drink anything out of cans. Maybe some of that nitro stuff (from Boddington’s, among others). If I could get that Yards Premium in cans, I’d drink it.

Sixpack: OK, no lousy lagers, no beer in cans. What do you recommend in this heat?

Myers: I go back to basics, like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and their Summerfest. And Paulaner Hefe-weizen, which is a classic Bavarian weiss [wheat] beer, with generous but not crazy proportions of banana aroma.

Bryson: Try Stoudt’s Hefe-weizen. It’s absolutely perfect.

Joe Sixpack can’t quibble with any of those recommendations. Here’s another trio to try:

* Dock Street Amber in a can. Contract-brewed for Henry Ortlieb at New York’s superb F.X. Matt brewery, it’s the only East Coast craft brew in a can. It’s

ideal for the beach or the pool or anywhere else bottles are banned. If you want to save a coupla bucks, try Ortlieb’s Select Lager.

It’ll remind you of Yuengling.

* Victory Pils. For those who find Victory Hop Devil too heavy for the summer, the pilsner is a hop-filled treat from this Downingtown craft brewer.

* Celis White. Beer geeks swear the flavor’s fallen off since Miller bought a share of the Austin brewery, but I still enjoy sucking down this Belgian-style white beer right out of the bottle.

Beer radar

Two of the three beer labels on the cover of the pocket-sized “Best American Beers” are locals: Yards of Manayunk and Flying Fish of Cherry Hill. . .Congrats to Bob Grossman, the librarian at the Philadelphia Orchestra, who won top honors for his barley wine at the American Homebrewers Association 1999 national competition. Grossman, who brews from his Haddonfield, N.J., kitchen, is a member of HOPS – the Homebrewers of Philadelphia & Suburbs. . .

If there’s any better way to spend a hot afternoon than downing oil-can sized brewskis and hurling lethal weapons at each other, Joe Sixpack sure hasn’t heard about it. You can join in on the fun today at Independence Mall from noon till 1:30 p.m., when the Foster’s Boomerang 2000 Team will be showing off its stuff. It’s part of some hair-brained scheme to make boomerang-throwing an Olympic sport.

Joe Sixpack (written this week with a bottle of DeGroen’s Dunkles) appears every other Friday.

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