Personally, Joe Sixpack’s idea of the perfect summer cocktail is a colder beer – something to wash away the sweat after mowing the lawn.
When the going gets hot, most beer-drinkers predictably reach for an icy industrial lager, a Bud, a Coors, a God-forbid Lite.
It’s easy to understand why: They’re mostly refreshing and go down easy, in a mindless, inevitable way. Keep them under 45 degrees, to numb your taste buds, and you hardly notice you’re drinking.
If actual taste is among your beer-drinking criteria, do not despair this summer.
It’s true that strong ales and dark, malty lagers are better suited to a cozy chair in front of a fireplace. But plenty of lighter, tastier styles are available at your corner cooler.
Among my favorites
* Belgian white (or wit) beer. It’s cloudy and pale yellow, with a spicy yeast character. Look for Hoegaarden and Blanche de Bruges.
* German wheat (or weisse) beer. Less cloudy, but with a complex array of tastes and aromas (banana, clover) produced by the yeast. It’s usually served in a tall glass with a thick, foamy head. Paulaner Hefe-Weizen is everywhere in town, often served with a lemon. Try Ayinger Dunkles Ur-Weise or Schneider Aventinus for a bigger taste.
* American wheat. I’m not a huge fan of these. They’re often pale, bland imitations of the Germans. Nonetheless, I’ve never had a bad beer from Downingtown’s Victory Brewing, and its Sunrise Weissbier does not disappoint.
* Lambic. Often flavored with cherries (kriek), peach (peche) or raspberries (framboise), this is a quirky, traditional ale from Belgium. Though fruit beer is sometimes cloying and just plain wrong, lambic does it right. Look for unfiltered bottles, for a full taste, from Lindemans or Cantillon.
* Gueuze. Instead of fruit, gueuze (say gooz or gerze) gets its funky taste from a blend of different vintages of lambics. This ale is not for everyone, but fans love its strong, tart finish. Think lemonade on locker room steroids. Frank Boon and Cuvee Renee from Lindemans are terrific.
* Saison. It’s a French or Belgian artisinal ale, usually unfiltered and highly hopped. Saison Dupont is the most famous. Locally, Yards Brewing of Manayunk bottles a delicious Belgian Saison with hints of coriander and orange.
* Pilsner. The light, crisp lager that Miller Lite wishes it could be. Pilsner Urquel is the classic; Victory Prima Pils is hoppier.
* Kolsch. The ale version of pilsner, with a fruitier taste from the yeast. It’s hard to find bottles of this, but it’s usually available in brewpubs, including Independence Brewpub at Reading Terminal.
Other summer quenchers
* Flying Fish Farmhouse Summer Ale, with a dry, quenching finish.
* Samuel Adams Summer Ale, spiced with Grains of Paradise.
* Sierra Nevada Summerfest, a rare lager from this California brewery that’s crisp and refreshing.
* Kindl Berliner Weisse, low in alcohol and very refreshing, it’s often served with fruit syrup.
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.