The best way to end summer: Have a brew

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I HAVE NO sympathy for beer drinkers fretting about the end of summer.

Sure, now that the softball season is over and the lawn is mown, you’re crying because you don’t have an automatic excuse for draining half a case of ice-cold lager. But if you haven’t had your fill of summer brew by now, you just haven’t been trying.

Nonetheless, as a public service, here’s a sixpack of Joe Sixpack tips for making the best of the last weekend of the Summer of ’04.

1. Get a last taste of summer

Most drinkers’ idea of summer beer is Hoegaarden, the famous Belgian white beer. And, given the number of taps devoted to milky, lemon-topped brew, it’s hard to blame ’em.

There are plenty of other wheat beers out there, but most of them will be gone in a matter of days. Before they disappear, try one of these different flavors:

  • Grant’s Mandarin Hefeweizen: No need for a slice of fruit in your glass; this brew tastes like it was made by Dole.
  • Three Floyds Gumball Head: A very drinkable (as in all night), hoppy wheat beer from the strange folks in Muncie, Ind.
  • Bayrischer Bahnhof Leipziger Gose: When you think German wheat beers, you think Bavaria; this one’s from the former East German republic. This once extinct style is made with salt, which gives it a sharp finish that plays off the lactic bacteria added during the boil. Very reminiscent of the refreshment of Belgian gueuze.
  • Schneider Wiesen Edel Weisse: Like a wheat beer on steroids, it’s foamier, citrusier and breadier. According to the importer, it was originally brewed as an Oktoberfest beer, which explains the bulked-up body.
  • St. Bernardus Witbier: Though this Belgian brewery is known for its high-alcohol abbey ales, it shows it can put out a relatively light wheat beer, too. It’s crisp and lightly spiced (orange, clove), with a slightly bigger kick than Hoegaarden.
  • Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale: I’d intended to pick up a bottle of this Japanese brewery’s refreshing wheat beer at the Foodery (10th and Pine streets, Center City) but grabbed this one instead. I’d apologize, only this was a happy mistake. After years of drinking horribly fizzy, rice-infused American lagers, this rice brew totally changed my view of that much-maligned beer grain. The rice is fermented like sake, then mixed with pilsner malt and further fermented with ale and sake yeast. It’s almost impossible to describe the result. Imagine if Pilsner Urquell made a red ale. Then add strawberries.

2. Cook up one last BBQ

For those who pack up the Weber when the leaves change, grilling time is almost over. For an end-of-the-season grand finale, try Beer Butt Chicken.

I’d been resisting this idea for years, believing the back end of a bird wasn’t the best place to deposit a can of my favorite adult beverage. Nonetheless, I succumbed last month and produced the best grilled chicken of my charcoal career.

Here’s the deal: Take a can of Bud, pour out the Bud and replace it with something drinkable. I used a spicy Yards Saison.

Rub your bird with any combination of “C” spices (chili powder, coriander, Cajun, clove, cumin, more chili powder). Then dump the remainder of the spices into the can with the beer.

Stand the bird upright and give the chicken the business with the can. Place it on the grill. (Be careful; Don’t dump the beer on your coals. )

Cook it over medium heat for about an hour, longer if you’ve got a big one. It’s done when the legs feel like they’ll pull off with a slight tug.

I don’t know how the suds help this recipe, but beer-can chicken is the most tender grilled chicken you’ll ever taste.

3. Taste a champion

One of the little-known secrets in the beer world is that Labor Day weekend is the best time to visit a brewpub. The reason?

Now’s the time when most breweries are putting the finishing touches on their entries in next month’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver. These are almost always the breweries’ most exotic, flavorful beers of the year – and brewers often put them on tap now for a last-minute taste and some customer feedback.

Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant (1516 Sansom St., Center City) is pouring a malt liquor that will vie for metal.

All of Iron Hill’s locations are serving GABF entries, including a trio of past medal-winners (Kolsch, Munich Dunkel and Vienna Lager) at the joint in North Wales (1460 Bethlehem Pike). Look also for Oud Bruin, a tart Belgian ale, at Iron Hill in West Chester (3 W. Gay St.).

4. Brew your own

I usually shut down beermaking operations during the summer – it’s just too damn hot to stand over boiling wort for an hour.

But this is your last three-day weekend till Columbus Day, so break out the kettle and grab some hops. You’ll be sipping your own brew before the World Series starts.

For supplies, see Home Sweet Homebrew (2008 Sansom St., Center City) Barry’s Homebrew Outlet (Front and Snyder, South Philadelphia) and Keystone Homebrew Supply (779 Bethlehem Pike, Montgomeryville).

5. Throw a kegger!

You know you’re over the hill when you can’t remember the last time you woke up with an empty keg on the back porch. The empty plastic cups, the half-eaten pizza, the lacy underwear strewn across the couch, pouring the leftover flat beer down your toilet. . . . Good times.

The easiest way to get young again and not waste any beer is a minikeg. Several brewpubs and distributors are now offering 5-gallon kegs (also known as sixtels) of specialty ales.

For $49, you can pick up a fresh keg of Pacific Pale Ale at General Lafayette Inn & Brewery (646 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill). The Beer Yard (218 E. Lancaster Ave., Wayne) offers a wide variety of micros in sixtels, with selections from Allagash, Anchor, Brooklyn Brewing, Dogfish Head, Grants, Lancaster Brewing, Sly Fox, Stoudt’s and Weyerbacher, among others.

6. Get a jump on Oktoberfest

True beer fans know Munich’s Oktoberfest begins in September. That means local versions of the malty lager are just hitting the shelves. Look for Flying Fish Oktoberfish, making its first appearance in bottles. Other American micro Oktoberfests are produced by Harpoon, Saranac, Penn, Stoudt’s, Victory and Weyberbacher. *

Foaming at the mouth

“Now far be it from me to deny somebody a cold one, but producing an aluminum bottle that keeps beer cooler for a little while longer seems . . . on par with the ancient Romans filling their swimming pools with wine, or Imelda Marcos’ thousands of pairs of shoes. In other words, we’re clearly running out of things to spend our money on.” – Tom Bodett, CBS Radio, on Iron City’s new aluminum bottles.

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