WHAT DOES the label mean when it says “spring beer”?
I know what it used to mean: bock. Bavaria’s seasonal beer of Lent. Brewed dark, malty and strong to sustain fasting 17th-century monks, bock beer’s annual appearance on the shelves stemmed from a longstanding historic tradition.
These days? “Spring beer” means anything a crafty copywriter can come up with, which is to say it means absolutely nothing.
It could be Blue Point Spring Fling, a copper-colored ale whose “special German barley and the zesty spice of fresh American hops . . . creates a harbinger of the new season.”
Or it could be Shiner Dortmunder Style Spring Ale, a lager whose “smooth, well-rounded flavor [is] the perfect fit for any springtime activity.”
Or it’s the new Blue Moon Spring Blonde Wheat Ale, whose press release quotes the brewer: “We definitely had spring fever when we were brewing Blue Moon Spring Blonde Wheat Ale, and I like to say it’s like a splash of sunshine in your glass.”
Otter Creek Spring Ale is a delicate German-style Kölsch. Red Hook Mudslinger Spring Ale is a nut brown ale. Peak Organic Simcoe Spring is an exceptionally hoppy pale ale whose hops, the brewery’s promo says, “really pop, like flora in the spring.”
Last year, Pyramid Brewing announced it was “gearing up to leap from the winter chill” with Fling Pale Ale, a light-bodied, moderate-strength (5.2 percent alcohol by volume) pale ale. Fling must not have had enough zing, because this year Pyramid announced it would “ignite the season with a bang” with Outburst IPA, a strong (8.5 percent alcohol) imperial India pale ale.
I credit/blame Boston Beer for this nonsense. Years ago, the company realized that by adding seasonal beers to its rotation, it doubled its tap handles in many of its accounts. Every three months, you’ll see a different Samuel Adams seasonal pairing up with its reliable flagship Boston Lager.
While Summer Ale, Oktoberfest and Winter Lager were all big hits, Sam Adams never could seem to figure out the vernal equinox. Over the years it’s tried Spring Ale (a Kölsch), White Ale (a Belgian witbier) and, now, Noble Pils (a hoppy pilsner), which somehow “reminds hibernating beer lovers that spring is just around the corner.”
Maybe that evolution explains the schizophrenia the rest of the beer world suffers each spring. Or maybe it’s climate change. Either way, you can’t tell from the label if the word “spring” means you’ll be shaking off winter’s chills with a bracing malt bomb or welcoming summer with a crisp hops refresher.
The only solution? Try ’em all.
Here’s a sixpack of other noteworthy spring beers:
Magic Hat Demo: Part of its Spring Fever Mix (packaged with Vinyl Amber Lager, Circus Boy Hefewizen and #9), it’s a black IPA that is the best new Magic Hat brand I’ve tasted in the last three years. The bitterness of its dark-roasted malts complements its Goldings hops.
Lost Abbey Carnevale: Named for the pre-Lent festival, it’s a dry-hopped saison with a touch of citrus and a bit of funky yeast.
Lancaster Rumspringa Golden Bock: Available in cans, it’s a golden bock that takes its name from the period when Amish adolescents let loose before deciding to join the church.
Southampton Biere de Mars: Think of this farmhouse ale as the French/Belgian version of bock. Amber and malty, yet entirely refreshing.
Equinoxe du Printemps: From Canada’s Dieu du Ciel, it’s a Scotch ale (9.5 percent alcohol) made with maple syrup. Thick, sweet and boozy.
Sierra Nevada Glissade: A rare lager from the California micro, it’s a pleasantly malty golden bock with just a touch of fruit in the nose.