Beer garden varieties, and garden-variety beers

WITH THE LONG Independence Day weekend around the corner, now’s the time to get ready for some backyard (or roof-deck) entertaining.

A few cases of summer ale are a good start, but to make the party even more memorable, get in touch with your inner-Martha Stewart. For inspiration, I tracked down Denise Sabia, an interior decorator from Ambler whose own backyard beer garden was recently featured in a photo spread in Country Living magazine.

“You don’t have to go crazy, spending $20,000 on a project,” Sabia told me, explaining that “we’re not talking about wine – this is beer, and it should be simple . . . There’s plenty of easy, creative stuff that any person can do very simply. “

Sabia makes use of everyday objects around her house – Mason jars, baskets, toolboxes, even an old pair of cowboy boots. The idea is to repurpose these objects to hold beer or food or table plants to create a unique look that will have your guests complimenting you on your creativity.

Indeed, that’s a reason to go to the trouble of decorating. You’re aiming to turn your space into a fun, sociable environment.

“The whole idea of a beer garden is to socialize with your friends,” Sabia said. “So you want to design a space where people can gather and face each other, and talk. “

And drink.

Don’t store your beer in that extra fridge hidden away in the dirty garage. Put it in a metal bucket, overflowing with ice, right in the middle of your gathering space.

“You don’t want your guests to have to go back inside every time they want a drink,” she said. “Keep them outside where the fun is. “

Sabia used an old metal trough for the beer, then found a wire basket and packed it with Philly soft pretzels. I’m fond of the fresh, bite-size “rivets” from Philadelphia Pretzel Factory, served with a selection of mustards that I doctor with horseradish, honey or Sriracha.

To keep the guests circulating, create small gathering “stations” with a focal point.

For one table, Sabia used an empty wooden cable spool that she picked up for free from a local electrical supply shop. She sanded it down (“You don’t even need to do that, if you don’t mind a rough surface,” she said) and stained it to look like a distressed bar top.

Your local hardware store is another source of cheap decorations. Sabia took a bunch of iron plumbing fittings and shaped them into hooks for jackets and beer mugs.

Don’t forget beer ornaments. A bunch of empty German malt sacks – the sort of thing breweries toss away daily – made an attractive backdrop, clothespinned to a laundry line.

“You want the decor to be guyish – this is not for a girls’ night out. Not that girls don’t drink beer,” Sabia said. “But we’re talking about simple, stupid stuff, and you don’t have to be a decorator to do that. Just have fun. “

To see more from Sabia, check out her blog at paintedhomedesigns.com.

Beer-garden brews

What to serve at your summer party? Here’s a sixpack of summer beers made for outdoor party fun:

  1. Evil Genius I Love Lamp (West Grove, Chester County): A pineapple hefeweizen? Yes, and before you mutter something about the sanctity of the Bavarian beer purity law, know that this excellent, thirst-quencher was one of the top beers in the Inquirer’s recent Brew-vitational.┬áLocal supplies are limited right now, but you can grab a taste tomorrow when I’ll pour it during Happy Hour Yoga at Yoga on the Ridge (493 Domino Lane, Roxborough). Tix $25, yogaontheridge. com.
  2. Two Roads Worker’s Comp (Stratford, Conn.): Brewery founder Phil Markowski, one of America’s leading experts on farmhouse ale, has turned out a rather fruity (a hint of mango?) refresher with this saison.
  3. Liquid Hero Schweet Ale (York): This newcomer to Philly beer shelves is a strawberry wheat ale that’s not overly schweet – I mean, sweet. Look for it in cans.
  4. Victory Kuhl Kolsch (Downingtown): In these hop-crazed days, Kolsch – the traditional ale/lager hybrid from Cologne, Germany – gets little respect. But this light, crisp, lemony brew seems ideal for dousing sweaty foreheads, especially when pulled from an ice bucket.
  5. Ballast Point Sculpin Grapefruit (San Diego): Two years after its introduction, people still can’t get enough of this unique West Coast IPA. The grapefruit only adds to the ale’s assertive array of citrusy hops.
  6. Heavy Seas Smooth Sail Summer Ale (Baltimore): This hop-forward wheat beer brewed with orange and lemon peel is available in cans only. The brewery suggests using it as a base for “beer-mosa. ” Just add fresh ginger and orange juice and serve over ice.

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