There's my treasured Lagunitas B2K, brewed in 1999 for the Millennium, Brooklyn Brewing's Monster Barleywine-Style Ale and a single bottle of Westvleteran Abt 12 from the Belgian Trappist monastic brewery of the same name. Each is strong and dark and would be tempting indeed on a cold rainy night. But not this week. Lingering summer heat calls for a less-filling, more thirst-quenching brew.
If all one wants is something cold, fizzy and alcoholic, then go right down to your closest supermarket and stock up on whatever American industrial lager is on sale Bud, Miller, Coors, Mickey, Pabst Blue Ribbon. It doesn't matter. You're buying fizz and alcohol, not taste. Although in a world without alternatives, I'll personally always go with Pabst.
Fortunately this is 2005 not 1955, and we have an abundance of choices.
The problem is it's a slippery slope when a brewer aims for "dry and thirst-quenching." Unless care is taken, a beer can wind up so dry and bland that it approaches blah. Try to add spices and there can be trouble ahead, a sort of vanilla-Curacao hell, to mention two blatantly over-used spices.
But the worst problem is one that big lager brewers fight every day: Dry, thirst-quenching beers tend to be delicate beers and they must be treated gently. They don't like bright light or heat, and they're made to be consumed fresh.
It's a lesson I once again learned the hard way recently. On a search for good summer beer, I discovered a neat box of 12 beers labeled "Summer Beer." It contained several beers I know well, but there were others I had never seen. There was a stack of these boxes in a store in Walnut Creek, and (joy!) they were on sale.
That night I set out ambitiously to sample all 12. The box was a bust. Nearly every beer had faded. One had the characteristic wet cardboard taste that marks oxidation, which is what happens when the oxygen in the space between the top of the beer and the cap has time to do its dirty work. The few that were dated were at the end of their recommended three-month lifespan.
The lesson: Beware bargain beer boxes.
Here are four great summer beers I did find none came in a box.
Sam Adams Summer Beer, Boston Brewing Co.
Sam Adams has become so ubiquitous that it's easy to ignore. Don't miss this 5.2 percent refresher. It's made with a Belgian yeast, malted wheat and barley, a bit of cardamom, and an Indian spice often called grains of paradise, which adds a peppery note.
Lagunitas #10 Crispy Summer Ale, Lagunitas, Petaluma.
Another winner from Lagunitas, this one has a full malty taste and a dry finish. Hops are Horizon and Willamette, which add citrus, spicy notes. But Tony Magee, Lagunitas founder, says the flavor notes come from the Belgian yeast culture. It works.
Sudwerk Pilsner, Sudwerk Privatbrauerei Hubsch, Davis.
This is an excellent, classic American pils from Sudwerk's German brewkettle, and a winner of a string of awards over the last decade. It has a lively malty taste with a gentle, hoppy follow. After a long hiatus, Hubsch beers are turning up in the Bay Area again. I found my sample at Andronico's and was pleased to see it.
Trumer Pils, Trumer Brauerei, Berkeley.
This brewery is a partnership between Gambrinus, a San Antonio-based importer, and the Josef Sigl brewery in Obertrum, Austria. It's an exact duplicate of Austria's Trumer Pils: malt and hops in perfect balance, dry, pleasing follow. It's a perfect beer for a warm summer evening. Tonight, perhaps?
All these beers can be found in stores with good beer stocks. Can't find something? E-mail me at email@example.com.
Final note: Some of finest craft summer beers, of course, are wheat beers. You can find my recommendations at http://www.beernewsletter.com. Also on the blog this week, a chat with Ratebeer.com's Joe Tucker, who is moving to the Bay Area this month from Austin, Texas. We discuss Ratebeer's take on the best beers in the world. Many blog items can also be found at http://extras.insidebayarea.com/blogs/beerblog/.
Hats off to Rogue Ales
Rogue Ales of Newport, Ore., has always made the best of beers. Now the company is importing a couple of well-regarded English craft ales from Freeminer Brewery in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, UK. They are: Trafalgar India Pale Ale, a 6 percent alcohol by volume, bottle-conditioned ale, and Waterloo Red, a 4.5 percenter. Beer critic Michael Jackson named Trafalgar one of the world's 500 best beers.
In exchange, Freeminer will be importing Rogue ales to the UK. The Freeminer beers will be widely available in the Bay Area soon, Rogue says. Right now, they're for sale at the Rogue Ales Public House at 673 Union St. in San Francisco.
Quote of the week
At the end of the Tour D'France on Sunday morning in Paris, reporters asked Lance Armstrong if there was anything he wanted to do that he hadn't had time to do during training and racing?
"Yeah. Drink more beer," he said. Amen.
-This Thursday through Sunday, head up to Portland, Ore., for the 18th annual Oregon Brewers Festival. If you like the idea of a beer festival and don't mind a bit of travel, there's no better festival in America (in my humble opinion) than this one. Traditionally, every brewer in Oregon participates, as well as invited brewers from California and much of the rest of the known world.
The festival is held at Tom McCall Waterfront Park along the Willammette River in downtown Portland. The best Portland restaurants have booths and there's non-stop entertainment. It's easy to leave the festival, stroll the downtown streets to shop, and return to the festival. For more information, visit http://www.oregonbrewfest.com.
-The Great British Beer Festival is being held in London, England, Aug. 2-6. Sponsored by the Campaign for Real Ale, this is the granddaddy of the world-wide real ale movement. It's my goal to attend next year. For information, visit http://www.gbbf.org.
William Brand publishes What's On Tap, a consumer craft beer and hard cider newsletter. His column runs every other week. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 3676, Walnut Creek, CA 94598, or call (510) 915-1180.