Spring is upon us, with all the weather unpredictability that defines the season. That poses a dilemma for beer drinkers, too. The heavier, stronger beers of winter are too much, but the light, refreshing summer ales don't have quite enough body for April's vernal cool. Bocks, which many breweries released last month, continue to be good choices -- and this year, the first day of spring was marked by Saison Day, a celebration of an ideal spring beer style. Not too light and not too heavy, saisons are slightly spicy and effervescent, and usually burst with flavor.
So lift a saison, and read on for the latest news from the craft beer world:
Play (orange) ball: Spring also marks the return of baseball, of course. ESPN, USA Today and the Bleacher Report are not predicting a winning season for the Oakland A's -- wouldn't it be fun if they were all wrong? -- but the pressure is on for the San Francisco Giants, who have won the World Series the past three even-numbered years. So Anchor Brewing is trying to help with a new collaboration beer, Orange Splash Lager, which just debuted in cans and on draft. The idea, Anchor brewmaster Scott Ungermann told me, was to make a beer as orange as possible, both in color and flavor. In addition to common malts, he used Patagonia Especial malt, which gave the beer a very Giants-ish orange hue.
More fruit: Anchor has released two other, non-Giants beers with fruit over the past year. The first, a Meyer Lemon Lager brewed with California Meyer lemons, has a zesty, lemony kick. The Mango Wheat uses sun-ripened mangoes to make an effervescent golden ale with tropical aromas. Both are available in cans.
Hop chef champ: On April 16, Oakland's Drake's Dealership will be hosting its first Hop Chef Champion Brewer event. Each of the 16 breweries involved will be given a randomly selected ingredient -- anything from ginger to juniper berries -- with which to create a beer, and the breweries involved range from San Francisco's 21st Amendment and Triple Voodoo to Alameda's Faction and Monterey's Alvarado Street. The results will be available for the first time at the event, which begins at 2 p.m. (Find more details in the News & Events section of drinkdrakes.com.) The winner will be determined by your vote. Sounds like a lot more fun than this year's presidential race.
Brew fest: Head for Martinez on April 16, when the Bay Area Craft Beer Festival takes over Waterfront Park from noon to 4 p.m. More than 40 breweries will be pouring their beer at the event, which includes live music and food trucks. Shuttles will be available to carry festivalgoers to and from the North Concord BART station. Find more information at bayareacraftbeerfestival.com.
Soaring stats: A year ago, the Brewers Association announced that craft beer sales had hit 10 percent of the total beer market. Now the association has just released its latest figures, and craft has made sizable gains once more: Craft beer accounts for 12.2 percent, by volume -- and the number's at least twice that in the Bay Area.
Assorted sips: If you're a Westeros fan, look lively. Umami Burger, which has locations in San Francisco, Oakland and Palo Alto, will begin carrying the latest beer in Ommegang's "Game of Thrones" series, a Seven Kingdoms Hoppy Wheat Ale. Meanwhile, San Diego's Mike Hess Brewing, which was founded by a Walnut Creek native, has expanded its distribution to include the Bay Area, with at least six of its beers available. I visited the brewery in San Diego a few years ago, and it's making some great beers. And Virginia is getting quite the West Coast presence: Deschutes Brewing announced that the Oregon company will build a new facility in Roanoke, and San Diego's Stone Brewing will hold a grand opening for its new Richmond, Virginia, brewery next month.