Thursday, June 23, 2011

'Tis the Season

We all know that seasons have their own vibe; a natural ebb and flow to the year. Matching beer styles to those vibes has become a popular way for breweries to showcase styles or ingredients that they normally don't brew or use. It also gives them a chancce to experiment with smaller batches, year-to-year, without loosing their shirt if the experiment isn't, how shall I say, effective. Brewers have been making beer seasonally for time immemorial. Historically, the spring and fall were the best times to brew, because of fairly stable natural temperatures. The two most popular months were March and October—especially October because it led into five or six months of cool weather, perfect for storing and aging beer and ale. Moderate natural temps for fermentation and cooler temps for storage, that's the way it worked for thousands of years. Since it's no longer 1530 and now it can be 72º in Abu Dhabi, just as easily as it can be 72º in Reykjavik (inside a mall at least), brewing techniques have obviously changed. Regardless, seasonal brewing is still all the rage. We now have a beery menu for all seasons—from Bèire de Mars to Winter Warmers, Fest-biers to Maibocks, and the list goes on and on. Summer seems to be the season with the broadest range of interpretation. For a while American "Summer Ales" became one note, lemon zingers. That's changed. Breweries have embraced a wide variety of styles to give their summery-stamp of approval.

So, boys and girls, it's time to compare and contrast. I'm going to give a brief breakdown of four different beers, of four different styles, from different breweries, all of which are 2011 "summer offerings." Put on your shades, grab the sunscreen and get out the ribs for the barbecue—we're about to go on a beery summer vacation.

Sunshine Pils, Tröegs Brewing Co., Harrisburg, PA 

This one poured bright yellow-gold with a thick, marshmallowy head. I picked up a grainy aroma with a slight citrusy quality. It's fairly dry and smooth, with a light and creamy feel. There's a background metallic taste and just barely, a honey-like sweetness. It's moderately bitter and slightly black peppery with a very light straw or fresh-cut grass, hop flavor. It's quite a bit less aggressive than other pils I've had. My standards are a nowhere near that of Velky Al's self-proclaimed Pilsner Fundamentalism, but either way, it's a tad mellow, but that's not entirely bad.

First off, the new Redhook, retro, cone-top, bottles are pretty cool. 

Hazy gold—darker than I would expect from a Wit—with a thin, fleeting head. Carbonation is high on this baby, it churned and bubbled, but good. Right away I noticed a yeasty, almost toasty aroma. I got some spice, but no banana, and just a hint of sweet orange or tangerine. The label reads, Made with Ginger, but still digs Mary-Ann (which is effing great, by the way.) The sharp ginger notes are there, but in the background. There's just the tiniest sting, a reminder of ginger's lemony heat. Not like Thai food, but an essence of ginger without being gingery. What's more prominent is it's dry, biscuity notes. A wheaty mix of bready malt and Belgian yeastiness. It has a light effervescence to it, and it's not as dense as other American Wit's I've had. 

What make this ultra? I'm not quite sure. The name ultra does remind me of a laundry detergent or a Japanese superhero kid—like Ultra Tide or Ultra Boy. Anywho, I digress. It poured yellow-gold with almost no head. It has a prominent grassy citric aroma, with floral notes of mango and grapefruit. It's lighter in body than most American pales—clean and dry, with a bready malt profile—balanced by hoppy hints of orange and pineapple. There's a stone-fruit tartness to it, as well. This one has a nice bitterness to it, but not so much that it overpowers. There's also and interesting herbal spiciness, toward the end. If the first two were subdued, this one sure isn't.

Wacko, Magic Hat Brewing Company, South Burlington, VT 

Yeah, hoo-boy, where to start with this one? First off the color—hazy, rosy-pinkish-orange—like mixed cranberry and orange juices. Honestly, it's pretty off-putting, but I soldiered on. Not much of a head, just a thin, soapy film. I didn't get a whole lot out the of aroma either; an odd, grainy yeastiness. It's heavily carbonated, almost like champagne—fizzy and thin. The carbonation seems to dry it out as well. The taste to me, is very metallic, as if I were drinking it from an unlined can. There's an pronounced earthiness to it, and no bitterness at all. I want this beer to have a fruity essence to it or some sort of berry quality, that's just not there. It's thin, seltzer-like, dirt qualities are too distracting for me. In my opinion, this one is a swing and a miss for Magic Hat.

What I noticed most, out of all these beers, was their light bodies. Even the Wacko, which fell flat everywhere else, still had a lightness to it. These beers, like summer, have a come-as-you-are feel. They've shed their malty, winter coats and snow boots in lieu of sprite bodied, tank tops and flip-flops. Don't get me wrong, I still love my porters, dopplebocks and barley wines, but there is something to be said for lithe and jaunty, purpose-built beer's of summer.

Now then, I've got to go mow the lawn and fire up the grill!  

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