With grilling season now upon us, it’s time for a refresher course on how to navigate the craft beer section of your local store. The most important tip to remember is that not everyone will agree on a single type of beer, especially if you are venturing into really specialized brews. So stock up on a mix of them, fire up some steaks, and watch as your guests’ eyes pop—these 12 suggestions will most assuredly impress.
B. Nektar Meadery - Kill All the Golfers
This mead (honey-wine) is a crushable Arnold Palmer-inspired offering from Michigan’s B. Nektar Meadery. Brewed with black tea and lemon juice, it’s pleasantly sweet with a balancing acidity and tannic backbone. For something with strong flavor, it’s very thirst-quenching (and gluten-free).
Bell’s Brewery - Saturn
This new bourbon-barrel-aged barleywine from Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery (part of its Planets Series) is a terrific choice for sharing with guests after the hedonism of grilling and gorging has finished and those digestive enzymes are hard at work. Open with—or as—dessert, as Saturn is a robust, strong ale packing big toffee notes with an oaky vanilla underpinning from the residual bourbon. A great introduction to the world of barrel-aged beers.
Cigar City Brewing - Cucumber Saison
OK, if you don’t like cucumbers, scroll past this one. But, if you are indeed a fan of the green gourd, then this farmhouse beer from Florida’s Cigar City Brewing will delight you. An almost comically “summery” offering, it uses enough cucumbers during the brewing process to end up teeming with predictably bright green notes in the bottle. Citra hops keep things juicy, and keep the resulting brew from coming off as one-dimensional.
Crispin Cider Co. - Venus Reigns
California’s Crispin Cider Co. is now in its fifth year of an ambitious barrel-aging program, which has consistently yielded worthwhile results. This year’s product is no exception, a golden pear wine aged in handpicked red wine casks. A whisper of honey lends an overall soft sweetness, and at 6.9 percent alcohol by volume, it’s a thrilling table beverage for guests uninterested in imbibing anything with gluten.
Freigeist Bierkultur - Ottekolong
Freigeist Bierkultur is doing exciting things in Germany’s dogmatic brewing environment (land of the “Beer Purity Law”). This unfiltered Kölsch-style beer is an accessible joy to drink. Clean and grassy, it is very lightly sweet with a crisp dry finish. The only issue here is that it’s perhaps a little too agreeable a beverage.
Jack’s Abby Brewing - Hoponius Union
You know when someone says, “I only really like lagers”? Massachusetts’ Jack’s Abby Brewing is here to help. Focusing solely on the bottom-fermenting world of lager brewing, it’s done more to elevate the style (which is often overlooked by the craft beer world) than just about any other U.S. producer. This, its flagship India Pale Lager, is a sessionable New England favorite. Big citrus notes, a bitterness that isn’t fatiguing, and flawless carbonation will keep you coming back for more.
Lawson’s Finest Liquids - Sip of Sunshine
Originally only available in Vermont, Lawson’s Finest Liquids has a lineup that is already obsessively sought after by New England beer fanatics. In the past year, however, Connecticut’s Two Roads Brewing has begun contract-brewing this aptly named double IPA of Lawson’s. Packaged in tallboy cans and available in both states, if you’re lucky enough to find some, do yourself a favor and stock up—it could very well be a watershed experience for you and your guests. Tropical fruits practically leap from the can when opened.
Maine Beer Co. - MO
It’s hard to go wrong with any of Maine Beer Co.’s hoppy offerings, really. This one in particular is an exceptionally bright, citrusy American Pale Ale that hits the right notes with every batch. Make sure if you locate some to check the bottling date on the side of the package, as its bouquet is best admired fresh.
Omnipollo - Mazarin
Swedish brewer Omnipollo hit a home run with this recipe early on in its career, which it self-categorizes as an “Extra Special Pale Ale.” With big melon notes upfront and a strong grapefruit finish, it’s one of the more impressively hopped import choices on the market.
Brauerei Reichenbrand - Ritterguts Gose
Gose is a mostly forgotten German style that uses salt and coriander in the brewing of a sour wheat beer with moderate alcohol. Brauerei Reichenbrand’s is a great example first brewed in 1824. A lemon tartness gives way to a savory cereal center, with a surprisingly soft finish. Beyond easy to drink, it almost seems to evaporate in the glass before you know it.
Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus - Pils Tannenzäpfle
Pilsners are a perfect fit for times when drinking a complex beverage seems almost cumbersome. Germany’s Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus, founded in 1791, brews one of the most classic examples of the style. Healthily hopped with only a negligible bitterness, it is lightly sweet, then decidedly dry. This is one brew that won’t weigh you or your guests down too terribly.
Stillwater Artisanal - Classique
Maryland brewer Stillwater’s so-called Post-Prohibition Style ale has become what its name heralds: a cult classique. It’d be hard to fathom a beer drinker who wouldn’t want to double-fist this Belgian-inspired delight. Peppery, piney, and fruity, it has a terrifically zippy carbonation throughout.
Surly Brewing Co. - Hell
This Helles Lager from Minnesota is, truth be told, heavenly. Midwesterners in Surly Brewing Co.’s distribution network should stock up on this one for those who gravitate toward the crisp, lighter end of the suds spectrum. Bready and floral, it’s exceedingly balanced throughout.