Suds To Slake A Summer Thirst

Summertime, and the guzzling is easy: That's a refrain microbrewers across the country hope to hear often this summer. With the arrival of hot, sticky weather comes a new lineup of seasonal suds aimed at helping thirsty throngs keep cool during the dog days.

Consider: In recent months, Miller Brewing's Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing in Chippewa Falls, Wis., brought out Honey Weiss Bier, billed as a "summer refresher with a hint of honey." Pete's Brewing in Palo Alto, Calif., unveiled Pete's Wicked Summer Brew, "an authentic pale ale, with a delicate hint of natural lemon flavor." Boston Beer introduced a summertime entry called Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat, combining a wheat malt ale with cherries. New York-based New Amsterdam claims its Blonde Lager, which made its debut in April accompanied by posters showing a strawberry in a glass of the beer, is ideal with smoked foods and grilled meats at an outdoor barbecue. Meanwhile, Sapporo is marketing a summer beer called Hokkaido Stout Draft.

INNER SHADE. As the names suggest, most summer brews are produced for chugging during the months when the mercury climbs high. Indeed, summer beers follow the microbrewer tradition of seasonal offerings, such things as pumpkin ale in the autumn and chocolate stout in winter. Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat beer, for instance, is scheduled to show up in stores annually, from April to September. Leinenkugel's Honey Weiss has a May-to-August run, while Hokkaido Stout will be available from June to September.

Some popular summertime brews will stick around through all four seasons. New Amsterdam Managing Director Joseph Magliocco says he's so encouraged by early sales of Blonde Lager that the company will try to keep the momentum going through the frostier months. Highly rated Belgian-style Celis White, from Celis Brewery in Austin, Tex., is also available year-round. Celis White, a pungent, cloudy wheat beer--one of my favorites--is suffused with the flavors of coriander and other spices.

Despite the range of character and quality, most summer beers are lighter in color, taste, texture, and alcohol (though not in calories or, at $5 to $10 a six-pack, in price) than their cold-weather counterparts. Wheat beers and pilsner-style beers (pale gold, refreshing lagers) are typically well-suited for warm weather, as are beers that have a hint of fruit in them. The corked Framboise Lambic, imported by Merchant du Vin in Seattle, is a raspberry-flavored dessert ale that some tasters have compared to soda pop.

Most summer suds have something else in common with soft drinks: On a steamy day, they taste terrific chilled. "Unlike many full-flavored darker beers that are best served at cool but not cold cellar temperatures, summer brews can be served cold and still keep their taste," says Timothy Harper, author of The Good Beer Guide to New York, scheduled to be published in September. Harper is a partner in the Brooklyn Brewery, which offers a limited-edition entry called Brooklyn East India Pale Ale, one of several summer beers that a group of BUSINESS WEEK's proudest biermeisters hoisted during an informal taste test. Although the Pale Ale was a bit too bitter and overpowering for my taste, another magazine guzzler thought the beer was "smooth and extremely pleasant."

LIGHT-HEADED. Many of the BUSINESS WEEK testers shared my opinion that Pete's Wicked Summer Brew's subtle lemon flavor would mesh nicely with grilled food at a backyard or beach barbeque. As with other light beers, Pete's Brew is not overpowering and doesn't offer much of a head. Similarly, New Amsterdam Blonde Lager would complement a light summer meal. It has a smooth, refreshing character, and our sippers detected a hint of malt and vanilla.

I was also quite satisfied by the unusual and somewhat tangy taste of Saranac Mountain Berry Ale, from F.X. Matt Brewing in Utica, N.Y. The rich ale is fermented with honey and fruit juices, though its sweetness will probably turn off some. (One of my unenlightened colleagues sniped that it was "the white Zinfandel of beer.")

Oh well, who can account for taste? Pass the bottle opener, please.

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