Classes may be back in session, but as far as beer is concerned summer is far from over. Summer beers are delicious, often still fresh, and with the influx of fall seasonal brews now you can find them on sale.
There are an endless variety of styles, but summer brews fall into a few broad categories: summer ales, wheat beers, India pale ales, and fruit beers. Here is my guide to summer beers by style, with examples from Maine breweries.
Summer ales are mild, quaffable, session beers. They are typified by a pale gold to amber color, usually less malty flavors, effervescent hops with subtle citrus notes, and light bodies. Almost every microbrewery in the state makes one, but some notable examples include Casco Bay Summer Ale, Peak Organic Summer Session, Baxter Celsius Summer Ale, Geary’s Summer Ale, and Atlantic Brewing Bar Harbor Summer Ale. A good summer ale should be light enough to enjoy a few after mowing a lawn, but low enough in alcohol content to have while mowing the lawn. Look for beers brewed in August. The lime wedges are optional.
Wheat beers are deceptively complex. Some wheat beers are simply light, hazy ales, but others are true hefeweizens and saisons. The latter are known for hints of spicy clove and lemon zest, a foamy head, and a golden hazy appearance due to residual yeast and wheat as they are typically unfiltered. Allagash White, Sebago Hefeweizen, Marshall Wharf Bitty Belgian Ale-ien, and Black Bear Brewing Liquid Sunshine Hefeweizen are good examples. Some prefer to agitate the yeast at the bottom of the bottle. If you do, you might look fancy, but the yeast will only had a little more body to the beer and the flavor should stay the same.
India pales ales, or I.P.A., range from full-fledged hop-monsters that will rock your face off, to smooth, floral brews with bouquets that make wine drinkers doubt their value as human beings. The style is so broad that it has been further broken down into west and east coast versions, English and American versions, and double I.P.A.—another matter entirely. Broadly speaking, west coast I.P.A. is noted for strong grassy and bitter citrus high notes, with a sweet, malty body for balance. East coast I.P.A. is typically closer to English pale ales, with a hoppier finish and a noticeably more malty core. They range from pale copper to deep amber in color. Great examples include Maine Beer Co. Lunch, Atlantic Brewing New Guy I.P.A., Baxter Brewing Stowaway I.P.A., and Marshall Wharf Cant Dog and Big Twitch. Despite their reputation for face rocking, as a whole India pale ales are incredibly diverse and delicious.
Fruit beers are typically light bodied and very lightly hopped, with blends of fruit added during production. They can be hyper-sweet and syrupy or subtle and semi-sweet. Getting the right balance between fruit, grain, and hops is difficult, but worth it. For example, serving blueberry ale extremely cold with some fresh blueberries is hard to beat. But some fruit lends itself to beer better than others. Atlantic Brewing, Bar Harbor Brewing, and Sea Dog make the three best known blueberry beers, but Sea Dog also makes Apricot Wheat. Shipyard makes a Smashed Blueberry with a higher alcohol content and deeper flavor. Gritty McDuff’s makes a Raspberry Wheat, and Atlantic Brewing also makes Island Ginger, a wheat beer with ginger. And, not to be out-named, Sebago Brewing makes Bass Ackwards Berryblue Ale. If fruit beer is not your style, try mixing it with Guinness. Call it a black and blue, a black raspberry, or a darker and stormy.
Summer might be drawing to close, but do yourself and your local brewery a favor and drink up. Celebrate the end of summer, and by doing so you can make room for the fall seasonal beers just waiting to fill the shelves.