The idea was to meet the Beer Chicks for a pint. The topic was summer beer.
The Beer Chicks are beer experts with twice the volubility -- because there are two of them, and because they've forgotten more about beer than I'll ever remember and are eager, very eager, to share. I wanted to know if there are any worthwhile summer beers from the country's craft and faux-craft breweries, the likes of Sam Adams, Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Alaska, all of which are available at BevMo! and none of which is available at The Surly Goat, the West Hollywood beer bar where we'd decided to meet.
In a word, no.
To the Beer Chicks, summer beers are more or less a marketing construct. "Of course seasonal beer is very traditional," explains Beer Chick Christina Perozzi, "but it was always about seasonal ingredients, summer grains and spices becoming available in season. Now they can get whatever they want, whenever."
I order a Dogfish Head My Antonia Pils, named, inexplicably, for the Willa Cather novel. Beer Chick Hallie Beaune settles into a Vanilla Solidarity Mild Ale from Eagle Rock Brewery, while Perozzi orders a Pliny the Elder Double IPA -- not exactly summer fare but evidence of her very serious intent.
Thirsts addressed, we address thirst.
"I want my summer beer to be sessionable," Beaune says, and while I'm pretty sure that's not a word in the dictionary, it gets the point across: For every thirst a beer, and a beer for every thirst. Whether driven by pool or beach or mountain path or patio grill, there's a remedy to put back what the sun has sapped out of you, a restorative. "You really want a beer that's got a low ABV [alcohol by volume]," Beaune says, "that's not too sweet or not too bitter, where you can sit in the sun and just knock it back." Dryness and clarity, check.
As Perozzi chimes in, she mimes what I suppose is her throat, and makes a gesture far more vivid than anything she's saying, raising her arms and slowly balling her hands into fists, as if to say, "You really must strangle that thirst."
I'm sure she said something else, but all I can remember is that slow, murderous, slaking gesture -- for this, after all, is the thing that a good summer beer does.
For the Beer Chicks, that sometimes means a good lager and/or pilsner, such as Trumer Pils or Mama's Little Yella Pils from Oskar Blues in Colorado, or Ballast Point's oddly cornbread-scented Longfin Lager, or the many offerings from the Maui Brewing Company, a place afflicted with a permanent summer. The Beer Chicks' summer tastes run heavier than I expected -- they profess love for IPAs, black lagers and other hoppy variants.
In truth, beerwise, they're totally agnostic -- they absolutely love everything. They mention the odd rauchbier, in which the malt is smoked. Its mild smokiness, they say, pairs magnificently with summer barbecue. But in the end we agree to agree that the weissbier in its various forms -- witbier, wheat, white beers -- may come closest to mastering thirst best.
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Broadly speaking, white or wheat beers come in two styles, fruity and phenolic weissbier (German) and witbier (Belgian), yellow, slightly cloudy ales that are often subtly spiced with things like coriander or orange peel. Many aren't spiced at all, like Berliner Weisse, which are traditionally dosed with syrups of raspberry or woodruff.
For me, the odd variant of witbier is the ideal thirst-killer. Two in particular I'm fixated on, from opposite ends of the Earth: Allagash White from Maine and Hitachino Nest White Ale from Japan, two splendid ales with Belgian leanings, which feel light on the palate but with a bracing, murderous grip that seems to grab you in the mouth down to your throat, a thirst asphyxiation like no other.
Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Have a spirits question for a future column? Ask him. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.