Beers built for long, hot desert summers like those we experience in Los Angeles must be moderately low in alcohol (or you'll drop before round two) and incredibly easy drinking. They must be thirst-quenching and so smooth you don't know how you reached the bottom of your glass or bottle in such short time.
Session beers — loosely describing brews around 5% alcohol or lower — should balance malt and hops harmoniously, with neither overpowering the other. There is a place in summer for big, hoppy beers, but we'll get to those later.
To kick off the season we want something drinkable. German beers meet our criteria beautifully. Bottom-fermenting, cold temperature lagers (like the Pilsner featured) and ales that are unusually cold-fermented (see our beloved Kolsch) produce crisp, bright beers. Wheat beers (check out #4 and #1) after the jump) are equally suited to our summer requirements. The following five beers, listed geographically from north to south, are perfect fling material.
5. Honey Saison, Almanac Brewing Co. (San Jose)
Almanac Brewing advertises “farm to bottle beer,” emphasizing the local farmers with whom they partner and the seasonality of their beer. Saisons are notoriously good for pairing with a wide range of food and this offering, brewed with honey and ginger and aged in French Oak, is no exception. It's available year-round, though we've seen it in higher volumes recently. Match it with mid-intensity cheeses like brie and lightly-fried foods or fruity desserts. A somewhat mature choice, this beer is built for outside dining and more appropriate for resting on the arm of a wooden Adirondack chair rather than beside a kiddie pool. Forget that. We'd sip this beer from the depths of a kiddie pool any summer day.
4. Wilder Wheat, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Co. (Santa Cruz)
Organic American-Style Hefeweizen, 5.4%
We're still on the fence about this unusual beer, but wanted to offer it as an organic alternative. There are relatively few organic breweries: most are concentrated in the Pacific Northwest region, because there are as few suppliers of raw brewing materials, organic malted grains and hops. This selection from Santa Cruz Mountain is light and slightly bitter with almost no lingering aftertaste. Highly active carbonation had us thinking of Martinelli's with a bitter green apple profile. Offer it to a friend who prefers white wine and organic bragging rights — you probably know the type.
3. Pivo Pils, Firestone Walker Brewing Co. (Paso Robles)
Gentle nudging of Bohemian hops in this otherwise German Pilsner demonstrate Firestone Walker's understanding of their hop-obsessed California audience. The straw hat hue and bright white foam on this newly-released beer make it the picture of summer, while moderate alcohol levels will keep you from immediately passing out on your lounge chair (wait until you're on your second). A great selection for coaxing those commercial lager lovers into the world of craft beer. Try it with fried calamari or fish and chips, or spicy Mexican food.
2. Cabrillo Kolsch, Golden Road Brewing Co. (Los Angeles)
Kolsch-Style Ale; 5.0%
Kolsch is a perfect stylistic choice for a brewery like Golden Road — which also has a canning line. So many of these cold-fermenting ales are ruined by the skunky flavors that result when beer is exposed to light. Selling this style in a can means light can never hurt the beer. American brewers will always have to label beers like this “Kolsch-style” as true Kolsch hails from Cologne, Germany (as Champagne is to Northeast France and Chianti is to Tuscany.) We're guessing Golden Road's version will become a favorite easy-drinking local summer selection, with low bitterness and a refined, citrus finish. Look for the brew date on the cardboard carrier to ensure freshness and off to the beach you go.
1. 1945 Berliner Weisse, Black Market Brewing Co. (Temecula)
Berliner Weisse; 3.8%
Black Market Brewing has been gaining real estate on the shelves of L.A. beer retailers lately. This late-Spring release wheat beer came highly recommended and didn't disappoint. While the alcohol is wildly low, it may be our favorite selection on the list for the beer's bright, tart thirst-quenching abilities. Berliner weisse is often accompanied with a shot of fruit syrup (traditionally raspberry or woodruff) or even jam, which alters the color and sweetens the beer. We like this beer, which Napoleon nicknamed the “Champagne of the North” for its color and carbonation, uncorrupted by sugary additions. And while post-war years diminished the beer's popularity in Germany, we couldn't be more pleased that American craft brewers have breathed new life into it — especially our friends at Black Market.
Erika tweets at @erikabolden and blogs at erika.bolden. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.