Here we are -- the start of high summer season -- and your beer selection is a little lackluster. Perhaps you're finishing off that case of Sam Adams Beers of Summer variety pack that you bought for the solstice, but days are already getting shorter and warmer and they must be seized.
July is the month for celebrating your patriotism by overdoing it on huge hoppy beers -- because what could be more "American" in the beer world than big IPAs? -- and August is when festival season is in full sway, so let's toast the rising action of summer with beers that deserve your attention now.
Try a side-by-side tasting of our two Saisons or find the perfect gift for the hophead in your life with the season's first round of hoptastic IPAs. No vision of summer is complete without a beer that conjures the sound of crackling firewood and visions of vintage Coleman canteens -- we found the quintessential camping beer that will have you dusting off your tent in no time. Step into these five summer beer selections, arranged from north to south, and make it a memorable summer.
5. Ovila, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (Chico)
Belgian-Style Abbey Saison; 7.5%
If you thought Sierra Nevada was limited to pale ales, this Belgian saison -- which comes complete with cork and cage and brooding monk -- will be a game changer. A spinoff of the series of collaborations they've done with the Abbey of New Clairvaux -- Cistercian Order monks in rural Northern California who actually blog -- this version is brewed with local mandarin oranges (some harvested by the monks at their orchard) and peppercorns. Retailing in a four-pack, this example of the style is more sweet than dry but exhibits a warming level of alcohol, producing a contemplative effect of which the monks would surely approve.
4. Campfire Stout, High Water Brewing Co. (Belmont)
This pitch-black stout is impenetrably dark and tastes of liquid s'mores. That may sound ridiculous, but High Water didn't overdo the flavor of graham cracker, and the marshmallow is mostly in the nose. As for chocolate? Well, we'd be lying if we said there was no room for chocolate notes in beer. "Flavored" beers should be met with caution, and often they have a polarizing effect on their audience -- this wasn't the only s'mores beer released this year. But there's definite charm in a beer that has you reliving childhood memories of eating marshmallows until your fingers were forever glued together and unrolling that worn flannel sleeping bag so you could fall asleep under the stars.
3. Belgian Summer Ale, Hangar 24 Brewing Co. (Redlands)
Belgian-Style Ale, 5.8%
Hangar 24 has been continuously stepping up its game with both year-round and seasonal selections -- and this summer release maintains the trend. It's a crisp, dry saison that's thirst-quenching yet savorable.The brewers employ the sour mashing technique for this beer, during which Lactobaccilus produce lactic acid in the beginning stages of the fermentation process, resulting in a tart finish. Because the flavor profile of this style -- pineapple, pear, clove and bubblegum -- lends itself to a certain sweetness, the presence of acidity is perfectly placed.
2. RuinTen, Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido)
Double IPA; 10.8%
Stone boasts of this 10th anniversary of its Ruination beer as "recklessly hoppy" and "belligerently delicious." (Is it just us or do you read Stone labels in the voice of a high school Metalhead?) It is both of those things, reading 110 IBUs (International Bittering Units) and with the necessary level of alcohol to balance five pounds of hops per barrel. It's a beautiful beer with a clear, copper body and generous, bright white head. If Stone does one thing well, it's hoppy beers.
1. YuleSmith Holiday Ale, AleSmith Brewing Co. (San Diego)
Double IPA; 8.5%
This summer edition of AleSmith's Holiday Ale is a coveted selection worthy of celebration. The genius in this particular big, hoppy beer is AleSmith's ability to start out slowly, with pleasant caramel and orange flavors, before walloping your palate with bitter citrus hops. Finishing dry and clean, this Double IPA has less of the effect characteristic to the style -- the impulse to clean your tongue -- which is a welcome change. YuleSmith pairs wonderfully with food -- AleSmith recommends Thai and Mexican, but all we can think of is a pulled pork sandwich and blue cheese potato salad -- good thing July Fourth is coming up fast.
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Erika writes at erikabolden.com and @erikabolden. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.