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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hot Weather Beers

It doesn't look like this heat is going to let up any time soon. Forecasts for Portland project weather in the triple digits for the next couple days, and heat in the 90s through the weekend. That means that if you want a beer, you're going to be wanting something other than a double IPA. Angelo has a good list at Brewpublic, and in response to Geoff's query, I'll add a few more.

General Principles
The first thing to acknowledge is that alcohol and high temperatures are a bad combo.

Alcohol lowers the body’s tolerance for heat and acts as a diuretic—meaning it speeds up dehydration—and affects the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. The body loses needed fluids through the urination alcohol induces....

Alcohol also raises the body’s blood pressure, increasing the risk of a heat-related illness like hyperthermia over heating and heat stroke especially for people with high blood pressure.

If you're not in an air-conditioned environment, it's probably best not to drink any alcohol while it's this hot. However, if you can moderate your environment a bit, a beer can definitely taste refreshing. You want to look for specific characteristics in a hot-weather beer, though. Heavy or sweet beers are out--they'll make you feel gross. High-alcohol beers will exacerbate the effects of heat and while some of them taste good, it's best to stick to something around 5% or lower. And among those beers, the best are those that are tart or dry (low in residual sugars and not sweet to the palate).

The good news is that a variety of styles have been developed specifically to beat the heat. The bad news?--Oregon's brewers, inhabiting a region where summers are temperate and winters are protracted and dark, aren't known for brewing a lot of them. Here's my best bet of for classic styles and the examples you can find around the Northwest:

Bavarian Hefeweizen
In my humble estimation, the very best style for summer heat are the wheat beers from Southern Germany, where they're variously called hefeweizen or weisse. Although they are a typically low-alcohol beer (5% on average), they're brewed with lots of wheat, imparting a fluffy, creamy texture. They are characterized by a spicy palate that emerges from the fermentation (no real spices are added), with notes of clove, banana, vanilla, and citrus. They finish, as all hot-weather beers must, crisply; whatever sweetness you detect in the palate does not cloy. American versions of this beer tend to lack the spice (Widmer's is a case in point), though the recently-introduced Sierra Nevada Kellerweis is good. If you're in a grocery store with any kind of beer selection, you should see a German import from one of the major producers: Weihenstephaner, Schneider, Paulaner, Ayinger, Franziskaner, or Erdinger.

Belgian Wit
Across the border, Belgium produces a classic summer wheat beer much in keeping with German weisses. The word wit means "white" and indicates the cloudy, whitish color of the beer and its snowy head. Unlike their German kin, however, the Belgian variants do get their zesty, crisp character from spices. These harken back to the Dutch colonial period, when traders brought back exotic spices. Typically a Belgian wit has orange peel from the bitter Curaçao and coriander. Other spices are often added, as well (chamomile, lavender, black pepper, etc). In the US, Coor-owned Blue Moon has popularized the style, but it's a lackluster version. The original, which you can sometimes find around town is Hoegaarden. Other nice versions available in bottle are Unibroue Blanche de Chambly, Allagash. Alaskan recently introduced a year-round version that will do in a pinch.

Ah, the king of beer (styles). Considered by many to be the quintessential summer beer, and it's hard to argue strongly against them. I've written about the two main varieties of the pilsner style before (the Bohemian/Czech original and its lighter, less hoppy German brother). Pilsners are simultaneously paragons of both lagers and hoppy beers, and for some reason the former has prevented the latter from propelling this style to mass popularity among hop-loving (but ale-swilling) Northwesterners. The best examples are widely available at grocery stores--Pilsner Urquell and Czechvar on the bohemian side, Trumer Pils and Full Sail LTD 03 on the German side. Check local brewpubs, who now regularly brew a version.

Tart Beers
The maze of tart beers is a tangled affair. They range from the merely tart to the eye-wateringly sour. Their summer-month virtues are several: a crisp acidity, lots of flavor with little alcohol, refreshing fruit without cloying sweetness. For hot-weather drinking, the best are those that aren't too tart--forget the straight lambics or Flemish reds. What you want is a light body and just a bit of zip. Full Sail still has their Berliner Weisse on tap at the Pilsner Room, and that's a perfect choice--even if you're only looking at the heat through the windows. You can try it with a little bit of syrup or straight. Upright Four, with a mild lactic zing, is perfect warm-weather beer (and word is it will be available in bottles soon). If you're feeling really adventuresome, go to a beer store and try a fruit lambic (but skip Lindemans).

Kolsch, the native beer of Cologne, can seem insipid in cool weather. In the heat they open up and refresh, with a crisp dry palate, just a touch of hopping. Hard to find good examples locally, but a delicious version inspired by the style is Double Mountain's. I love a tasty mild or bitter ale from England, and these are also very hard to find. One you sometimes see--the Horse Brass often has it on tap--is Coniston's Bluebird Bitter, a small beer nevertheless lushly hopped. Full Sail Session is tasty, but beware, at 5.1%, it's stronger than it looks. Finally, and a tip of the hat back to Angelo, the Mainer, who remembered that Sam Adams Boston Lager is flat-out one of the best hot-weather beers made in America.


  1. I tell you what.. in the Great Northwest, there is nothing like an Ice Cold Pale Ale.

    Might I suggest Full Sail Pale, or Bridgeports Blue Heron Pale Ale... I only can imagine right now on this soon to be 107 Deg. Day.. how good either one of those would be while out there fishing somewhere... Widmers Drifter is awesome also... but a bit more steep in Alc. content.

    Still though... gonna crack a few Belgian Wits and standard American Wheats today....

  2. Had the seasonal Kolsch down at Roots last night. Really tasty and always a treat when I see it come on tap every year. Fairly fruity and refreshing. Seems like a bit of a twist on the style, I like it.

    I felt bad for them last night, 10pm and the taps were still foaming quite a bit from the heat.

  3. Personally, in very hot weather, pale ales are too sweet and heavy for me. Blue Heron's more a bitter, and I could do one of those on a hot-hot day.

  4. My brother and his wife are off to New England where they've been getting a dirth of summer. Anyhow, my mother called my from a package store in Worcester, MA and asked what Sam Adams beers to get for my brother. When she listed all the kinds they make, I was reminded of how many brands they produce. On a side note, I caught this interesting article in the Boston Globe this week:

  5. Jeff: What do you thing about cream ales during these hot days?

  6. "Check local brewpubs, who now regularly brew a version. An…" Looks like another truncation.

    Based upon your Czech/German write-ups, I would've put Full Sail's LTD 03 squarely in the Czech category - agressively hopped (I would even say excessively so), relatively full-bodied from what I recall - and certainly not one I would prefer on a hot day.

    Antithetical to that, Trumer Pils is too tame - barely hopped, relatively no body - virtually indistiguishable from some of the weaker Pilsners which turned me off to the style lo these [many/relatively few] moons ago. Still, as a hot weather beer, it would certainly be apropos.

    Given the choice, hot weather be damned - I'll take the LTD 03 over Trumer, but then I'd gladly take Pilsner Urquell over the lot (though I haven't yet tried Czechvar).

    Some other [not-so-]local examples which have impressed of late are Walking Man Flip Flop Pilsner, Deschutes #005, Victory Prima Pils, Heater/Allen's Pils (though again, a tad too agressive for my tastes, especially half-way into a bomber)… I know I'm forgetting at least a couple, but it's been a good year for Pilsners (and a good year for me to find an affection for them).

    Ahh, but I have a Hoegaarden in the fridge calling my name…


    P.S. How the hell are we supposed to survive Bailey's 2nd anniversary?! Wait for the buzz to wear off before exiting the building? I don't think they'd appreciate me spending the night…

  7. I swear I know how to spell "aggressive;" either my finger's trying to push the G-key on this keyboard too quickly, or blogger's trying to [in]correct my spelling.



    P.S. Aggressive.

  8. Jeff, funny you mention German wheat beers for hot days. Just yesterday I was at Market of Choice and picked a few up to quench the thirst. I was going to compare a couple of them in a post.

  9. I'd recommend Upright's gruit. I know Bailey's has it on right now and there must be a few others around town right now.

  10. Just finishing a Boulevard Zon Ale right now... and it is very nice.. but to say it is not as sweet and heavy as a standard pale is kind of off the mark for me.

    Full Sail LTD isn't THAT aggressively hopped... I thought it had a much stronger roasted malt profile.. and is a bit strong for this kind of weather...

    Prima Pils? Not a bad choice at all.

    How about a light rye ale? Redhooks SunRye isn't a bad option at all... or Laurelwoods Wry Pale for that matter!

  11. FWIW, I think the best example of an American made Hefeweizen is the Leavenworth Whistling Pig. Where best is defined as most like a Bavarian one, but also being damn tasty. It can be a bit difficult to come by on tap (Echo on MLK often has it), and it looks like Belmont Station has it right now in bottles.

    And don't forget the Radler - the German mix of Lager and Lemonade (60/40 mix), or the Bavarian variant with Hefeweizen and lemonade. Some places will substitute Sprite or similar for the lemonade, but I prefer lemonade. It's a great drink.

  12. Angelo: cream ales fit the bill, but I find them a bit lackluster personally. Different strokes.

    On LTD 03. The hops, Sterling, are cultivars of Saaz, so it could be characterized as a Bohemian pils. The overall presentation seems softer, milder and more German to me. And the Sterlings are not a dead ringer for Saaz--many spicy notes typical of noble German hops.

    Dosir, you're right on the money with Sun Rye--perfect summer beer. The one Redhook Ale that really sings to me. Wonderful beer, perfect for 100-degree days (if such a thing is possible).

  13. I've been enjoying a keg of Vertigo Cream Ale at home right now. The Apricot Cream from them is pretty nice, too.

  14. How about a Corona and a slice of lime?


  15. I fully endorse Victory Whirlwind Wit. Delicious, that one.

  16. Dr Wort: Corona and a slice of lime....ahh, you gotsta turn it upside down after putting the lime in. Put your middle finger inside and turn it upside down. Turn to your frat buddy and giggle as you say "Dude, I'm flipping you the bird!"

    I did have a Corona recently after a long time and man, talk about diacetyl...ugh.

    All: Cream ales are great for this weather. Throw a pound of flaked rice in the mash with your two row, some Yakima Goldings...mmmm. Tasty. Mine has been in the kegerator for about 5 weeks now and it is just hitting that sweet spot. Too bad there is only a gallon left in there. :(

  17. @Ralph Doesn't it bite when your beer is just hitting it's stride and you discover your sampling has drained the supply? :)

    @Jeff Although small beers aren't an actual seperate style and more of a descriptor I'd say ales at or less then 3% are fairly refreshing on hot days. I like drinking Anchors Small Beer. I have a rye I brewed that came in at 2.5% and it is an amazing and flavorful summer beer. Nothing can take the place of a good sour ale though on a hot day.

  18. Pilsners. Hmmm. My beer.
    There are several 'locally brewed' Pilsners I have not yet tried; eg,
    - Hopworth Urban Brewery, Portland, OR
    - Walking Man, Stevenson, Wash.
    - Double Mountain, Hood River, OR

    My preference, thus far, for 'locally brewed' pilsner runs like this
    01 Bayern Pilsner, Missoula, Mont.
    02 Heater Allen, McMinville, Ore.
    03 Seven Brides, Silverton, Ore.
    04 Full Sail Ltd 03, Hood River, Ore.
    05 Lagunitas, Petaluma, Calif.
    06 Trumer Pils, Berkeley, Calif.

    Several others are not worthy of mention.


  19. Upright 4 in bottles...that just made my day!

  20. My favorite for the heat is definitely a Kolsch-Kola. Depending on the 'tender it's a 50/50 or 60/40 (favoring beer) mixture of your favorite Kolsch and coca-cola, preferably the non-American market variety which uses regular sugar instead of the HFCS.