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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Summer Seasonals

I suppose it's time for summer beers to hit the shelves--though we seem to be damned far from any actual summer round these parts. The weather in Puddletown these days calls still calls for porter. But, since breweries have been sending me bottles of their various seasonals, I might as well do a post for those of you living elsewhere.

Summer Tipples, Generally
When the old devil sun starts a beating down on your head, the last thing you want is anything heavy. This much is true. Traveling through some very hot places, I have found refuge in very light beers. Some, like Panama's Soberana, are a real joy when you're at the edge of a jungle. (Beer Advocate raters, mostly not on the edge of a jungle, are unpersuaded.) In the summer, flavors, like sound, tend to get louder. What tastes like water in January may taste heavy and dangerous in July. So mostly breweries play it cool--light bodied beers, low alcohol, low hops, just enough of everything to keep the tongue occupied.

(And fair enough, too. But I wonder, do all summer beers have to be so tame? Mainly we get variations on light lagers. It is possible to make them dark but light-bodied, or give them hop zing, or even add alcohol without body. A word of encouragement: experiment. See how far you can get from Pabst while still making a summer beer. I'd love a little variety.)

Anyway, to the beers.

Pyramid Haywire Hefeweizen (tallboy can)
Been a while since I've had a Pyramid Hef, but I was convinced to give it a revisit when the cans came out. In my memory, this has always been a bit closer to the German original than to Widmer's "hefeweizen," and so it remains. There are not a lot of phenols, but I get a distinctive bubble gum note, suggestive of isoamyl. Not a lot else is going on, though. The beer's cloudy but not super wheaty. It's light, but not terribly crisp and ends with a bit of a thin, wet note. Imagine the result of combining a kolsch with a German hefeweizen.

I love German hefes, and the funkier they are, the more I love them. Somehow, the initial aroma of the source style with the ultimate failure to deliver disappoints me. Either give me the full monty or give me a straightforward American wheat. Call it a gentleman's C.

Redhook Rope Swing Summer Pilsner
There are FAR too few pilsners in Beervana. I don't mean one-off pilsnery light lagers, I mean lush, crisp, Saaz-drenched pilsners, one of the world's finest pours. In Rope Swing we have what pencils out to be a perfect remedy: a 5.3% Saaz-hopped pils of a respectable 25 IBUs. How can this go wrong?

I don't know, but it has. I just don't like this beer. There's something very unpleasant about the hops, which give a weedy, grassy bitterness wholly unlike all the other tangy Saaz-hopped pilsners I've tasted. It's a over-thin and lacks malt character. I tried one bottle with friends and to a person they all thought it was nice--including an avowed pils-hater. Later, Sally gave it an "eh," but was surprised at the vehemence of my antipathy. Not for me.

(In the "throw me a bone" category, I will highly recommend the brewery's 8-4-1, which is a pretty complex beer that had the flair of a Belgian. It charmed, confused, and pleased me, and I enjoyed it very much.)

Widmer Sunburn
What is it with weird names? Sunburn's not as bad as "Grifter," but it still seems an odd choice: why do breweries select nouns with negative connotations for the names of their beers? A mystery. Like the other beers, this is definitely a traditional summer seasonal--light, pale, and mild. But give the Widmers credit; for such an underpowered ale, it performed well in our taste tests. It's a mere 4.3% (10 P!) and either 15 or 20 IBUs (sources vary), but those few hops are well-used. The Brothers (or Joe Casey or Ben Dobler or ...) dry-hop it with Citras, and this is indeed a good move. Dry-hopping adds flavor and aroma but no bitterness, and so Sunburn gets extra juice without actually employing extra juice. That's how you do a summer beer. And in fact, 20 IBUs in a 4.3% beer ain't too shabby. This is a winner, and you don't even have to be near a jungle.


  1. As usual, I didn't read this before I hit "post." As usual, it was riddled with problems large and small. I have cleaned it up, as I do occasionally.

  2. Just had Heater-Allen's pilsner for the first time (have had some other of their beers) and loved it. Would be interested in your impressions since you are talking of summer beers: H-As would be a delight on a hot summer day.

  3. I think I feel much the same way about Citra hops as you do about Summits.

    I had my first Sunburn last night and just couldn't get past the tropical fruit-candy flavor. Same thing happens when I drink Torpedo.

    Out of curiousity, where would you place this year's SN Summerfest in relation to Rope Swing? Save for some Perle for bittering, Summerfest is also Saaz hops. I actually prefer Rope Swing, but I like my Pilsners about as light and crisp as I can get them. I also wasn't picking up anything weird in the hops though.


  4. Like you say
    'There are FAR too few pilsners in Beervana' . . . .
    For me, HUB and Caldera are best pilsners brewed in Ore.; Baron, Wash.; Lagunitas, Calif. Bayern, Mont. I have not had Heater-Allen in ~1 years; but, remember it fondly.

    For a summertime brew, suggest you seek Firestone Walker - Solace saison-hef hybrid.

  5. Heater-Allen is a great Pils. And Rick is experimenting with Moravian malts - I think he has a batch just about ready now. Pils is perhaps my favorite summer beer.

    I tried the Sunburn. Not that great. Good aroma, but not much to back it up.

  6. Heater-Allen is a great Pils. And Rick is experimenting with Moravian malts - I think he has a batch just about ready now. Pils is perhaps my favorite summer beer.

    I tried the Sunburn. Not that great. Good aroma, but not much to back it up.

  7. 2+ months on. I was given a Red Hook 'Rope Swing' and found it pleasing. I am now mid-way through my first 6er; I like it; I will purchase more. Suggest you revisit this beer.

    Contrary to your experience, the beer today seems malt-forward with noticeable noble hops presence.