Some beers just hit different when the temps are high, the rivers are low, and the sun is doing its best to battle the SPF 50 shield on your bare skin. Based on sales numbers alone, the most popular beers are of the grossly overproduced “light” variety: Miller, Bud, and Coors consistently account for some of the top-selling beers in the country. But who needs sales numbers when we’ve got opinions? Not just any opinions—professional opinions.
We spoke with the people who make, sell, and market beer for a living. After leaving their own brewhouses and taprooms for the day, what are they drinking to battle the summer swelter?
“Lager” simply refers to beers that are cold fermented, and under that classification resides a bounty of excellently crushable styles. In short, lagers cover a lot of ground.
When it comes to appearance, they stretch the color spectrum, or SRM scale (which measures the color intensity of a beer), from nearly clear to pitch black. The flavor profiles of lagers are just as wide-ranging, from hoppy and bitter to malty and sweet. The common denominator is their refreshingly crisp finish that always leaves the drinker wanting more.
Brian LaGro, Head Brewer of Short Fuse Brewing, tells me that he’s drinking Helles lagers, both craft American and traditional German varieties.
“I’m a big fan of malt, but in the summer I don’t want a big, malty beer,” said LaGro. “Helles has a refreshing malt flavor with nice hop flavor balance. They’re easy-drinking beers that are great for the summer, and actually have flavor. They’re a nice change from super hoppy/fruited/adjunct beers that I don’t want to drink a lot of when it’s hot out.”
Phil Wymore, owner and founder of Perennial Artisan Ales, is a big fan of Mexican lagers and their versatility.
“They turn around quicker than a traditional Pilsner, and the beer itself is a great base for adding a specialty malt variation,” said Wymore. “We brew one called Grace using Bloody Butcher heirloom corn, and we make another called Waska that uses Peruvian quinoa. When it’s a 100-plus-degree blast furnace outside with humidity to boot, nothing is more refreshing!”
Wheat beers are ales, and “ale” is the classification for beers that are top fermenting. Wheat beer is another umbrella category that encompasses various styles. Unlike lagers and ales, wheat beers contain a high percentage of malted or unmalted wheat. Like lagers, wheat beer flavor profiles can greatly vary but they tend to be low in hop character and have more of a foamy head than either lagers or ales.
Tyler Martin, affectionately known as Trademark Mart at Against the Grain Brewery, lets nostalgia play into what his go-to summer beer style is.
“I love how vibrant American wheat ales can be,” said Martin. “Ever since I was old enough to drink, Oberon from Bell’s Brewery has been a staple in my house. So that style takes me back to a time when I started drinking beer and had no worries in the world.”
Kevin Lilly, founder of Lo Rez Brewing, prefers Belgian wheat beers.
“I love drinking Witbier in the summer,” he said. “The pop of citrus peel, hint of herbs, and its Belgian yeast character give the Witbier plenty of flavor and robustness to pair up with anything coming off the grill. Its light, wheaty body and drier finish make for a great summer crusher. Find a locally brewed wit or an imported classic.You can’t go wrong either way.”
Saisons are commonly referred to as farmhouse ales. The style originated in Wallonia, the French-speaking region in Belgium, where they were actually brewed on farms using ingredients they had on hand. The farmers brewed these beers to be enjoyed in the hot summer months. The wonderful thing about saisons is how much room for interpretation exists within this style.
Brian Barclay, the brains behind Barclay Brewing, didn’t flinch when asked about his summer crush.
“For summertime, my favorite beers are traditional-style saisons, typically those that have seen barrel time and have a refreshing tart finish,” he said. “I’m not looking for acidity, just a light touch of tart. One of my go to styles is BFM XV (√225 Saison). I like it because it’s incredibly unique, it’s refreshing, and pretty readily available. There’s also something charming about popping the swing top.”
Brian Ivers, Head Brewer of Hideaway Park Brewery, prefers a less traditional saison.
“I prefer a dry-hopped, low ABV saison,” said Ivers. “I brewed one that we call Snuggery that has all the desirable qualities in a beer suited for the summertime. You can get a lot of character from the Belgian yeast strain and still have a beer that is lower in alcohol, lighter in body, and pretty darn crisp. A light dry hop adds a fun touch and a bit of complexity to the aroma.”
Almost all of the brewing pros that we reached out to almost instinctively chose some sort of lager as their ride or die for the summer. As a veteran of the beer industry, I knew this would be the case. Thankfully, there were some fun surprises thrown in the mix:
- Marc Drucker, Breckenridge Brewery: “Kolsch is a nice one for me because it gets you that cross between something a bit more estery or fruity from the Ale-yeast strain, but it still goes down easy and crisp.”
- Brian Taylor, Whiner Beer: “It’s gonna sound cray, but I love the New Belgium sour IPA. I just had it a few weeks ago, too. The aroma is all citra and tropical with an awesome clean tartness. Is that too mainstream?”
- David Kerns, Eppig Brewing: “We have had a surge of Japanese Style Lagers in San Diego and I’m really digging the style for the summer. Crisp, light bodied, dry, and refreshing. Excellent for a day in the sun!”
- Aaron Keefner, More Brewing Company: “Gose all day. I love the mix of tart and saltiness, and if you add some fruit to it that can complement it even more. Just make sure to drink enough water so the salt doesn’t dehydrate you and give you a muscle spasm.”
- John Carruthers, Revolution Brewing (and The Takeout’s resident Pizzadad): “I love a stout in the summer because it’s refreshing (Guinness is the top-selling beer on the African continent!) and because I love unsolicited opinions about my choice of beer from strangers. ‘EW HOW CAN YOU DRINK THAT IN SUMMER?’ is really the sound of the season for me.”
The summer drinking window is never open long enough, and nobody is here to nitpick. Lord knows we’ve all been guilty of taking down big-ass glasses of barrel-aged stouts and barleywines with no hesitation or shame at a warm-weather gathering or two.
Ultimately, there are no right or wrong beers to drink in the summer. The beer pros will tell you that as long as you’re reaching over a seltzer to grab a beer, it doesn’t matter which style you’re drinking.