Summer beers

I have learned to be cautious when people ask me for beer recommendations. I mean, I’ve got most of my friends figured out. There are the hopheads, the Belgian farmyard-funk aficianados, and the Alexander Keith’s/Stella Artois drinkers. So a craft beer I recommend to one friend may not be the beer I recommend to another.

It’s different when a group of strangers asks for some recommendations. Wow, I don’t know. What kind of beer do they normally drink? How far out of their comfort zone are they willing to move?

I mention this because a couple of weeks ago, Elaine was in a meeting, and the topic of summer beer came up in the pre-meeting conversation. You know — “I’m getting bored of the same old same old. What should I try this summer?”

All eyes swivelled to Elaine.

So here I am, pondering my answer. Don’t get me wrong — there are a large number of new and fabulous beers out this summer. It’s just that those who consider Alexander Keith’s new hop series a radical step — which it isn’t — might not appreciate something like Amsterdam Brewery X Great Lakes Brewery Maverick & Gose Liepziger Gose, a medieval style of malted wheat beer that is salted and spiced.

So here are six beers to try this summer that I think will gratify both those who are more experienced in the ways of craft beer as well as those who are looking to step away from Stella.

(Apologies to those of you who live outside southern Ontario. Elaine’s meeting was in Toronto, so I am specifically targeting  beers available in and around that region.)

Oast House Saison: A saison is a spicy, dry, refreshing style of beer first brewed in the French-speaking part of Belgium centuries ago — perhaps as far back as the medieval period. Not surprisingly, it is stylistically very similar to biere de garde brewed just across the border in France. Both are light-bodied farmhouse ales with a dry finish, brewed in early spring, then stored away in deep, cool stone-lined cellars until the hot days of summer arrive. Oast House Saison is an excellent bottle-conditioned example of the style, and a great thirst-quencher. Not available in the LCBO, but what a nice weekend drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake to get some right at the brewery!

Black Oak Summer Saison: (Full disclosure: I worked at Black Oak last summer, and developed a real passion for this beer.) Black Oak’s Saison is a pleasant unfiltered beer with a touch of orange peel in the nose, and a hint of coriander in the taste. Even more citrusy is “Marmalade Saison”, a cask-conditioned version to which chunks of grapefruit, lemons and oranges have been added — watch for it at finer beer bars in Toronto. (You can probably do the same thing with a bottle of Summer Saison, a French coffee press and some chunks of citrus fruits. Try it.) Black Oak Summer Saison (the bottled variety) is only available at the brewery in south Etobicoke this summer, but will be availabe in the LCBO next summer.

Great Lakes Miami Weiss: I tasted this for the first time as a one-off experiment at a Great Lakes “Project X” night several years ago, a sort of slightly more bitter North American take on a German weiss — the best of Germany mixed with our slight obsession with hops. It was so well received that the brewery made another batch, then another and another until… Well, Project X nights are no more, but Miami Weiss is a keeper. This one is available in the LCBO.

MacLean’s Pale Ale: I have to admit, when I am in the mood for a British style pale ale, this is my go-to beer — biscuity, crisp, flavourful. If you find this on tap, it was made at F&M Brewery in Guelph. If you find bottles of it in the LCBO –and fair warning, it’s a rare find — those come from the farmhouse brewery of Charles MacLean, a few kilometres north of Mount Forest. Both taste great. If you’re in the mood for a nice country drive, make the trek to Charles’ farm and by some bottles right from the source. (But phone first and make sure Charles is home — he is a busy guy.)

Flying Monkeys Hoptical Illusion: In 2009, when the very staid and laidback Robert Simpson Brewery — purveyors of the bland and insipid Confederation Ale — changed their name to Flying Monkeys, you knew there was going to be a change of attitude and and a change of product. Sure enough, Hoptical Illusion quickly made a hop-forward statement that was news to Ontario at the time. Although other  craft beers may have overtaken Hoptical Illusion in the bitterness arms race, it was never all about the hops anyway, but much more about drinkability. It is a great gateway beer for an Alexander Keith’s drinker curious to find out what hops actually taste like. Available in LCBOs.

Grand River Hannenberg Pils: This is another easy-drinking beer with a lot of flavour, perfect for a hot summer day.  It starts with a nice grassy, floral nose, and ends with a crisp finish.   Some of Grand River‘s offerings are available in the LCBO, but unfortunately you will have to drive to the Cambridge brewery for this one.

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2 Comments on “Summer beers”

  1. Canageek Says:

    You’ll have to make one of these lists the next time you are in BC. It isn’t like we lake in breweries!

  2. Thanks for the GRB mention! I’ll also add that the Tailset Ginger Ale is a great summer patio beer. (Shameless promo ended.)

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