Nosh Box: The Brews of Summer
With the heart of summer arriving this month, it’s appropriate to look at a proven remedy for seasonal heat: an ice-cold beer. Just as there are seasonal winter brews, so too brewmasters look to formulate suds apropos for the steamy season. However, the landscape of summer seasonal brews is reshaping faster than a desert in a sandstorm.
In years past we considered traditional hot-weather brews. The first two that come to mind are the “lawnmower beers,” and sessions.
Light American lagers that satisfy the thirst of summer chores—like pushing a classic hand-mower, typify the former. Brews from the majors are commonplace: Miller, Coors, and Budweiser. But craft-brewed ales like Ballast Point Pale Ale, New Belgium Blonde Ale, and Firestone Walker’s Pivo also share the moniker.
Beer experts expound on session brews, even though no precise definition exists. Generally these are low-to-moderate alcohol beers between 3%–5% ABV, with a hop/malt balance that produces a clean taste. Session beer allows a reasonable drinker to down multiple rounds without intoxication—or so the theory goes. How apropos for summer imbibing!
The Craft Explosion
Like many food and beverage trends, craft brewing started on the West Coast, then migrated eastward. And local craft beer patriarch Fritz Maytag of Anchor Steam is credited with seeding its genesis in 1965. And growth has continued since then, if sometimes sporadically.
Formed 30 year ago, the California Craft Brewers Association is a nonprofit trade association. Its Sacramento location is what the FBI calls “a clue” that legislative advocacy is among its roles. Additionally, CCBA provides great one-stop shopping for succinct industry stats.
“California is the birthplace of the American craft brewing movement…. Today, more breweries call California home than any other state in the nation. As of January 2019, more than 980 craft breweries are in operation across the state.
“... In 2017, craft breweries contributed $8.2 billion to the state’s economy. The industry supports more than 54,028 jobs across the state.”
Beer begins with the brewer’s selection of ingredients. Perhaps the most basic recipe is the German Reinheitsgebot, a decree by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria in 1516 that allows only three ingredients: water, barley, and hops. The list omits a key ingredient, yeast, which is essential to brew beer, but was not discovered until much later. Some purists still abide by those early regulations even though an updated, more liberal German beer law was enacted in 1993. Exemplifying an extreme in ingredients, one local craft brewer produced a special pilsner made with catnip. And ever since Sapporo bought Anchor Steam, the once traditional brewer seems to concoct new beers with increasing frequency, like San FranPsycho IPA with floral hops, peaches and apricots; and a new Meyer Lemon Lager.
The discovery of yeast and how it works is attributed to Louis Pasteur in 1859, or 343 years after the Reinheitsgebot decree. Brewers use two types of domesticated yeast: top-fermenting yeasts that produce ales, porters, and stouts, and wheat beers; and bottom-fermenting yeasts that produce lagers, pilsners, bocks, and märzen.
On the subject of domesticated yeasts, of special interest is Kveik [pronounced “cwīke” and rhymes with spike] a traditional Norwegian yeast with an orange/citrus flavor making it popular for summer beers. But its unique fermentation characteristics allow brewers to double their production with the same equipment. So look for an increase in popularity among craft brewers.
These recommended California summer brews include some produced exclusively for the warm season, while others are brewed year-round, but ideal for consumption this month.
AleSmith Sublime Mexican Style Lager
Almanac Farmer’s Reserve Raspberry Sour Craft Beer
Anchor Brewing California Lager
Anchor Brewing Big Leaf Maple Autumn Red Ale
Anderson Valley Summer Solstice Cream Ale
Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA
Drake’s Brewing Company Sizzle Fizz
Firestone Walker Easy Jack IPA
La Quinta Brewing Bloody Hot Summer
Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat Ale
Sierra Nevada Seasonal Summerfest Ale
Thorn Street Barrio Mexican Style Lager
21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer
Wet Your Whistle
Local spots provide a selection of seasonal beers. For taps a plenty, check out Drake’s Dealership or Beer Revolution in downtown Oakland. For cans and bottles, look to Craft Beer and Wine in Alameda, or the nearest BevMo or Total Wine and More outlet.