I know I have taken some digs at light beers in my first few columns, but not all are bland and unsatisfying. With warm weather here, breweries and brewpubs are turning out summer seasonals that are refreshing and delicious, whether on a patio of an Atlanta restaurant on a sultry summer night, or in your rec room watching the Braves game after mowing the lawn. Here are some styles to look for, along with some of the best examples of each, including a number that are brewed locally.
The typical American lager is modeled after the Czech pilsners, first brewed in the 1840s in the Czech city of Pilsen. A certain American brewery that shall remain nameless took the name Budweiser from a Czech city, then sued when a brewery there tried to import its version. The Germans also make a Bavarian pilsner, which is typically drier and more bitter than the Czech style. Both use the so-called “noble” hop varieties grown in central Europe — tettnang, hallertau, spalt and saaz — that have a spicy, grassy aroma. Pilsner Urquell is the best known example of the Czech pilsner, while Warsteiner is typical of German pilsners. As an alternative to imported varieties, which often suffer from the voyage over, pick up a six-pack of Victory Prima Pils, or the new Sweetwater Road Trip, which features Saaz hops and a pilsner-like body, but with a bit more malt aroma. The 5 Seasons Prado also will have a pilsner on tap very soon.
This is an American-style ale brewed with light malts and a low to moderate amount of hops. It is often found at brewpubs as a “beginner’s beer,” the one they serve when someone scrunches up their face and asks, “What’s your lightest beer?” Still, this can be a very pleasant style when well-made. Jordan Fleetwood’s Heaven for a Climate Golden Ale at Twain’s in Decatur is an excellent example. Thankfully free of the vegetal (cooked corn) aromas typical of the style, it achieves a nice balance of malty sweetness and a clean, hoppy finish, with a persistent carbonation that doesn’t bite. For a golden ale you can enjoy at home, try a Terrapin Golden Ale. It’s a bit more bitter than a typical blonde ale, but it will grow on you.
Unfiltered and effervescent, the German-style “hefe” has become a favorite summertime thirst-quencher. A true example should have the aroma of banana and cloves from the yeast strain used (American wheat ales often lack this character). Hefeweizens are relatively light-bodied, with little to no hop aroma or flavor and only a mild bitterness. Wheat beers are often served with a lemon as a garnish. Some purists dis the garnish, but to my mind, this is no different than a lime in a gin and tonic. Spritz away! Check out the Weihenstephaner, one of the highest rated and most difficult to pronounce hefeweizens in the world, on tap at the Brick Store Pub in Decatur. Ask for it by name! Crawford Moran at 5 Seasons in Alpharetta also has a traditional German hefeweizen on tap right now, made from all German ingredients.
Literally a “white” beer, this wheat beer style was nearly extinct until revived with great success by Hoegaarden. Witbiers pour a pale straw color with a frothy head. They are usually spiced with coriander and orange peel, which should be evident in the aroma and flavor profile. An orange slice, rather than a lemon, is the standard garnish. Sweetwater’s Summer Hummer is a local example that emphasizes the orange flavor. Brewer Glenn Sprouse at 5 Seasons at the Prado is considering one for later this summer. Go put in your request.
Also known as Farmhouse ales, these champagne-like ales originated in French-speaking southern Belgium. They pour with a thick, rocky head and have a fruity, spicy essence and a dry, acidic finish. The alcohol content varies, but is a bit higher than most summer beers. One of the world’s best examples, Hennepin, is brewed, amazingly enough, in Cooperstown, N.Y., by Ommegang Brewery. Twain’s promises to have a saison on tap this summer.
What are you drinking this summer? Let me know about your favorites.
Talking Head columnist Jeff Holland can be reached by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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