Pondering the Pint: Close out summer with big beers

Warm weather doesn't mean you have to sacrifice flavor and quality with beer

Summer is still on tap with “big” summer beers on store shelves.
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Popular marketing may tell consumers that summer is the time to drink light beer — e.g., “lawnmower” and “crushable” styles. Some say this is logical: There’s more daylight and leisure hours during the season, offering more opportunities for the public to consume beer. Therefore, the season warrants lower-potency or lower-gravity beer (i.e. caloric) to accommodate more frequent consumption.

Perhaps. Or perhaps that logic is a relic of 20th century macro-beer messaging: Drink more, but make it less filling (cheaper, less dynamic).

It’s always fashionable to mind the volume one consumes though, whether the sun sets at 4:30 or at 9:30 p.m.  And it’s time to ask if you’ve whiled away the summer drinking pale American lager or stadium-branded, yellow malt-water.

Summer is still on tap, though, with “big” summer beers on store shelves. Not to mention, the Great American Beer Festival in Denver is around the corner (Oct. 3-5), along with the 2020 Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival in Breckenridge (Jan. 8-11). With Colorado’s plethora of craft brewers, quality and flavor in beer is always in fashion.

Many of the summer’s big beers include double IPAs (DIPA): These beers are hot enough to peak eyebrows at 8 percent-plus alcohol-by-volume (ABV), yet creative enough to satisfy in one resinous hoppy serving. Then the “single” summer seasonals, which also express a unique flavor freshness and mouthfeel that breathes summer, break the searing heat across the brow.

Market hype aside, discerning palates define “summer craft beers” as expressing refreshing, bright flavors that are focused on fruity (less bitter) hop varieties and soft, rather than dry, finishes.

These beers employ shorter hop boils and larger alpha acid aromatic hop additions (rather than “bittering” hops) which results in higher residual essential oil and lupulin (hop pollen) retention in the final product. Summer seasonals also often incorporate wheat and caramel malts to create flavor depth without adding weight or soluble protein.

While they last, two non-sessionable DIPAs worthy of closing the summer are Sierra Nevada’s Hop Bullet and Odell’s Hammer Chain Fresh Grind.

Hop Bullet pours golden with russet highlights, like waving sea dune grasses at sunset. The nose is slightly sweet and aromatic with a suggestion of funk. Forward grassy malt and green hop characters sneak around the earthy, piney classic Cascade and Centennial base-hop complexity. Experimental Idaho 7 hops express in the aroma, and heavy Magnum dry hopping and lupulin dust (powder concentration of flavor and aroma-producing resin compounds and essential hop oils) curtly close out the hop flavor profile.

Hop Bullet channels the “summer” spirit with its clean color and layered mouthfeel, partially attributable to “acidulated” oats and wheat, which leave a medium body, “fuzzy” Berliner Weiss mouthfeel and subtle farmhouse “sourness.” The acidulation process leans on propagating natural lactobacillus bacteria that’s found on grain husks to soften malt cell walls prior to mash-in, enabling higher malt sugar extraction and fermentation efficiency.

Hammer Chain similarly pours a golden honey-oak hue with trace sediment. Vibrant grass and citrus aromas arise from the use of full hop cone/flowers, melding into subtle peach hop fruitiness. It offers a full mouthfeel with caramel malt notes floating on resinous, fungal base-hop earthiness, due in part to experimental HBC 638 hops — a hybrid proprietary Ekuanot (formerly known as Equinox) variety hop.

Hammer Chain captures the essence of summer beer with its fresh green and citrus flavors, rounded sweet malt and mellow hop end, evoking the experience of late-summer day coolness, as the sun dips at the horizon and evening settles across the yard.

Honorable mentions below the 8 percent line include Oscar Blues’ Hazy Can-o-Bliss IPA, Boulder Beer’s Due East New England IPA (sun-kissed auburn color, tart citrus nose, tropical hops, juicy, creamy texture and aromas, crisp mouthfeel and light citrus finish) and the classically refreshing Left Hand Sawtooth amber ale.

At 5.3 percent ABV, Sawtooth may be an unexpected summer star, straddling the tenuous line of sweet, medium-roasted malts and subdued English hops. Its malty nose and forward-flavors suggest robust nutty maltiness, but that pending weight is quickly tempered by wheat in grain bill and briefly bitter hops, mellowing into a clean and lightly dry finish. No wonder Sawtooth has persisted season after season.

Summer especially is no time to sacrifice flavor quality and class. Craft beer culture is built on independence and the market of free ideas, as well as shedding tired paradigms. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, and until the snow flies, order with intention and every beer will be the right beer for the season. Have the craft beer and style you want; there are more than enough to choose from without settling.

Cyril Vidergar is a homebrewer and attorney based in Northern Colorado. He can be reached at beerscoop@gmail.com.

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