June 28, 2011

The Perfect Beer for an Arizona Summer

You've probably seen the ads and thought, "I like lemonade. I like beer. Lighter flavors in the summer are seasonal."

The best summer beer for Phoenix? It's not MGD 64 Lemonade.

This is especially true if you're Philadelphia Beer writer Joe Sixpack Russell. Not that Philly can tell any of us what to do, but I've seldom seen such a scathing review of a beer. It cuts right beyond what's in the glass and lays bare the brewer's intent. Scolding it. Harassing it. Shaming it. He begins with an agreeable premise about beer drinkers like you and I; and then... he goes there.
I've found something likable in almost every beer I've ever tasted. That's because, at its essence, drinking beer is a hedonistic act; it is about the pursuit of refreshment, the appreciation of flavor with character, and the pleasure of social bonding. It's the first instinct of beer drinkers to enjoy, not criticize, whatever we're drinking.

In that light, MGD 64 Lemonade is nothing less than a malicious, exploitive assault on the very institution of beer drinking. It is so vile, so absent any merit, that it can be understood only as an attempt to establish, once and for all, that, persuaded with enough advertising, some Americans will literally drink their own pee.

As to the calorie conscious elements of "64" Joe calculates:
"64" is its caloric content. How light is that? I've done some math (see work below) to determine that the alcohol content (2.8 percent by volume) accounts for 54.9 of those calories. Which means that the stuff that creates body and complexity and nutrition accounts for all of 9 calories, about the same as five peppermint Tic Tacs.
If lemonade and beer seems interesting to you, then what you want is a radler or shandy. That's where you mix the lemonade into the beer of your choosing. Really, it's that simple. Don't buy it pre-mixed in the can for you. You're not one of those mixed drink in a can people are you? No. Of course not.

So if not from the wise folks at the friendly duopoly, where shall we get our summer beer?

I'm usually of the mind that you drink what you like and disregard the season. I'm just as likely to drink a stout poolside as any other beer. I had a homebrewed Oatmeal Stout on Sunday.

Lighter styles emerged because of refrigeration, better methods of kilning and better brewing technology not strictly because of the seasons. Regional styles developed because of local conditions of the water, grains and available ingredients. The closest thing to a traditional summer beer in Dublin is Guinness Extra Cold. This light dark thing never made sense to me.

Do we really feel more of an affinity to Mexican beer because it's hot? How does that make any sense?

Now if you want refreshing beers in the summer. Stick to something that finishes with a crisp dryness, tart sourness or spiciness.

Over the last few days, I've had several beers that fit this bill.
  • A well balanced Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor with it's spicy Belgian character over restrained grassy hops;
  • Mana Wheat from Maui Brewing made with Pineapple. No, it's not syrupy sweet. Rather the flavor closer to the center of the pineapple where the distictiv fruit flavor derives;
  • Firestone Walker Solace- a blend of Saison and Hefeweizen; pleasantly creamy and flavorful, but perhaps more sweet than a bone-dry Saison;
  • Anderson Valley Summer Solstice- soft flavors of vanilla and caramel with a dry finish;
  • A wonderfully dry-hopped sour ale La Terroir from new Belgium.
There's a dozen other beers that fit the summer profile and I've yet to delve into the locals.  Do you drink to the season or do you drink what you like at any given moment? Can you nominate a perfect Phoenix Summer Beer?


  1. Great article. I will try a couple of the beers you suggested. I have tried the Firestone Solace and enjoyed it very much. The Summer Solstice was good, but I preferred the Solace.

    We were at Mellow Mushroom last night and they had the Mana Wheat, but the bartender dissuaded me from trying it as she said it was pretty sweet (I was drinking Four Peaks Hefe last night). She thought the Mana Wheat might be too sweet for me.

    I have never mixed a Shandy myself, but I do like the Leinenkugel Summer Shandy. Refreshing in the Arizona heat. I will try mixing my own one of these days, though.

    I also like Sweaty Betty by Boulder Beer brewery.

    Thanks for the suggestions . . . gotta run to Total Wines.

  2. I prefer the Summer Solstice, it is my favorite Summer Beer. The Solace is pretty good as well. Summer Shandy is too sweet, although I know others that enjoy it.

    However, I will never turn down a Four Peaks Hefe, which is another great summer beer.

  3. I'm going to have to pick this discussion up again in July and add local beers.

    Sometimes you fall into a habit and miss out on beers that are right under your nose. Such was the case with Four Peaks Hefeweizen. An East coast beer judge recently remarked to me that the Four Peaks Hefeweizen had outstanding Bavarian yeast character. He was right.

  4. Although I will drink any style regardless of season, I enjoy drinking seasonal beers. I look forward to the beers of every season, such as maibock in the spring and an Oktoberfest and Pumpkin beers in the fall.