Just because it’s the season of beer and backyard barbecues doesn’t mean that the former has to be the standard yellow fizzy concoction guzzled from an aluminum can. There’s an ever-growing list of domestic craft beers perfectly suited for the dog days, and while the criteria for a great summer beer can certainly vary, there’s one description that must ring true: refreshing.
There are a bunch of styles that fit the bill. Take the saison, a type of beer rooted in the Belgian farmland. It was originally made during winter months so that farmhands could enjoy it on the warmer days to come. Farmers would, of course, have more free time for stuff like brewing during the winter when their crops were dormant, though making beer wasn’t just a way to keep busy. It was more about creating a food that could be preserved in bottled form and later served as a nutritious snack. The result of brewers’ work then, as now, was a golden-hued, highly carbonated beverage with spicy, fruity notes and hints of bitter hops leading toward a slightly tart finish.
Wheat beer is another classic choice for a cool refreshing brew. It’s important to remember that malted barley has always been, and continues to be, the primary grain in most beer recipes. However, brewers have long used adjunct grains like wheat, rye, and oats to add distinct characteristics. Brewing with wheat makes a beer that is lighter bodied with a hazy, glowing color. Belgian traditions also include brewing wheat beers with the aid of different spices—namely white pepper, coriander, and orange peel. Introducing this intoxicating mixture into the boiling stage of the brewing process infuses the beer with thirst-quenching citric notes. Belgian yeast strains also add a nice fruitiness to the beer, which can cut right through a humid afternoon.
Finally, if you want to stick to America’s reigning king of warm-weather beers, go for a classic pilsner. Although pilsner’s reputation has been severely tainted by the work of mass-market beer conglomerates, that doesn’t mean that American craft brewers aren’t making delightfully crisp, clean, and well-balanced examples of the world’s most popular style of beer. Pilsners are made using bottom-fermenting yeast, meaning that the yeast falls to the bottom of the brewing tank leaving behind an enticing, clear beer. The other calling card of traditional pilsners is the use of German and Czech hops, which gives the beer a floral aroma and wonderful bitterness.
The refreshment value of summer beers is undoubtedly alluring, but it’s their versatility in the realm of cheese pairing that really excites food zealots. These styles of beer do it all—they satiate your thirst and cleanse your palate of a thick, rich cheese, readying it for the next morsel. Here are a few suggestions for guaranteed-great summer beer and cheese pairings.
Allagash White and Cypress Grove Fresh Chèvre
Ah yes, the summer staple that is wheat beer and fresh chèvre goat cheese. Allagash creates the spicy mix of orange peel and coriander to perfection—then adds just the right dose of hops to let the beer end with a sweet, then crisp, finish. The use of wheat makes this beer fabulously light on the palate and an ideal companion to the bright, tangy chèvre from this award-winning cheese company. The acidity of both the beer and cheese meet, but the beer has the final say with a nice touch of sweetness and a clean ending.
Victory Prima Pils and Kaas by Cass
This beer puts America’s macro-breweries on alert, as it has the golden clarity and light body of its German ancestors. The sweet malt notes are perfectly balanced out by the unabashed presence of Saaz hops, giving the beer a nice bitterness and floral aroma. Let the scrubbing bubbles and hoppiness of the beer do their job when matched with the uber-creamy Kaas. When ripe, this bloomy rind cow’s milk creation from Scholten Organic Dairy in Vermont will coat your palate with grassy flavors that could only be mowed through, and complemented by a stellar beer like this.
Boulevard Saison and Capriole Old Kentucky Tomme
This midwestern brewing gem stays true to the saison traditions of old-world Belgian farms. The beer pours a serious, foamy head that breathes out aromas of citrus and bready sweetness. The usual fruity and spicy flavors of Belgium hit the palate up front, and if it’s citrus-flavor you want, it’s citrus you’ll get when the Amarillo hop varietal finishes the beer with more zesty goodness. This beer demands an aged goat’s milk cheese like the Capriole Old Kentucky Tomme. The pleasantly effervescent saison will shine through the cheese’s buttery texture. The beer has just enough bite and earthy funk to work with the mild hints of mushroom hiding in cheesemaker Judy Schad’s masterpiece.