June has begun and summer is nearly in full swing. It’s a great time to talk about what makes a seasonal summer ale different from the brews we drink the rest of the year.
To begin with, let the record show that ale is good for you 365 days a year. We’re sure you don’t need a special calendar date to pour yourself a frosty one and enjoy. But since summer gives us the opportunity to try new seasonal ales, we might as well take advantage of those opportunities. Onward and upward, as we like to say.
What is the origin of the seasonal ale?
Do you ever feel like you take refrigeration for granted? If so, remember that the Maytag Man and the products he serviced are fairly modern creations compared to the long legacy of beer making. Long before there was refrigeration, breweries had to make do with the ingredients they had at the time new batches were being created.
According to theKitchn blog, that meant fresh hops and barley that were plentiful during the autumn were perfect for darker, stronger beers. In the spring, when the necessary ingredients were harder to come by, the beers were lighter and less stout.
Think of it like a relationship. In the early years, you’re willing to give life and limb to satisfy your new passion. If you’re able to reach retirement age, both of you are considerably less robust, if you know what we mean.
What is the trademark of a good seasonal summer ale?
The main characteristic of the seasonal summer ale is a light and crisp taste. Now, don’t confuse that with the watered-down light beer they serve at Big Bubba’s Rough ‘n’ Tumble Honky-Tonk Joint and Nail Salon. Light beer is by no means a seasonal summer ale. In fact, light beer is a lot like American Idol without Randy and Simon―barely tolerable!
No, the trademark of a good seasonal summer ale is wheat. When craft breweries combine wheat and barley together it creates a delightful mash with a light flavor that is both compelling and delicious. The reason for that, according to NBC’s Today.com, is a unique difference between the two grains.
NBC says that barley is relatively gluten-free, while wheat is practically oozing glutens. Both grains also have different proteins to throw into the mix. What would be clashing flavors outside the brewery combine to make the unique summer flavor for which seasonal summer ales are known. We know, it sounds like a commercial.
Where did the wheat idea come from?
If you’re thinking the idea to use wheat came from a desperate group of backwoods brewers on the outskirts of Milwaukee, guess again. It actually came from master brewers in Germany a couple of hundred years ago. These brewers knew they couldn’t use wheat exclusively because it creates a mess with which their brewing equipment couldn’t cope. But they figured out that they could mix it with barley during the hot summer months.
Interestingly enough, wheat beer is now a staple among authentic German drinkers. Just go to any Oktoberfest celebration and look around for beers with the words “weiss” or “weizen” in their names. Both words refer to the fact that the beer is made with wheat grain. If that little bit of knowledge just destroyed your perception of what makes a German beer truly German, we apologize.
Should summer ales have strange flavors?
Part of the craft beer movement is to add strange flavors to traditional beer recipes in an attempt to make them interesting and unique. If that’s your thing, more power to you. But for those who like their beer to be just beer, strange flavors don’t belong in any kind of beer; summer seasonal ales notwithstanding.
If you don’t know what we’re talking about, consider Samuel Adams Summer Ale. It’s a recommended choice of BeerAdvocate.com. This brew combines American wheat, lemon zest, and an African pepper known as “grains of paradise.” If nothing else, it sounds funky, but lots of people swear by it.
Another interesting summer choice is Kona Brewing Company’s Aloha Series Brown Ale. If you like to mix your beer with coconut and caramel (seriously??) this mahogany ale might be right up your alley. Apparently, it is a brew that defines what it means to drink heavily in Hawaii during the summer months. Have no fear; there are plenty of mainland stores that carry it.
Throughout our research there seemed to be one theme that carried through from each seasonal summer ale to the next. That theme was a lack of complexity. In other words, your typical seasonal summer ale quenches your thirst but doesn’t dazzle the palate. But perhaps that’s the beauty of summer ales.
During the winter, we tend to spend lots of time practicing the social arts of conversation and trying to find the perfect soulmate in time for a spring engagement announcement. During the summer we prefer to do things like play beach volleyball, hit the golf course, and compare barbecued foods and the grills on which they’re made.
When there’s so much to do, who has time for beer complexity? Summer is better suited to lemon zest, coconut, and all sorts of things you normally find in potpourri. It is perfectly suited to the seasonal summer ale.