We are mired in the dog days, and, boy, are they ever more rugged this year than in the recent past. Transformers are blowing all over town as everyone’s constant air conditioning usage overtaxes the power grid. Yes, summer has fully announced its arrival at full volume and we all know what that means. It is outdoor drinking season. Time has arrived to enjoy some brews at street festivals, bags tournaments, the beach, backyard barbecues, and, of course, beer gardens.
For the second year in a row, I present to you the nominations for the Top 10 Beers of Summer. Mind you, these are not necessarily the best crafted beers, the most acclaimed beers, or the ten beers you might wish to drink the most. This is a list of the best beers for enjoying during these brutal summer days, representing a cross-section of refreshing yet interesting brewing styles:
10. Three Floyds Brewing Zombie Dust. Nothing Three Floyds does is ordinary, and God bless them for that. I present to you, Zombie Dust. Not quite a pale ale, not quite a California steam beer combination ale/lager, not quite an IPA, not quite sweet or dry, and not quite, well, like anything you ever tasted. But I’ll be damned if this is not sharp, robust enough, refreshing, interesting, great with food, and perfect for summer. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of this one around town.
9. Lone Star Lager. I won’t include Yuengling on this list because they don’t yet ship to Illinois. As for the light lagers, this is among the lightest, and one of the most refreshing cheapies out there. It drinks effortlessly and tastes cleaner than the television ad beers. I could not imagine drinking this in any format other than from a bottle, and cold, arctic cold. Point Special Lager gets an honorable mention here too and is more than a worthy substitute.
8. Victory Prima Pils. Speaking of great bottle beers, there may not be a better one than the venerable Prima Pils. Because of its unique hop profile and grassy herbaceousness, it’s terrific on tap too. This is the best pilsner made in the U.S. Victory’s Headwaters Pale Ale went nicely with barbecue, by the way.
7. Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold Lager. I just reviewed this brew here. Then I went over to Boiler Room and had one with their outstanding New York style pizza on a hot evening. I should tear up my review because Dortmunder reached another level. Crisp, biting, and a strong hint of sweet malt, there may not be a better lager out there.
6. Founders Cerise. Founders is worshiped in the beer community because they have the magic brewing touch. Apart from any individual beer they make, Founders deserves love because they are just so daring. Yeah, we make elite stouts and porters, and great hoppy beers, so we’re going to make a cherry beer just for kicks, and blow everyone away. Ho hum. Oh yeah, we’re Founders. And, oh, and by the way, it’s amazing. I love seeing people try this beer for the first time: at first they don't know what to think; then they savor every sip.
5. Stiegl Paracelsus Zwickl. Maybe it’s that glass, but I’ve never had another beer quite like it. It’s an unfiltered organic lager and a murky, cloudy mess, and terrific. It floats in your glass and threatens to ascend right out of it. A friend of mine said this reminded him of, not the flavor, but the essence of Bell’s Oberon before they famously pulled out of the market. There’s truth to that, but no other beer on the planet besides this one replicates drinking feathers.
4. Stone IPA. You knew there would be at least one IPA on this list, so why not start at the top. Biting and robust but light enough for the summer, Stone’s beers always taste as if they were brewed yesterday. Port’s Wipe Out IPA gets an honorable mention for its deliciously sticky hop assault and lean summer ready profile. But, if someone asked me to give them an example of the definitive American IPA, I would start here with Stone.
3. Lagunitas Lil’ Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale. I was in love with this beer last summer and it’s understandable. It’s well hopped, as Lagunitas is wont to do, yet has an aggressive yield of wheat. The overall effect is a citrusy beer with a substantial bite. And no one has cooler looking bottles than Lagunitas.
2. Brooklyn Lager. Before the last Cubs game I went to we stopped into Goose Island and they had this one on a guest tap. The only disappointment was that I can’t get this inside Wrigley Field. Strong enough for an ale, but made as a lager, Brooklyn's signature beer is as sturdy and smooth as it gets. Tap or bottle, this one’s a summer staple.
1. Sierra Nevada Summerfest. This one also makes the list for the second year in a row, this time on top. Sierra is a great and highly underrated brewery and with Summerfest, they have created a beer so fresh, crisp, efficient, but not too light, that you can easily overlook the sharp hop profile in this one. This is as good as a lager gets and each sip suggests sunshine. Summer’s hardly summer without sunshine.