I’ve been planning to write a summer beer column for a few weeks, but it has take this long into the summer to get a sense of what is readily available this season locally and in nearby larger beer markets such as Kingston, Perth, and Napanee. Also each year there is a flavour that catches my own taste, and it took a while but this summer I am most interested in summer saison beers, heffeweizen, session ales, and some of the less sour of the sour beers.
The local LCBO stores seem to be serving up a host of India Pale Ales, which is not necessarily a problem for me. There has been a bit of a backlash in some circles, however, reminiscent of what happened a few year’s ago in the United States craft beer world when the IPA style was so dominant in those markets. Last week, an article in the National Post, written by a man named Tristin Hopper, lamented to hoppiness of many popular beers.
The India Pale Ale or American Pale Ale styles that have taken the LCBO stores by storm are the main culprit, as Hopper (that is his real name) pointed out. For many beer drinkers, the first sip of a beer like Amsterdam Breweries Boneshaker, NickleBrook Breweries Headstock, or Muskoka Breweries Mad Tom, is an assault on the back of the tongue. Any hint of citrus or sweetness is overwhelmed by a bitter, hoppy finish. For some people, one sip is enough and that is the end of their IPA experience. For others, a second and a third sip, especially if they are starting with a more subtle version, perhaps a fruity, low alcohol Session IPA, other flavours emerge on the palate. Eventually they become hop-heads, craving that big taste and bitter finish. And there are a lot of hop-heads around rural Ontario these days, that’s why there are a dozen IPA’s in the Sharbot Lake Liquor store, and about as many at the local beer store as well. And there aren’t that many hipsters from Toronto in those stores, some of us must be drinking the stuff.
The backlash against hops is not really about IPA beers, it is about the use of hops in other beers, in lagers and even in ciders. So unwitting golden ale and lager drinkers are now being inconvenienced by the hop forward wave. I thought the critics were overstating their opposition, but then I tasted a new ice cream from a normally reputable company, Kawartha Dairy. They have a new flavour, produced in conjunction with Muskoka Brewery, Pralines and Cream Ale. When asked about what it tasted like, the sales clerk at the store when my wife Martina and I purchased the ice cream said it “tastes like beer, it really does.”
That was true, but what she did not say was that it was more of Pralines and Cream IPA. It has the sweetness of Pralines and Cream ice cream, which in itself can be a bit overpowering, followed by a genuine hoppy finish. The overall effect, and this is based on the opinion of at least a half a dozen people, is not good, not good at all. It is actually bad, very bad. Sorry Kawartha Dairy, but this is not a winner. Maybe try a chocolate stout next time, if there has to be a next time.
In any event, there are other styles of beer that are, to my own taste, the defining taste of the hot summer of 2018, and for me, it is all about the wheat.
Wheat beers, or Whit beers, have a sweetness, a tartness and a lightness, along with a bit of a mustiness in some cases, that slides down the throat leaving only a floral, citrusy aftertaste. They are sometimes hopped, but even then the hop flavours cannot overwhelm all the other flavours.
At 4pm, after a run, a battle with deer flies in a hot garden, or slaving over an article on local politics (a bit too personal, I know) a good Heffewezen, the German version of summer wheat beer, a Belgian Summer Saison, or one of the Farmhouse Ales that some local brewers are producing these days, not quite as chilled as a Coors Lite needs to be but almost that cold, is a thing of beauty.
A slice of orange, lemon or lime, can be a welcome addition, particularlty to Farmhouse ales.
These beers are not as easy to find these days as IPA’s are, but there is a good farmhouse ale from Bench Brewing of Beamsville. They also make a nice Session IPA and a Citra Sour. The sour is a bit less lip puckering than some others, but sour is also a style that people need to work their way into. Muskoka Brewery makes a Summer Heffeweizen as well, and Frontenac’s own Wolfe Island Spring makes an excellent whitbeer, Orange-White. If you have a bit of money and don’t know what to do with it, Stone City Ales in Kingston almost always has something light tasting and flavourful on the go in the summer, but don’t get too attached because the beer is always changing. The always have Windward, an Belgian Wheat available, but if you can find a Chloe, June, Darling, or Ophelia, cough up the cash and enjoy. And they also make a truly excellent Double IPA, which is called Hard to Say DIPA. Double IPA’s don’t actually taste as hoppy as single IPA’s. They are high in alcohol and less carbonated, and in the best of cases they are cloudy and a bit musty on the nose, with a grapefruit aroma and a kind of soapy aftertaste. But if you are driving, stick to one because at 9% alcohol, a 500 ml bottle is the equivalent of almost 21/4 bottles of Budweiser or almost 31/2 bottles of Coors Lite. (On a hot day, a Bud or a Coors Lite can also taste pretty good, but don’t let anyone know I said that)
There are literally dozens of options for flavourful summer beers available these days, and it is really about individual taste. The best advice I can give is to find a brewer you like, be it a larger craft brewery whose beers are pretty readily available, such as Beau’s, Muskoka, Amsterdam or Flying Monkey. Then try the different styles they offer.
The second thing to do is to give some of the more local breweries a chance. They may be a little harder to find at the LCBO or Loblaws outlets, but you might be able to visit their brewery store once in a while. Mackinnon Brothers in Bath, Stalwart in Carleton Place, Perth Brewery are all good options.
Finally, take a chance, buy a single bottle of the strangest sounding beer you see at the store. You could be spending $3 on something you take a sip from and then toss out, but you might get lucky and find a new flavour you like.
Here’s a good example. My wife picked up a can of Collective Arts Breweries Liquid Art Fest IPA the other week. It is milkshake IPA (which is not a bad substyle, trust me) with lots of mango, passion fruit and vanilla. It pours and looks like mango juice and is actually pretty thick at the bottom of the bottle. The flavour is pretty unusual, kind of sour and fruity with a vanilla finish. It is not really hoppy or heavily carbonated and doesn’t really taste anythig like an IPA, but the whole thing works. I might not want to drink two in a row, but the next time I see them I’ll pick up a couple of cans.
Tropical mango and passion fruit flavours might be just the ticket for a 32 degree day with a humidex reading in the mid 40’s.