By Will Carroll
Step outside on the patio, and it’s summer. I’m sitting on mine now with my feet up and the grill a few feet to the right. The coals are heating up, and I’m going to toss some fish and a pizza on it in just a bit, but while I wait, I’m drinking a beer and wondering what the perfect summer beer is.
For me, a summer beer should be light enough to be both thirst quenching and to have three or four without wobbling back to the house. It should be tasty, but not overpowering, and go well with whatever comes off the grill and be satisfying to drink as the sun slides down slowly to the horizon. I’ll also admit a bias to fruity tastes, whether that’s a full infusion or just the suggestion of it through brewmaster wizardry.
I’ve long been a fan of Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. The very light wheat beer is a “limited” beer, but it seems that the Miller brand has a broader view of summer than most. I saw the yellow cans showing up at my local liquor store in February, not that I’m mad about it. Summer Shandy has a sweet lemonade flavor, but remains a very drinkable beer.
It does trend towards the candy sweetness and has a variability you wouldn’t expect from a national brand, but it’s seldom too much. You wouldn’t want to drink a bitter IPA and then a Summer Shandy, but if you do that, I’m going to throw you off my patio anyway. There’s an Orange Shandy and a Berry Shandy, but neither meets the standard of Leinie’s original.
For a long time, I’ve thought that the best summer beer came from Michigan. Bell’s Brewery is a favorite of many, but to be honest, while I respect their work, the only Bell’s I have ever really liked was Oberon. Wait, did I say like? No, I love Oberon. If I could only drink one beer for the rest of my life, I’m not sure what it would be, but Oberon would be on the very short list.
Now available in cans, Oberon is a tasty wheat ale that has a surprising bite of spice to it on the tongue, but not enough to impede its drinkability. There’s a yeasty and fruity explosion in this heavily carbonated beer, letting the bubbles jump on your tongue and do a little summer dance. The bubbles keep this from being a guzzler, but that makes it all the better for savoring.
One “pro tip” is to use a koozy for this beer. The can seems a bit thin and it grips in every time you pick it up. I know that new cans are more environmentally friendly, but it’s also a bit unsettling, especially for those of us that remember real tin cans and pop tops.
We’ve looked north for the previous two summer beers, but there’s an Indiana beer that I’d put with either of those. Upland, the brewery from Bloomington with outposts around Indy, has a real winner with their Campfire Session IPA. Session beers fit well with summer, but this IPA has a real citrus forward feel without being overpowering.
There’s definite grapefruit and pine, but its not the kind of falderal that too many brewers will push forward. In fact, there is something reminiscent of Sun King’s masterpiece, Grapefruit Jungle, here, though Campfire is more accessible. Where GFJ goes to 11, Campfire is a comfortable 7 on the “you thought there was fruit in here” scale. The drinkability here is off the charts. It just tastes good, sip after sip, and is light enough that it’s never going to overpower you. It goes with the tastes of summer, whether you’re eating healthy or whether you’re pulling a heavily marbled ribeye off the coals. This may well be the best beer that Upland has put out. I’ve often liked Upland’s work, like the Dragonfly IPA, but I’ve never loved one until I tried this Campfire.
Summer beers shouldn’t make you rave about the subtle aftertaste or the malty richness on the palate. In fact, they shouldn’t make you think at all. The perfect summer beer is one that sits there with you, taking in the warmth of the season, sidles up to whatever you just took off the grill, and reminds you that yeah, life is pretty darn good right now. All of these and more could be the perfect summer beer.
*** Indianapolis gets another new brewery on Friday as MashCraft opens its doors. Greenwood will get its third brewery as this one opens just south of County Line on State Road 135. MashCraft’s Brewer, Andrew Castner, has great experience, having worked at Ram and Oaken Barrel in the past. They’ll start out with a pretty basic selection of beers, but should be able to rotate through some very interesting ones in the near future. This brewery has some ambitious plans and I’m excited to try them out. I’ll have more once I’ve tasted their work.
*** I told to you about Bottoms Up Beer a couple weeks ago. The west side company has built a better mousetrap with their beer dispenser. Instead of the standard tap, Bottoms Up fills (suprise!) from the bottom. The dispenser is popping up at stadiums and restaurants, though you might get a chance to see their unit built into the tailgate of a Chevy station wagon at an upcoming event. I was so enamored with their product that I had the company convert my kegerator to their system. It’s not cheap, but it’s so damn cool. I’ve always had a bit of trouble with excess foam in my Costco kegerator, so the Bottoms Up units help with that could get more of the Sun King Fistful of Hops keg I have in their now from keg to glass.
*** I want to know your perfect summer beer. Use the comments below to give me your selection and why.