At this point of the summer, all thoughts are turning to the water. Fly fishermen are heading to the rivers, boaters are creating waves with their speedboats or seeking a little breeze to move sailboats along, kayaks and canoes are strapped to myriad car roofs, and everyone is on the search for a swimming hole. And once you’ve made your way to the perfect spot, is there anything better than cracking open a beer?
This summer, Cameron Read, the head brewer and beer buyer at Charleston, S.C.’s beautiful Edmund’s Oast, is filling his backpack with cans of craft beer. “For the water, you don’t want glass,” he says. “Cans are sort of the quintessential outdoor in-the-heat drinking thing.”
Lucky for him, the canned craft movement is booming. “Oskar Blues was one of the first craft breweries in America to really help popularize it, but now that canning lines are less expensive and more reliable, everyone and their mom’s making canned beer, so I think you’re gonna see more and more cans,” says Read. “They’re recyclable, cheaper to ship and impervious to light and air once they’re packaged, so there’s a lot of upshot to going with cans.”
Cameron Read (image: Andrew Cebulka)
This time of year, Read looks for beers that have a low alcohol-by-volume percentage and are crisp, tart or nicely hopped, without being heavy. “In Charleston, when the heat index is 120 or whatever, it’s nice to be able to guzzle a beer. Imperial stouts and barrel-aged beers and other big beers, for me, just really don’t work,” he says. “The common link between beers that are good for drinking when it’s hot out in the summer is something that will quench your thirst and hopefully won’t get you too tanked in the heat, because there’s nothing like getting really buzzed in the sun.
And in the brewery, he’s making these style of beers too: “We just did an English-style pub ale, sort of like a bitter blond mild. It’s 3.8 percent ABV, and it’s golden, light and refreshing. We do our own Belgian table bier and our own mild, and those are all under 4 percent. We have a nice light golden lager that’s 4 and change coming out in a couple weeks.”
Below, Read gives us a six-pack of canned beers to be drinking right now. “It’s a small smattering of Southern breweries, but as a Southern guy and a Southern beer buyer, if I’m drinking out on the water, I’m probably trying to drink kind of local.”
“Coast, in many ways, is a trailblazer for us down here in Charleston. It was one of the first craft breweries to open up, and it really helped spearhead the change in the law for the allowance of higher-gravity beers. It just expanded from a small seven-barrel system to a 30-barrel one, so you’ll probably see more of its stuff more often. Kölsch is a style of beer that’s really, truly brewed in Cologne, Germany, sort of like how Champagne’s really from Champagne, France. But American brewers have really latched onto the style, because it’s a nice, light, crisp, refreshing, delicate beer. Of all of the American kölschs that I’ve had, Coast’s probably hits the mark the best. The beer itself is golden and has a delicate malty character, almost kind of a doughy, wheaty, bready character, and then it has a little fruitiness from the yeast and a little herbaceousness from the hop character, but it’s all so light and balanced. And it’s only 4.8 percent ABV, so it’s super easy drinking.”
“Creature Comforts [from Athens, Ga.] is another newer brewery, again Southern but really up and coming and just crushing it as far as I’m concerned. One of its beers that I’ve really enjoyed is this Berliner weisse out of a can. It’s fun to have a tart, sour beer in a can. Normally, when you think of sour beers, you think of bottles and caging, but Berliner weisse is sort of the ultimate refreshing sour beer. It’s a light wheat beer with nice acidity. This one is super clean, not funky, weird or gross, just a nice, light, lemony sourness, with a delicate maltiness. If you like lemonade or Margaritas, it’s hard to go wrong with a Berliner weisse, and I think they nailed the style.”
The Against the Grain guys [from Louisville, Ky.] are really cool; they do a wide variety of whimsical beers that have really whimsical names and whimsical artwork. Sho’nuff is sort of a Belgian table beer, a Belgian pale, so it has some yeast character to it, fruitiness from the yeast and a nuttiness from the malt, but it’s still light enough to be really refreshing. It has some oomph to it, in that the malt is not light and dry like the kölsch, and it’s not hoppy like the IPA, but it’s super drinkable, especially in the 16-ounce cans they sell it in.”
“Westbrook [of Charleston, S.C.] is relatively newer—four or five years maybe. Coast does more straightforward and classic styles that are really fun, but Westbrook does a lot of experimental stuff. It has a mind for the newer craft styles—wild yeast and bacteria and interesting hopping techniques—but its IPA is something I get pretty regularly when I’m out and just want something hoppy. It has a nice toastiness about it, a little maltiness, but it’s still dry enough to be refreshing. The beer can vary a bit, but it usually has a really great citrusy, piney kick to it that I quite enjoy.”
“This isn’t completely Southern, but a lot of Evil Twin beers are contract-brewed at Westbrook Brewery. That said, [brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø] lives in Brooklyn and does a lot of his brewing up in Stratford, Conn. Bikini beer is a lot of fun. As a brewer, beer buyer and beer drinker, I’m super fascinated by low-ABV beers. I like the big stuff, but I think it’s really unique when you can get a beer that has a low ABV but also a lot of flavor. For me, Bikini beer is a really light and dry beer with a lot of hop character. So it has a lot of citrusy, almost like IPA hop notes, but it’s so light. It’s 2.7 percent ABV—super low. I could drink a case of it. It’s sort of like the ultimate session beer—you don’t even have to worry about it.”
“Berliners and wits are both wheat beers, but Berliners are from Germany originally, and then witbiers are from Belgium. The big difference is that witbiers usually don’t have a bright acidity to them; they can be bright, but they’re not sour. And then the yeast character is a lot different; it’s a lot more expressive and fruity. Typically, wheat beers are spiced. The classic hallmark witbier pairing is orange and coriander, but a lot of modern breweries are using different things, like chamomile, lemon peel or lemongrass and all kinds of other flavorings. I like Southbound’s because it has a lot of classic flavors and is not too clunky or heavy. It reminds me of some of the better ones from Belgium, but you can get it super fresh, because it’s made in Savannah, Ga.”