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A summer beer can be just about any style, as long as it’s crisp and refreshing and makes you never want to go back inside again. They range from light and fruity to hoppy and complex, but the best summer beer is the one you come back to again and again as soon as the temperature crawls above 60 degrees.
“Good summer beers are typically low-ABV, crisp and balanced, and their flavor should be able to stand up to, but not overwhelm the foods you pair them with,” says Karissa Norrington, brewing manager at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. “Sessionability is also key to any summer beers that draw my interest, as you'll want to quickly grab a second or third to keep quenching your thirst in the summer heat!”
This summer, the California brewery is releasing a “sessionable hazy IPA” called Summer Break that, according to Norrington, “pairs perfectly with any summery activities you can dream up.” Norrington also predicts that summer 2021 will continue to bring more low- and zero-ABV beers to the market, competing with recent additions to the scene, including Goose Island’s So-Lo and Dogfish Head’s Slightly Mighty.
For those who prefer their patio pounders with a little more kick, breweries such as New York’s Talea Beer Co. are banking on big fruit flavors this year. The brewery will be releasing two new beers made with summer fruits, Crush Gose and Tart Deco Sour IPA. Talea’s co-founder Tara Hankinson says that other breweries will follow suit with their own bold beers. “I predict more beer hybrids, whether cider or hops being used in teas or other beverages as a result of the cravings for innovation.”
With these trends in mind, along with our experts, we've compiled some of the best beers to crack open this summer.
Best Overall: Allagash White
Region: Maine | ABV: 5.2% | Tasting Notes: Wheat, Spice, Orange
The summer beer game changed for the better in 2019, when Maine’s Allagash Brewing Company put its legendary Belgian-style wheat beer in tallboy cans. Now these yellow cans are a staple of summer. The liquid inside is worthy of its reputation, with a sweet and spicy flavor loaded with orange peel and coriander.
Best Macro: Miller Highlife
Region: Wisconsin | ABV: 4.6% | Tasting Notes: Straw, Corn, Malt
Whether you want a beer for hanging out at the beach or drinking at the end of a long day, you can’t go wrong with the 'Champagne of Beers'. With just enough flavor to remind you that you are, in fact, drinking a beer, and a clean finish, it’s many bartenders shift beer of choice for a reason. “Nice malt and noble hop balance, not too heavy, pairs well with a lawnmower or gardening,” Hankinson says.
Related: The Best Beers
Best Craft: Revolution Rosa Hibiscus Ale
Region: Illinois | ABV: 5.8% | Tasting Notes: Bread, Floral, Orange
It’s not summer in Chicagoland until Revolution’s Rosa Hibiscus Ale hits the shelves. Out of the can, this beer pours a deep rosy pink that is sure to put a smile on your face. True to its name and color, drinkers of this ale claim it tastes like everything from berries to tart citrus and hibiscus flowers. Most can agree that it’s a special beer that pairs perfectly with the start of summer.
Best Light: Night Shift Nite Lite
Region: Massachusetts | ABV: 4.3% | Tasting Notes: Bread, Citrus, Corn
Many craft brewers have entered the light lager game, but few have done it as well as Massachusetts’ Night Shift. Nite Lite might be crisp and highly crushable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also bursting with subdued malt, hops, and fruit flavor. “It's a crisp, refreshing lager that's low-ABV but still has clear malt character and citrusy notes,” Hankinson says.
Best Session: Rhinegeist Little Bubs
Region: Ohio | ABV: 4.7% | Tasting Notes: Apple, Sugar, Peach
Sometimes you want wine, sometimes you want beer. And then there are those special times, maybe when you are sitting by a pool in the sweltering sun when you want a little bit of both. Enter Rhinegeist’s Little Bubs, a lower ABV cousin of Bubbles Rosé Ale. Brewed with apple, peach, and cranberry for tartness and color, this blushing beer hits you with a little bit of sweetness, a little bit of sour, and lots of fruity flavors.
Best Sour: Westbrook Key Lime Pie Gose
Region: South Carolina | ABV: 4% | Tasting Notes: Lime, Malt, Salt
What screams summer more than a pie? A pie-flavored beer, perhaps. “Westbrook is the standard for goses and this beer has all of the tart and salty elements of a great gose, while also having additional acidity and flavor—it's the perfect summer dessert!” Hankinson says. Just like taking a bit of key lime pie, this beer will make you pucker. It’s got plenty of tart lime flavors balanced with a strong malt backbone and a bit of salt on the finish.
Related: The Best Sour Beers
Best Fruited: Fat Head’s Bumble Berry
Region: Ohio | ABV: 5.3% | Tasting Notes: Blueberry, Malt, Honey
“Blueberry is a difficult flavor to pull off in a beer,” Norrington says about Fat Head’s Bumble Berry. “Matt Cole has done this exceptionally well.” The gold standard for blueberry beer is brewed with pounds of fresh blueberries as spring honey. In addition to its well defined blueberry flavor, this beer has a slight creaminess and subtly malty sweetness.
Best Radler: Stiegl Radler
Region: Austria | ABV: 2% | Tasting Notes: Grapefruit, Bread, Sugar
Make your way to any patio or greenspace in a major city and chances are good you’ll stumble across someone sipping a can of Stiegl Radler. In the last decade, the easy-drinking combo of grapefruit soda and beer, served in a 16.9-oz can, has become the beverage of choice for anyone who wants a lot of sweetness and a little booziness.
“The benchmark for the style—not too sweet and not too tart,” Norrington says. “At 2% ABV, my friends and I have been known to deplete an entire restaurant or two of their inventory when we’ve seen it on the menu.”
Best Dark: Uinta Baba Black Lager
Region: Utah | ABV: 4% | Tasting Notes: Espresso, Chocolate, Malt
Summer beers usually fall in the golden-amber color spectrum and have a refreshing flavor to match. But refreshing isn’t limited to light beers. Come to the dark side with a black lager, or schwarzbier, such as Uinta’s Baba Black Lager. This deep brown beer has notes of espresso and cocoa, but still manages to maintain a thinner body, making it the ideal dark horse of your summer drinking arsenal.
Best Lager: Victoria
Region: Mexico | ABV: 4.4% | Tasting Notes: Malt, Caramel, Hops
“[Victoria is an] underappreciated Mexican Vienna-style lager,” Norrington says. “Pairs well with Mexican food, BBQ, hotdogs, and hamburgers on the grill.” This medium-bodied brew is known for its rich amber color. Each sip is guaranteed to deliver toasted malt and a whisper of hops that fades into a smooth, crisp finish.
Related: The Best Lager Beers
Best Ale: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Region: California | ABV: 5.6% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, Pine, Bitter hops
In 1980, the brewers at Sierra Nevada decided to take a pale ale and load it up with the new, fancy Cascade hops. At the time, it was a stroke of genius. Today that beer is synonymous with intense pine and citrus flavor as well as consistency. “Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is my go-to when I'm eating BBQ and other rich summer foods,” Hankinson says.
Best Wheat: Great Lakes Holy Moses
Region: Ohio | ABV: 5.4% | Tasting Notes: Orange, Spice, Floral
For Ohio’s Great Lakes Brewing Company, its white ale holds a special place in its year-round lineup. Named after Cleveland’s founder Moses Cleaveland, this beer is all about refreshing flavors, from bright orange peel to creamy chamomile. Norrington calls it “a very approachable wit.”
Best IPA: Maine Beer Company Lunch
Region: Maine | ABV: 7% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, Pine, Malt
“Maine Beer Co. Lunch is a well-balanced IPA that pleases beer geeks as well as your average beer lover,” Hankinson says. This show-stopper of an IPA is named after a whale with a bite taken out of its fin, which has been spotted off the coast of Maine since 1982. The IPA brings its own bite with three different types of hops for a flavor that’s equal parts juicy and herbal.
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Sarah Freeman is a food and beverage writer based out of Chicago. She has been writing about, as well as frequenting, restaurants and bars for the past decade—from learning about what makes a perfect piece of cocktail ice to the exploring art of beer label design. At the moment, she doesn’t have enough room for food in her refrigerator, because it’s filled with cans of beer and bottles of wine.