There’s no time of year when the dedicated craft beer drinker will feel more pressure to just quit being so discerning and partake in a cooler full of something like Budweiser or PBR, or even Tecate (which some people swear isn’t shitty even though it absolutely is) than summer. And I can sort of see why you’d give in. You’re probably going to be drinking for an extended period of time, at a barbecue or while sitting around on vacation, and you might have four, five, six, nine beers during a single session, so it’s probably a good idea to stay away from those 7-8% IPAs anyway. It’s also hot as hell, and the last thing you want is to feel like you’re drinking chocolate milk in the hot afternoon sun, so you’ll want to hold off on the heavier stuff and choose something light and refreshing instead. It may seem that roads lead to that can of Bud Light, but this is not so. Not at all.
Stone Brewing Company, Go T0 IPA
Over the past year or so, the “session IPA” has been one of the most popular new beer styles, with damn near every major (and not so major) brewery releasing their own version, but there’s no better take on the style than Stone’s Go To IPA. The idea behind the session IPA is that it’s much lower in alcohol content than the standard IPA, usually coming in between 4.5 and 5%. The problem with some of them is that the brewer’s just aren’t able to pack in much flavor, often leaving you with something thin and borderline watery. With Go To, though, this isn’t an issue: there’s a huge blast of bright citrus that gives way to a pleasant but not at all overwhelming bitterness.
On tap at St. Gambrinus Beer Shoppe; 16oz draft for $6
Evil Twin Brewing, Bikini Beer
If you were to make an extreme version of a session IPA, I suppose it stands to reason that it wouldn’t contain more alcohol but less. This, of course, is exactly what Evil Twin has done with Bikini Beer, a 2.7% IPA that has plenty of flavor and comes in a very nice looking can that will make you the coolest person at your rooftop party. Be sure not to share, though… you’ll need all six.
Available at Covenhoven; Single 12oz can for $1.95.
Two Roads Brewing, Honeyspot Road
I could have put any number of beers from this Connecticut brewery on the list: their Ol’Factory Pils is very good, as is their Worker’s Comp Saison, but I figured we’d throw in one more IPA for good measure. Honeyspot Road is a white IPA, meaning it’s much like a regular IPA but brewed with wheat malts that provide a light, creamy texture alongside hints of lemon and orange.
Available at Carmine Street Beers in Manhattan (and many stores and bodegas in Brooklyn); 6-pack 12oz cans for $13.99.
Dogfish Head, Festina Peche
As I mentioned earlier, the session IPA is this summer’s predominant style, but I’m holding out hope that the Berliner Weisse will take over by the time next summer rolls around. They’re very low in alcohol, but they’re also refreshing and tart thanks to a dose of lactobacillus, which also makes them the perfect introduction to sours. Dogfish Head’s version, brewed with peaches to offset the sourness, is outstanding. And I just noticed that on their website they even refer to it as a “session sour.” My thoughts exactly.
Available pretty much everywhere decent beer is sold; 4-pack 12oz bottles for roughly $14.
The Bruery, Rueuze
Ok, so this isn’t exactly a beer you’d call “sessionable.” It’s not that it’s particularly boozy–it comes in at a rasonable 5.6%–but it’s very expensive, at around $28 per 750mL bottle, and it’s so intensely flavorful that it’s best in somewhat small doses. This offering comes to us from California’s The Bruery, and it is a full-on sour: you’ll get tons of acidic and mouth-puckering lemon, green apple, even cherry, along with what nerds far and wide refer to as “barnyard funk.” It tastes much better than it sounds, believe me.
Available at Strong Place; 750mL bottle for $48.
Brooklyn Brewery, Sorachi Ace
Thinking about this for a second, I realize that I recommend this beer for pretty much any time of year, but it’s particularly well-suited to warmer months. It’s a traditional saison, super dry and brewed with Belgian and Champagne yeasts, plus a hearty dose of Sorachi Ace hopes, which add a bright and extremely enjoyable touch of lemon. Is it weird that a beer makes me smile? ‘Cause this one does.
Available at Bed Stuy Beer Works; 750ml bottle for $9.49.
Kelso Brewing Company, Pilsner
For a more straightforward, no-frills day of drinking, you should consider a classic pilsner, and this one from Kelly Taylor and his team at KelSo Brewing is a fine example. Bready, crisp and grainy, it’s always a good option, especially if you’re looking to share a drink with someone who still drinks bad beer–it’s the perfect introduction to good beer.
Available at Beer Boutique; 12oz can for $2.49.
Firestone Walker, Pivo Pils
For the hopeless hop-heads among us who just can’t bear to drink a beer that doesn’t boast at least some of their favorite ingredient, I give you Pivo Pils from the inimitable California Brewery Firestone Walker. At its heart, it’s a classic Czech pilsner, but it’s then hit with a dose of hops that give the beer a mild fruitiness and just a hint of bitterness.
Available at Pine Box Rock Shop, $16oz draft for $6.
South Carolina’s Westbrook Brewing Company’s take on this traditional German style has become one of the more talked-about beers in the craft world, and for good reason. Gose (pronounced “goes-uh”) is a wheat beer brewed with lactic acid, coriander, and salt. And I won’t lie: it’s weird as hell, but a sip or two in, you’ll be hooked.
Available at Rosamunde Sausage Grill, 12oz can for $7.
Cisco Brewers, Pechish Woods
Another borderline crushingly sour beer here, this one from Cisco Brewers in Nantucket, Pechish Woods is an ale aged in oak barrels with peaches. The peaches come through immediately in the aroma, but are less overwhelming in the taste. A great bottle to split with a friend.
Available at the Ginger Man in Manhattan; 22oz bottle for $30.
Bell’s, Oberon Ale
This extremely popular offering from the extremely popular brewery that just started distributing here earlier this year is an easy-drinking, Americanized version of the classic wheat beer, meaning it retains the creamy head and substantial carbonation, but lacks the clove and banana notes that usually shine through. Super clean, with just the right amount of hops shining through.
Available at The Sampler, 10oz draft for $5.
Captain Lawrence Brewing Company, Kolsch
Another beer that’s perfect for sharing with fans of more basic styles. Captain’s Kolsch, from Captain Lawrence Brewing Company, boasts the bready, grainy qualities of a pilsner, but adds to it a nice undercurrent of grassy, floral brightness.
Available pretty much everywhere; 6-pack 12oz bottles for roughly $11.
Follow Mike Conklin on Twitter @MikeConklin.