Cigar Aficionado

Brews For All Seasons

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but this month hasn’t been very May like in the New York area. Rain, cloudy skies and temps that haven’t quite hit that ideal point where you don’t worry about whether you have a jacket or not. Perhaps that’s why I’ve allowed a six-pack of Summer Ale from Samuel Adams to linger in my beer fridge.

It just hasn’t felt like summer.

Finally, after another weekend of clouds and rain, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and I broke down last night and dove into this seasonal beer that is available from April to August.

I’m glad I did. Sam Adams founder Jim Koch’s intention was that the tangy Summer Ale be a perfect companion for a hot summer day, but I found that it also had the effect of summoning the spirit of summer even though it hadn’t actually arrived.

The beer is brewed with wheat malt, lemon zest and Grains of Paradise, a peppery, citrusy West African spice that is supposed to have aphrodisiac qualities (don’t worry, I didn’t go all Viagra on the stuff). The point is the ale’s obvious tangy profile is an interesting take on summer brew, when the typical strategy is to go light, clear and cold. Having recently written a piece on craft brewing in Cigar Aficionado (June 2009) and taped a video on the subject for this website, it set me to thinking about how one of the best things about the beer revolution has been the choices it has wrought. Years ago American brewers didn’t put out seasonal beers. They had one or two choices in styles that you got all year long. Because Koch’s smaller operation can turn on a dime, he puts out dozens of different tastes from his Sam Adams (not really so) Light to his extreme beers, such as Triple Bock.

And certainly Koch isn’t the only one to do this. Nor is this meant to be an indictment against Big Beer. Those large-capacity brewers are operating in a different realm, and they do what they do very well. In fact, I think in the case of Michelob, they’ve done a pretty fair job of coming up with some interesting and (for them) off-beat beers. Michelob even came up with a pumpkin-flavored brew as a seasonal last autumn. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, but they were out there doing it.

I was so pleased with the results of the Summer Ale that I tore into some other tastes that came from Adams: The LongShots, which are beers that won in the American Homebrew Contest and have been bottled and marketed on a limited basis by the company. The program encourages amateur brewers to keep pushing the envelope, which is good for everybody. Our former managing editor Mike Marsh even entered the contest last summer. He didn’t win, but made some respectable brew.

Anyway I think my decision to break out the Summer Ale was well-advised. I looked out my office window just now and there is a huge burning gaseous ball in the sky. If memory serves me right, it’s called the sun.