By Lee Reiherzer
Summer has finally arrived in Wisconsin. It’s the time of year when we reach for beers that are lighter in body and brighter in flavor. That needn’t mean resorting to insipid light lagers with temperature-sensitive labels that change colors when the beer is frigid enough to be palatable. Small breweries across Wisconsin are creating a wide range of full-flavored beers inspired by traditional styles of summer brew. Here’s a seven-pack of Wisconsin-brewed beers that are perfect for pairing with summer in Wisconsin. Let’s taste some beer.
Central Waters Hop Rise Session Ale. The fruit-like hop flavors of India Pale Ale would seem to be a fine fit for summer. And they are, but quenching your thirst with a couple of strong IPAs on a hot day is asking for trouble. Seeing opportunity, American brewers have begun creating hop-forward beers that deliver the hop flavor of a standard IPA with less of the style’s alcoholic punch. Hop Rise fits nicely into that niche. Light bodied with a pungent, grassy aroma, this ale delivers a banquet of citrus and piney hop flavors over a blanket of soft malt. Its bitter, dry finish is wonderfully quenching. At 4.5% ABV, this beer is eminently sessionable.
New Glarus Berliner Weiss. This seasonal beer is brewmaster Dan Carey’s interpretation of a type of wheat ale that was all the rage in 19th-century Berlin. The style was bordering on extinction, but a handful of American craft brewers have recently sought to revive it. Carey’s artful ale is the best American-brewed Berliner Weiss I’ve tasted. Light bodied and tart with a Champagne-like effervescence, this beer is brewed using Riesling grapes. They give the beer a pleasing acidity and distinct notes of apple and pear. Low in alcohol and crisp, here’s a beer ideally suited for summer drinking.
Sprecher Brewing Company’s Summer Pils. From the brewery that introduced craft brewing to Wisconsin in 1985 comes a classic, golden pilsener. This lager is solid proof that an easy drinking beer need not be bland. It’s a wonderfully executed Czech-style pilsener that introduces itself with the floral aromatics of Saaz hops. There’s a mildly grainy malt flavor, but the hops steal the show. Their peppery spiciness leads to a just-bitter-enough finish that ensures your return to the glass. Sprecher packages Summer Pils in generous, 16-ounce bottles. Even that isn’t enough for a beer this engaging and drinkable.
Point Brewery’s Coast Radler. It’s easy to find beer snobs who will pooh-pooh the notion of crossing a beer with fruit juice. Allow these purists to languish in the muddle of their ignorance. For centuries, discerning drinkers have enjoyed beers blended with all kinds of fruit flavorings. At Point, they understand what makes these beers so appealing. Their Radler is a light-bodied pale ale blended with lemon, lime and grapefruit flavors. Where brewers often go wrong with this style is in making a beer that ends up being overly sweet and cloying. Point’s Radler is anything but. The beer is crisp and tart with a slightly sweet finish that evaporates from the tongue almost immediately. By the way, radler is the German word for cyclist. At just a hair over 4% ABV, this would be the beer to have waiting at the end of a long, hot bike ride through the Wisconsin countryside.
Fox River Brewing Company’s 2 Dams Blonde Ale. The Oshkosh and Appleton brewery recently released 2 Dams as part of its Bago Brew Collection, a new series of beers that will see distribution to taverns in Northeast Wisconsin. This lead-off beer in the series is an unfiltered blonde ale with a silky mouthfeel that delivers a tangible sweetness and the barest glimmer of bitterness. The beer finishes crisp and quick making it an ideal brew for a warm summer day when you’re looking for something easy to quaff with friends.
Lakefront Brewery’s Wisconsinite Summer Weiss. According to the folks at Lakefront, this wheat beer is “the most Wisconsin beer ever.” That very well could be. It’s brewed entirely from Wisconsin-grown ingredients right down to the native Wisconsin yeast strain captured by a Milwaukee homebrewer. The aroma crackles with notes of bitter-orange zest and leafy, fresh herbs. On the palate, this ale is brisk with a lively, fruit-like acidity and a gentle thread of earthy spice running through to the finish. At just 4.4% ABV, the beer is an ideal long drink; a flavorful quencher after a session of summer yard work.
Wisconsin Brewing Company Zenith. Not long ago, brewmaster Kirby Nelson and lager beer were nearly synonymous. Not anymore. Since helping to launch Wisconsin Brewing Company last year, Nelson has ranged far and wide from the German styles he had come to be so well known for. The first summer seasonal from this brewery shows Nelson continuing to explore new ground. Zenith is a saison, a summer ale with roots in the farmhouse breweries of Belgium. This take on the style is a lively, quaffable brew that retains the rustic character of its tradition. Its hazy appearance leads to a cracker-like malt flavor lightly seasoned with orange and coriander. The spices twine around the beer’s flowery hops evoking high summer in Wisconsin. Here’s the taste of a new brewery hitting its stride.
This barely scratches the surface. Dozens of unique summer beers are now flowing in all parts of our state. As you travel about this summer, drink from the incredible range of beers that are being brewed with the season in mind. We’re in the midst of a golden age of brewing in Wisconsin. With so many options, it’s easy to take our privileged circumstance for granted. With beer in hand, take a moment this summer to appreciate just how good we have it.ν
Lee Reiherzer drinks, brews and researches beer in Oshkosh. Visit his blog, Oshkosh Beer, at OshkoshBeer.Blogspot.com