Wheat Beer, Pale Ale & Saison: Three Beers to Celebrate Summer
Once upon a time, the only thing that distinguished a “summer” beer from a beer consumed any other time of year was the fact that you drank it outside on a lawn chair. Enter the craft beer revolution. Today, our beverage options after a long day of yard work or during a hot summer hike have multiplied tenfold, even a hundredfold. So many folds that picking one simple summer beer from a restaurant menu or supermarket shelf can feel overwhelming.
Before you go cross-eyed reading every label—or, worse, flee the beer aisle altogether—let me help. Three favorite styles serve me well all summer long, from backyard cookouts to sunsets on the beach: wheat beers, pale ales and (my wild card pick) Belgian saisons.
Wheat beers are the quintessential beer of summer. Nine times out of 10, if you pick up a six-pack of your favorite brewery’s “summer ale,” it will be a wheat beer. Crisp, effervescent and, above all, thirst-quenching, the wheat gives them a laid-back sweetness and a softer, silkier mouthfeel than all-barley beers. Plus, their low hop bitterness and lush, fruity flavors—ranging from banana to fresh-squeezed oranges—make this particular style a real crowd-pleaser.
The next time you’re heading up to San Francisco, stop at Freewheel Brewing Company in Redwood City for a pint of their Orange Wheat. They add orange peel during the brewing process, giving their classic wheat beer a distinctly Californian spin.
Or, if you’re off to a cookout and the host’s only request is “Pick up some beer!” do as I do and grab a six-pack of Park Wheat Beer from Fort Point Beer Company. They brew up in San Francisco, but you can find their beer at Jane’s Beer Store in Mountain View and most other bottle shops in the area.
Now, if I’m going to be sharing my circle of lawn chairs with friends who I know love bitter, hoppy beers, then a good pale ale is the way to go. Pale ales put citrusy, perfumey American hops up front, but they’re less assertive and therefore better suited for lazy-day sipping than bigger, boozier IPAs. Plus, pale ales are great with all manner of barbecue. The bitterness may still be challenging for some, but a pale ale on a hot day can’t be beat.
Happily, there’s no shortage of good pale ales to sample from here in Silicon Valley this time of year. Check out Palo Alto Brewing Company’s “Hoppy Ending” Pale Ale at their busy University Avenue location, The Tap Room. If you’re down in San Jose, swing by Santa Clara Valley Brewing for a pint of their Umunhum Pale Ale, or head to Golden State Brewery for their Poppy Pale Ale—or better yet, go to both. Also, keep an eye out for “session” IPAs on tap lists this summer: This low-alcohol version of an IPA is becoming very popular with area breweries.
Finally, make sure to put saisons on your summer radar. This style was originally brewed in small batches on Belgian farms for the refreshment of thirsty farmers and their fieldworkers, and today’s saisons are just as invigorating and satisfying. These fizzy, yeasty brews are characterized by a heady mix of earthy spice and acidic fruit flavors. Many brewers add hearty grains like wheat or spelt to capture the rustic, unrefined nature of the original farmhouse ale. The brews are nicely balanced with intriguing layers of flavor and a snappy dry finish—a real treat when you want a beer that’s a little more complex, but still very easy to drink.
All summer, I’ve been looking forward to opening a bottle of Camino Brewing Company’s Juniper Saison, which merges the piney, citrusy flavor of juniper with the soul of a saison. Over at Half Moon Bay Brewing Company they’re adding Peruvian spices, honey, ginger and hibiscus to their version of the style; a pint of this Not For Sale Ale would make a fine finish to a day at the beach.
Wheat beer, pale ale or saison—you can’t go wrong with any of these in your glass. They may not all have “summer” printed on the label, but they sure feel like summer to me.
Emma Christensen is a San Jose–based food writer and the author of two books on homebrewing: True Brews and Brew Better Beer. You can find more of her work at EmmaChristensenMedia.com.
Fort Point Beer Company
644 Old Mason St., San Francisco
Freewheel Brewing Company
3736 Florence St., Redwood City
Golden State Brewery
1252 Memorex Dr., Santa Clara
Half Moon Bay Brewing Company
390 Capistrano Rd., Half Moon Bay
Jane’s Beer Store
720 Villa St., Mountain View
Santa Clara Valley Brewing
101 E. Alma Ave., San Jose
The Tap Room
Palo Alto Brewing Company
233 University Ave., Palo Alto
Camino Brewing doesn’t currently have a taproom, but you can find their beers on tap and in bottles throughout South Bay.