Talking Head - What's your lightest beer?
Tastes great, less nasty
Without a doubt, the most common phrase beer festival volunteers hear is, "What's your lightest beer?" This is understandable in the heat of a Georgia summer, where stouts and barleywines just seem wrong. Wheat beers and fruit beers are popular for summer, but I usually tire of these before I finish even one. I need a beer that's refreshing enough to knock back a few on the patio, and that doesn't taste like perfume or soda. Here are five good choices, all different styles, which are refreshing and light, but have enough character to make them worth drinking. If you still want something lighter than this, go with water and a shot of tequila.
Reissdorf Kölsch (http://www.reissdorf.de) (4.8 percent ABV), is a German ale, a rarity in a country that favors lagers, but like a lager, it's cold-conditioned to give it a crisp, clean taste. Kölsch is popular in the city of Koln (Cologne), where it's served in tall, cylindrical glasses that hold just enough to keep the beer cold until it's finished. The Reissdorf Kölsch has a hint of apple fruitiness, along with a pale, grainy malt and a bit of grassy hops. This one tastes great right out of the bottle, so it's perfect for backyard get-togethers where some people may think pouring beer in a glass is pretentious (actually, maybe you shouldn't waste a good beer like this on those people).
Victory Prima Pils (http://www.victorybeer.com) (5.3 percent) is what Budweiser wants to be, or what it used to be. In fact, it's what every young pilsner wants to be when it grows up. Winner of numerous competitions, it's as good as or better than any pilsner in the world. The aroma is floral, but not flowery, with a hint of lemon. Spicy hops impart a mild, peppery bite, which perfectly offsets the dry, crackery malt. Lively and bright with a grainy body that never feels thin, it finishes semisweet but clean, inviting another sip. Keep some in your fridge all summer and you won't regret it.
Brooklyn Lager (http://www.brooklynbrewery.com) (5.2 percent) is a bit sweeter than the Kölsch or pils and pours a bit darker. It might not pass the fizzy yellow beer test with your friends who aren't ready to move up from their regular fare, but it's by no means "heavy" or "strong." Brooklyn claims this beer is brewed in the "pre-Prohibition" style of early 20th century lagers, before America's taste gravitated toward less and less beer flavor. Musky, bready malts in the nose give you a hint that this is a bit more than a standard American lager. The taste is well-balanced between toasted malts and spicy, herbal hops. The active carbonation keeps a nice cap of foam on top, which holds the aroma up front and contributes to its clean finish.
A well-crafted American pale ale that focuses on hops is a perfect summer libation, especially as the sun goes down. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a good choice here, as are a number of other fine American craft beer offerings in this category. But why not go local, especially when one of the country's best pale ales is made right up the road in Athens? Terrapin Rye Pale Ale (http://www.terrapinbeer.com) (5.3 percent BV) has a wonderful citrus and spice aroma and a balanced flavor that brings out the twang of the rye malt and the orange-peel bitterness of the Amarillo and Cascade hops. This is no West Coast hop bomb, though. Clean on the palate, with a refreshing zestiness, the Terrapin Rye Pale Ale is a full-flavored beer that won't drag you down in the summer heat.
Hopheads know that the resiny goodness of Northwest Pacific hops is the beer equivalent of a good gin's refreshing tang. Since a gin and tonic remains a quintessential summer drink, why not a bold, piney Imperial Pale Ale on a summer evening? Boulder Beer Company's Mojo IPA (http://www.boulderbeer.com) (6.8 percent ABV) is a big, juicy hop cocktail, with the grapefruit and pine bitterness of Amarillo and Centennial hops, backed by a fruity malt sweetness and a bit of alcohol spiciness. Not a chugger, but fine for savoring in the summer.