It’s summer in Minnesota! Really it is…even though it may not feel like it. It’s 63° and overcast as I type this, sales but my current reverie for summer beers goes on. It was in this dogged spirit that the Beer Geeks sat outside on an overcast and chilly evening last week to explore “summer”. Fifteen summer sippers (and maybe a couple of not so summery beers) were sampled before rain forced us to flee the picnic table and retreat into the relative warmth of the great indoors. As a reminder that it actually is summer, many of the geeks were otherwise occupied with ballgames and bike rides. We had a small but convivial group on this most un-summery of summer beer explorations.
American Lagers were in abundance for this session. The first and best of these was Minnesota’s own Grain Belt Premium. I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t mind a “Primo” every now and again. Lightly sweet and corny with mild bitterness and some licorice hop flavor, it does go down easily when you are in the mood for something that doesn’t tax senses. Too bad about those clear bottles though. This example was a bit skunky, as are most that don’t come from a keg. The second best was Coors Banquet. Not the ubiquitous “Silver Bullet”, but the real stuff in the vaguely yellow can; the stuff Burt Reynolds smuggled to Georgia in Smokey and the Bandit (1977). Like Grain Belt, Coors Banquet is a cornbread lager featuring the sweet flavor of maize and light spicy hops. We all noted a peculiar gasoline smell in this example, but to be honest, we tasted this toward the end of the night, so it didn’t really matter that much.
Fruit beers were also popular at this event. The best of these by a long shot was Samuel Smith’s Organic Raspberry Ale. Described as “hopped raspberry soda”, this was a sweet and vaguely wheaty beer with huge tart raspberry aroma and flavor and a long sweet syrupy raspberry finish. Also noticeable was the typical Samuel Smith chalky mineral character present in all of their beers. I think that I was the most enthusiastic one in the group, but I would have been happy to drink this beer all night long. Next up was Berry Weiss from Leinenkugel. I don’t usually mind this beer, but coming right after the Samuel Smith it really didn’t hold up, tasting thin and artificial. We also sampled Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. Cloudy yellow and quenching like liquid lemon drops this version of the classic English drink of beer and lemonade would have been great served ice cold on a 95° day. Unfortunately, that’s not the kind of day it was.
A couple of Belgian and Belgian-inspired brews were a welcome addition to our list. The standout here was Oud Zottegems Bier. I had done some research on this beer and seen it described variously as a Flemish Red Ale, a Flanders Brown Ale, and a Strong Golden Ale. In reality it is a very tasty Belgian Blond. Comparatively light at 6% ABV it has rich pilsner malt sweetness with huge candy-like honey and raisin character. There is plenty of spicy Belgian yeast that is accentuated by a dry finish lingering on spicy hops. The Limited Edition Tripel from Red Hook had a nice sweet candy orange malt character, but the sharp peppery hops and high bitterness were found to be harsh and overwhelming. Background medicinal flavors also detracted. Two Jokers Double Wit from the Boulevard Brewing Smokestack Series was universally disliked. An object lesson in “more is not always better”, this beer is so heavily spiced, especially with lavender, that one member of the group described its flavor as “old lady soap.”
Two other beers met with near unanimous condemnation from the group. The first was Sun Rye from Red Hook. The cotton candy aroma promises something rich and tasty that the flavor just doesn’t deliver. What you get is a somewhat sweet ale with light rye spiciness and then a whole lot of nothing; a middle-of-the-road rye. The other was Schell’s Zommerfest. Called a Kolsch, this beer lacks any of the delicacy of that style. I would describe it as an over-hopped wheat beer or an over-wheated IPA. Whatever you want to call it, we all felt it to be sharp and abrasively over-bitter.
The beers tasted were Grain Belt Premium, Lakefront Organic ESB, Summit Hefeweizen, Samuel Smith Organic Raspberry Ale, Leinenkugel Berry Weiss, Leinenkugel Summer Shandy, Red Hook Sun Rye, Oud Zottegems Bier, Red Hook Limited Edition Tripel, Paulaner Salvator, Boulevard Smokestack Series Two Jokers Double Wit, Schell’s Zommerfest, Mickey’s Malt Liquor, Coors Banquet, and Point Lager. Those in attendance were Michael Agnew, Chris Belsky, Wilbur Ince, Gera Exire LaTour, and Timothy Swanstrom-Stage.