July 4th will be unusually quiet this year. With the cancellation of municipal festivities and fireworks, COVID-19 has reduced the nation’s birthday celebration from a boom to a pop.
But instead of lamenting what won’t be, let’s embrace what could be. With nowhere else to go, we’ve been handed the opportunity to strengthen the bonds of family and friendship with small backyard gatherings — appropriately distanced, of course.
And for that we’ll need beer.
It’s likely to be hot on the 4th, and possibly humid. So let’s focus on lighter, low-alcohol beers that will refresh us through the day without weighing us down or making us groggy.
Easy-drinking lagers and lighter blonde ales are a great place to start.
Although no longer made in the land of sky-blue waters, Hamm’s Beer is still the beer refreshing. It leans to the sweeter side with a remarkably full mouthfeel for the style. Low bitterness and a touch of herbal/lemon hop flavor cut through to bring a crisp, clean finish.
Grain Belt Premium is a true Minneapolis classic — first brewed in northeast Minneapolis in 1947. Premium has a thin body with a slight emphasis on hops and fermentation over malt. A light, sugary sweetness is balanced by low and lingering bitterness. Tart apple flavors add a lifting high note.
Surly’s #Merica! is a premium lager for hopheads. The light body and low grainy sweetness are on point for the style. But the bitterness is assertive and lingers long into the finish. Substantial notes of citrus and lemon peel hops mark it clearly as a modern American brew.
Schell’s Fort Road Blonde is a new summer offering that features locally grown and custom malted barley and wheat. It’s an excellent example of the German kölsch-style ale. A delicate base of crackery malt is perfectly balanced by the floral and citrus-zest flavor of hops from Germany. The special kölsch yeast adds subtle fermentation-derived notes of apple and pear.
If you’re longing for something with a little more heft, go with a Czech-style pilsner like Summit’s Dakota Soul. Like Fort Road Blonde, Dakota Soul is made with barley grown especially for Summit by founder Mark Stutrud’s cousin. This beer has a biscuity malt character with hints of honey and toasted grain. The floral/spicy hop flavor from traditional Saaz hops is on point for the style.
Another solid bet is Venture Pils from Duluth’s Bent Paddle Brewing. Venture Pils strikes just the right tone of smooth, graham-cracker-like, pils-malt sweetness, with a subtle hint of corn in the background. Primarily German hops bring delicate floral/spicy aromatics and flavors. Crisp bitterness brings refreshing balance.
Lovers of IPA are going to need some hops. Session IPAs are a great way to get your bitter on while keeping it crushable.
Originally available only in the summer-sampler 12-pack, Summit’s Triumphant Session IPA is now available as a year-round offering in six-packs and 12-packs. It delivers the bitter punch of an IPA, but with only 4 % alcohol and 95 calories. Tropical fruit, grapefruit and apricot hop aromas foreshadow the zesty citrus and tropical flavors that come with the first sip. The crisp, dry finish will leave you wanting a second.
While many session IPAs punch up the bitterness with no malt to support it, Size 4 from Steel Toe Brewing keeps the bitterness moderate, making for a more balanced beer overall. They don’t skimp on hop character, though. Pineapple, passion fruit and citrus dominate the flavor and aroma. It’s sure to keep even the most hard-core hop fan happy.
Nothing says summer to me more than a German-style wheat beer or hefeweizen. Cloudy in appearance from suspended yeast, these beers have a deceptively chewy texture for such a super-light quaff. A fruity and spicy profile coupled with effervescent carbonation makes them terrific refreshers for a steamy afternoon.
A great place to start with the style is Ewald the Golden from Utepils. This mouth-filling, bready brew favors the spicy side of the style’s characteristic clove and banana profile. But beneath the clove is a basket full of fruit. Bright lemon pairs with ripe banana and subtle stone fruit, making this a juicy treat.
Fair State Brewing Cooperative’s Hefeweisen also makes a great example. The crackery flavor of wheat really comes through on this one, leaving an impression of sharp graininess. The driving force, though, is the yeast. A balanced blend of banana esters and clove-like phenols gives a flavor reminiscent of bubble gum. Light, lemony citrus adds high notes. The body is light, but smooth and creamy.
To take your party up a notch, impress your guests with a round of Beer Americanos. This take on the Italian cocktail with the all-American name replaces soda water with pale lager for a deliciously light and refreshing drink. Or try a fruitier version with dry vermouth instead of sweet and hefeweizen instead of lager.
Note: You can use a cheap American lager to create the froth. For bolder and slightly more bitter flavor, go with a German helles-style lager or even a pilsner. You will need a whisk or milk frother for this, such as the Aerolatte or other version, available from kitchen specialty stores and online. Recipe from epicurious.com.
• 1 1/2 oz. (3 tbsp.) Campari
• 1 1/2 oz. (3 tbsp.) sweet vermouth
• 3 oz. (6 tbsp.) lager
• Orange zest, for garnish
Combine the Campari, vermouth, and 6 ice cubes in a tall tumbler or Burgundy wine glass. Stir with a bar spoon to chill. Pour the lager into a separate glass and whip the beer into a foam using a milk frother or whisk. Top the cocktail with beer foam and finish with orange zest.
Note: This is delicious, refreshing and fruity. Bitter orange and spice of Campari still shine through, but it’s combined with the spice and banana aromatics of hefeweizen. Dry vermouth lessens the sweetness for a more refreshingly bitter drink. It’s like a bitter sangria. You will need a whisk or milk frother for this, such as an Aerolatte or other version, available from kitchen specialty stores and online. Recipe from epicurious.com.
• 1 1/2 oz.(3 tbsp.) Campari
• 1 1/2 oz. (3 tbsp.) dry vermouth
• 3 oz. (6 tbsp.) hefeweizen
• Lemon zest, for garnish
Combine the Campari, vermouth, and 6 ice cubes in a tall tumbler or Burgundy wine glass. Stir with a bar spoon to chill. Pour the hefeweizen into a separate glass and whip the beer into a foam using a milk frother or whisk. Top the cocktail with beer foam and finish with lemon zest.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He can be reached at email@example.com.