by Jessica Clem | July 23, 2015 11:46 am
During one particularly chilly evening this past winter, I remember staring at my road bike from the couch, leaning sadly against my office door, looking as forlorn and out of shape as I felt. The sun was just a dream, as was the memory of my friends and I as we hauled off the trail from last year’s weekly summer rides, popping a couple of fruit beers under the open sky. Would I ever feel that again? I thought as I watched the snow press against my window, drowning my drama in a chocolate stout.
Luckily, as it always does, winter melted into spring, shoving both the chill and my melancholy out the door for a few months. It is the season for brighter beer trends as well, and each summer, breweries and distributors analyze the most popular styles to provide drinkers with new and exciting ways to enjoy craft beer.
A major trend this summer is beers that are full of flavor with low ABV, keeping drinkers enjoying the weather rather than feeling under it. “People are going to be drinking a lot more craft pilsners and lagers, and session IPAs are going to be popular,” said Dennis Coonfield, Assistant Manager at Beertopia. “Saisons and beers with hints of lemon and pepper are always good summer beers.”
While the summer trends in beer are still evolving, there are a few distinct styles that will be present on nearly every bar patio and backyard chair of beer drinkers in Omaha. Fruit beers, session IPAs, and radlers, with their low alcohol and high taste content, are the current front-runners.
Fruit-forward beers are delicious brews that blend a gorgeous base with fresh fruit. One of the most popular types, lambics, are Belgian specialties that (for it to be a true Lambic) are produced only in the Senne River Valley, making it the champagne of fruit beers. Lambics are comprised of fruit that is sweetened by the bacteria and yeasts specific to this region of the world. If you buy a bottle from Beertopia (amongst other places that sell this delicious brew), it is like sipping a bit of Europe right here in Omaha.
One type of lambic, gueuze, is a blend of lambics that are between one and three years old. New Belgium’s Transatlantique Kriek is a great example that can be found here in the states. A spontaneous fermented brew combined with sour cherries, this beer is pleasurably sour, and with just a touch of bitter that makes the tongue dance. Gueuze is best slowly enjoyed slowly on a hot summer evening, and it great for those who may want to ease slowly into sour fruit beers.
There are a number of ways fruit beers can meld with other flavors. “Belgian yeast offers a depth of flavor and complexity that can be beautifully decorated with herbs and fruit,” said Lindsey Clements, local craft sales representative and co-founder of Vis Major, a brewery in planning. “Herbs and spices were historically used to bitter beer before hops were discovered. The style, Gruet, isn’t seen often but breweries are taking inspiration and blending in these diverse flavors. Try Posca Rustica, made by Brasserie Dupont of Belgium, which uses a dozen spices, recreating a Gallo-Roman era ale. Contemporary examples are Stone Hibiscusicity made with hibiscus, orange peel and wheat, Boulevard Spring Belle Saison blends chamomile, with rose petals and elderflower. Look out for Squatter’s Bumper Crop, made with honey and lavender.”
Flanders-style sours, similar to gueuze, are light to medium bodied but unique in their vinegar and sour flavor notes. Petrus Aged Pale Ale and Duchess De Bourgogne – both Flanders style ales – are delicious examples of Belgian sours. For a beer a little closer to home, Farnam House Brewing Company has an excellent Oud Bruin on tap. With a higher ABV (7%), this big-bodied beer is meant for sipping after a long day. With a sour front flavor that mellows into the subtle sweetness of cherries, this beer is what dreams are made of.
There is nothing wrong with a full-bodied, brazen Belgium beer with a hefty ABV. Velvety and full of flavor, these are the Joan Holloways of the beer world. A growing trend, however, are craft beers with a mellower flavor and much lower alcohol, giving more of an emphasis on taste rather than the resulting stupor.
Born out of British legislation during World War I, pub hours were cut to lunchtime and evening “sessions” that limited the amount of time drinkers could enjoy their brews. Low ABV beers helped keep drinkers satisfied and awake. Session beers are still popular for their easy drinking character and hoppy, fresh flavors.
Scriptown Brewing in the Blackstone District in midtown has some excellent session ales on draft as we speak. The Lone Tree IPA is a great example. The initial taste is a slightly bitter floral, with notes of pine that develop into a zesty aftertaste. With a low ABV (4%), this ale will be perfect for humid evenings. The Nutjob Brown Ale, with its malty initial taste and toasty, slightly sweet flavor, feels robust with flavor, but is easy to enjoy at 4.8% ABV.
We can thank a German bartender and 13,000 bicyclists for the development of this brew. In the 1920s, a man named Franz Xaver Kugler owned a bar 12 miles outside of Munich. During a particularly beautiful day, thousands of bicyclists flooded his bar, drinking nearly all of his supply of beer. Realizing what 13,000 thirsty bicyclists could do to him, he remembered his massive supply of lemon soda in the bar basement. He promptly mixed equal ratios of beer and soda, making enough to go around, saving the day. He named the concoction a Radlermass, radler being the German word for cyclist, and mass, a liter of beer. This accidental invention is still popular all over the world today.
A refreshing beer with very low ABV, radlers are a refreshing way to recoup after a day of bike riding, moving or mowing the lawn. “Radlers are low alcohol, around 4% following the ongoing trend of session beers,” said Clements. “Look for lemon or grapefruit or ginger radlers. Kick back with Stiegl Grapefruit Radler of Austria, or Warka Lemon Radler from Poland. Domestic options are Shiner Ruby Red, or Boston Beer Company’s newest line, The Traveler, has both lemon and grapefruit.”
Herbs and spices are also becoming popular additions in beer; New Belgium’s Lips of Faith run Coconut Curry Hefeweizen is a great example. Coriander, juniper, chili and cinnamon are other spices that can be great when brewed with wheat beers, making for both a summer sipper and the base of a great beer cocktail. More craft breweries are exploring these flavors in their beer, including one that is still in planning, but already bringing a whole new level to the local beer game.
Vis Major Brewing is already creating small batch wonders that will be readily available to the public in 2016. Run by husband and wife team Thomas and Lindsey Clements, their beer will take the latest trends in beer and make them perfect for any season.
“We love to push the boundaries and when approaching any new recipe,” said Lindsey. “Our goal is to achieve balance, complexity, and character in our beers. Recently we have had fun playing around with herbs and berries. Tom’s latest brew is a Belgian wit with juniper berries, and we are also exploring jasmine and elderflower.”
“Character and complexity in a beer begins with the yeast strain. Belgian yeast offers fruity esters with moderate spice that compliments the additions of fruit and herbs. We will be sampling our Raspberry Hibiscus Saison at this year’s Benson Beer Festival, along with our India Black Ale.”
The beauty of beer lies in the ability to evade boundaries. No matter your taste preferences, there is a beer for you. With the warmer months approaching, it is the perfect time to explore styles and flavors, and find new favorites.
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