By Cliff Mori
Last week, I was part of an online conversation in which a local brewer was lamenting the fact that he can produce amazing examples of classic styles, but customers always tend to drink the experimental stuff first. Lots of theories were posed as to what makes people lean toward the chocolate-chipotle-bourbon barrel aged-sour-imperial stout rather than the Munich Helles when given the choice.
Most agreed that as the craft beer drinking populace grows, there is a natural rebellion against anything that seems like a domestic lager. If it’s light in color and doesn’t have some overt flavor or aroma punching you in the face, it’s not worth your time. This upward trajectory of seeking crazier and crazier stuff hits a peak though, and as people try more and more new beers there comes a point when the drinker wants to enjoy something with some subtlety. Summer is the perfect time to experiment with some of those “boring” styles.
Summer is hot… That Imperial Stout that’s so rich and hearty in the winter can be hard to drink when it’s 85 degrees outside. Hot weather also seems to make high alcohol beers go to your head faster, and a full bodied beer can come across as sludge as sweat drips from your brow into your pint glass. Even the IPA that you loved in the Fall and Spring can be too much when you’re sitting outside in July. It’s time for something lighter. For the new craft drinker this can be a tricky situation. You really don’t want that 8% IPA, but you don’t want to order a “wussy” beer either. Here are some great local craft options to get you through the hottest part of the year.
Green Man Berliner Weisse
Berliner Weisse is light wheat based beer style that is low in alcohol and gets a refreshing burst of acidity from the addition of lactobacillus during fermentation. These beers were known as the “champagne of the North” in Germany after Berlin became the capitol in the late 1800s, but over the past few decades have fallen out of favor. Green Man recently tapped theirs at the tasting room as a way to welcome the summer season. If it’s too tart for you, ask for one of the flavor syrups. Raspberry and Woodruff syrups are a traditional complement to the beer and help combat the acidity.
Hi-Wire Snakedancer Saison
Hi-Wire Brewing’s Snakedancer Saison is their latest spring seasonal and is a great example of this classic Belgian style. “Saison” is the French word for season, and these beers were typically produced by farmers in late winter and early spring for consumption by the “saisonnaire” field workers who would help harvest in late summer and early fall. This beer has a great aroma of citrus and pepper from the yeast, is brightly carbonated and finishes dry.
New Belgium Summer Helles
I know some of you are going to complain that New Belgium isn’t really a local brewery yet, and I know that, but they are joining the community and they make awesome beer. With that disclaimer out of the way, their Summer Helles is a great choice this summer. The beer is a Munich Helles, a style that originated in Munich as a response to the growing popularity of pilsner in the late 1800s. Brewers in Munich didn’t tend to hop their beers as much as in other regions of Germany, and the Helles is known for a balanced bitterness with a flavor of soft pilsner malt and light spicy hops. The lighter body and dry finish make it super refreshing.
Of course I didn’t cover all of the lighter options from the 20-plus breweries serving WNC, but these should get everybody started. The point is to get beer drinkers out of their boxes and try new things. Less crazy doesn’t mean less good, and you might be surprised what you like if you give yourself the chance. So, the next time you are checking out the options at your favorite taproom, don’t ignore the stuff that is lower in ABV or IBUs. If you’re curious, ask for a taste. And, if you still want to sip on your Imperial Stout as the mercury hits 90, go for it. Just don’t limit yourself.
Cliff Mori is the owner and operator of BREW-ed, which offers brewery tours and a variety of beer training in Asheville. He was the first Certified Cicerone in Western North Carolina (the beer equivalent to the wine world’s sommelier), then began working for the Cicerone Certification Program by traveling around the U.S. proctoring exams. Cliff also teaches a variety of beer-related courses at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.