Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Summertime, and the livin' is thirsty

Being that it's summer (officially today), I've been loading up (getting loaded?) on a lot of hefeweizens, white ales and other Belgian-style ales. You can add a wedge of lemon or orange or I suppose grapefruit to some of them, but I prefer mine au naturale.

There are no shortage of 'em hefe's out there. Of late Boulder Brewing and their Sweaty Betty Blonde has been filling my fridge. You'll find Betty a enjoyable pour, of course aligned with the typical banana and clove. While I found last summer's to be more unique, pushing the envelope by adding a few more ounces of hops, each brew in Boulder's Looking Glass series (Mojo, Hazed) brings a reliably good time. Summit Hefeweizen is of course always looked forward to, and this year's batch is no different. I'll be sampling some Paulaner Hefe this evening from one of those mini-kegs, always a standard barer for German style beers. On the lighter side of wheat, I absolutely love Sunrye from Red Hook, and what would summer be without Bell's Oberon?

I don't typically drink many "Belgian" beers, at least in not one sitting, due to their higher alcohol content, It seems thought that no two beers in this "style" are the same. While labeling something "Belgian" is hardly very descriptive, I tend to think of stronger beers, like a saison, or a dubbel, tripel or even a quadruple, a la Chimay. Then you have your bruins (mmm, Tilburgs--fom Holland), and lambics and faros (yuck). Thanks in many ways to Blue Moon (you'll notice the link takes you to Coors...the irony) for bringing the style to the masses in America--especially the white ales.

As a disclosure, I am generally not a fan of American white ales, although I inevitably have them around the house in the summer. My wife's a big fan, so I suppose I can drink a few now and then. Here, twist my arm. Whirlwind Wit from Victory has a nice earthy wheat taste, making it a very drinkable white ale--but these beers are designed to do just that. Even Point Brewery's White Ale is a surprisingly competitive beer, especially on a budget.

Summit entered the local market this year with Scandia, promising "a Scandinavian interpretation of a famous Belgian ale." Most beers from Northern Europe, especially Norway, are lagers. Interesting note about Norwegian beer, according to Wikipedia, "due to government restrictions, beers above 4.75% ABV are only available from licensed premises or the state-run Vinmonopol chain of shops. This rule has had a rather drastic impact upon the market, hence the production of strong beers, yet it is well worth the effort of locating them."

But I digress. While the local favorite's debut white ale is a solid representative to the style--albeit lighter--I expected something different to set it apart from the myriad of white ales that come with summer. No worries though, given Summit's willingness to tweak a beer from year to year, a testament to their commitment to good beer. I wouldn't be surprised to see the something more exciting--or at least different--in the summer of '07.

I can't speak too knowledgeably on Saisons, only enough to know their style and know they're good. With their initial beers, Surly Brewing set the bar pretty high. So when they announced plans to release a Belgian Saison ale as their summer beer, most on-lookers were curious with anticipation. Well, they certainly surpassed all expectations with CynicAle. At only about 6% ABV, its still higher than many American beers, but low enough to allow you drink pint after pint after pint.

But by far the most impressive Belgian-style beers I've tried recently are from Goose Island. Everyone knows Goose Island. I've always viewed them as the Summit of Chicago. Their Honkers Ale put them on the map, and all their brews are consistently good. If you needed any more proof, Maltilda (7% ABV) and Pere Jacques (9% ABV) have shown that Goose Island knows beer. Apparently, the head brewers made a recent visit to Belgium. From a label of Matilda:

"While traveling in Belgium, we visited an abbey that was surrounded by great legends and folklore. We were lucky enough to hear their story and enjoy the great beer they brew. We wanted to share what we'd heard and tasted, so we created Matilda. Matilda is made with a rare yeast that suggests a fruity and spicy flavor. There is complex maltiness balanced with a profuse amount of hops making it a great beer to enjoy with a plate of fresh mussels."

Both of these specialty beers can compete with the likes of Chimay and Duvel Moortgat. If you're willing to pay upwards of $10 or $12 for a 4-pack, then check these beers out.

While pilsners and lagers have their place in the summer time, I prefer to grab a hefe or a wit once in awhile. There are a lot of 'em out there, and I'm obviously missing a lot. Got a favorite? Leave a comment!

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

That Surly CynicAle is mighty fine stuff. Those folks know how to make good beer. Thanks for the summer beer primer.