June 19 2013 08:54 AM

Some suggestions for low-alcohol yet flavorful beers for summertime

Photo by Cody Thompson

Summer is just starting to rage, which means backyard barbecues, beach days turning into bonfire nights and, of course, the heat. When it comes to quenching your thirst, what beers are best at battling the San Diego sun?

Searching for that special summer brew can be daunting. Corporate beer makers want to force-feed photographs of people partying poolside, pouring shiny cans of bubbly, skunk water into their air-brushed faces—also known as "lawnmower beer," best described as a mixture of watereddown turpentine and pee. All you want is to find the right full-flavored, refreshing beer to fill that dusty cooler of yours.

So, what makes a great summer beer? "Summertime beers are fresh, bright and easy drinking," says Scot Blair, owner of Hamiltons Tavern, Small Bar and Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery. Many breweries offer session ales, which pack a wallop of flavor while boasting lower alcohol content. These beers make it easy to consume more per sitting, without your goofy buddies turning your backyard into WWE Summer Slam.

If it's a hop-forward yet thirst-quenching beer you're after, Karl Strauss' Pintail Pale Ale might be your Huckleberry. It's a session ale at 5.3-percent ABV (alcohol by volume), loaded with hop flavor and aroma with a crisp finish. "San Diegans love their hops," says Melody Daversa of Karl Strauss. "We use a blend of Cascade and Motueka for a vibrant, citrusy, tropical flavor and aroma."

Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery took a unique, fresh approach with its 16th and F brew, honoring a flavor most of us fondly remember. Blair says that "16th and F was our interpretation of the Creamsicle Popsicle from youth, which was very refreshing in the summer. I think we nailed it." It's an American pale ale bursting with citrusy hops and loaded with layers of orange peel. Additions of vanilla and lactose round out the creamy smoothness. "The beer finishes with a nice subtle bitter bite to remind you it is beer you are drinking," Blair says.

If you're absolutely tired of the standard Hefeweizen (let's be honest—who isn't?), look for Saison Diego from Green Flash Brewing Company. Brewmaster Chuck Silva says Saison Diego "is my answer to a summer beer that's not a Hefeweizen, with sweet banana and clove flavors." The unfiltered golden ale is brewed with Seville orange peels and grains of paradise and bursts to life with fresh, bubbling carbonation. "The alcohol content is only 5-percent ABV, and the hop level is subdued, so enjoying this outside in sunny weather won't weigh you down," Silva says.

One of my own favorite local beers is the Cali' Creamin' from Vista's Mother Earth Brew Co. It's a medium-bodied, delicious vanilla-cream ale with flavor characteristics that resemble an old-fashioned cream soda. Owner Daniel Love says his brewery wanted to "create a non-offensive, non-threatening gateway beer to individuals who are tired of drinking the fizzy yellow stuff." It's a low-alcohol craft beer, rich in vanilla and a malt backbone from flaked corn and honey malt.

If, like most people, you desire a delicious blonde during the summer months, San Diego's new Saint Archer Brewing Company offers up a hot little number to get sweaty with. Its Kölsch-style blonde is a crisp, clean ale made with aromatic Noble hops and featuring a light malt character. At 4.8- percent ABV, it's a beer you can party with until the wee hours of any steamy night.

San Diego has plenty of great bottle shops, slinging beers of all styles. Don't get stuck in another flavorless summer—put the lawnmower to rest and try something new.

Write to editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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