The Best Summer Beers to Crack Open This Season
Sip these in the sunshine.
Well, it’s officially pool sitting, beach chilling, backyard grilling season and that has us craving one thing: an ice cold beer.
Luckily, breweries around the country continue to get more creative thinking outside the proverbial “light beer” box. This summer, we’re seeing puckering fruited sours, passionfruit IPAs, collabs bringing new life to old standbys, and lots and lots of lime.
Since summer is arguably the most beer-friendly season of the year, we’ve come up with some of our very favorites that we humbly recommend sipping while you sweat. Here are 15 perfectly crushable summer beers.
Sour ale with lemons, 4.5% ABV
The best summer day-drinking beers are about simplicity, and Freedom Lemonade nails this: What if—hear us out—a beer tasted just like fresh-squeezed lemonade? The base sour beer for Freedom Lemonade, which debuted in January, is the same as the other fruited sours in Revolution’s Freedom series (Freedom of Speach, Freedom of Press, etc.). But there’s something about the straight-forwardly zippy and bright lemonade flavor of this iteration that’s winning people over in a big way. Combine that sunny lemon note with a sessionable ABV, and Freedom Lemonade is a strong contender for this summer’s cooler staple.
Light lager, 4.5%
If anything in the beer world has become clear at this point, it’s that the fine folks at Allagash appear to have mastered American-made takes on traditional Belgian ales. Now the darling brewery is finally beginning to branch more into direct seasonal releases—and the beers are every bit as thoughtfully constructed and well-executed as the award winning lineup. The latest comes by way of its Seconds to Summer lager, which migrated from a taproom-only product reserved for visitors to the brewery to a packaged release for the first time this season. It uses herbaceous Czech hops, pilsner malts, and a subtle-yet-unique Belgian lager yeast to create a brew that is uniquely refreshing without sacrificing its complexity. And just like the name suggests, it’s as perfect an accompaniment to a beach day or barbeque as it is to a kayaking trip or hammock hang.
IPA, 6.7% ABV
Fort Collins, Colorado
New Belgium set things off with its Fat Tire Amber Ale way back during its inception in 1991, but now 20-plus years later, their Voodoo Ranger experimental IPA series has taken a lot of weight off of the original cash cow’s shoulders. Since its debut as a seasonal during the summer of 2020, the Voodoo Ranger 1985 hazy, medium-bodied IPA brewed with a refreshing burst of mango has received a ton of love. There are very few IPAs that can bring the naysayers and fanatics of the style together in one room and have them leaving jovially in agreement that the 1985 is a banger everyone can enjoy. Its subtly sweet approach to the style and 30 IBUs provides a little extra kick. Immediate transport to the Caribbean after every sip validates why this Voodoo series represented by a fashionable skeleton hipster mascot is still, well, killing it.
Lager with lime puree, 4.5% ABV
You’re probably familiar with the Mexican beer brand that’s built its entire business on the idea of squeezing a lime into the bottle and visualizing yourself on a beach. It’s effective marketing! But drinkers looking for a locally brewed version have gone nuts for Foamers Lime, a lager with lime puree that’s thirst-quenching, effervescent, and nails the sweet-citrusy balance. It’s brewed using a technique known as a cereal mash, where corn grits are boiled and then added to the pilsner malt that makes up the rest of the grain bill. It’s a traditional American adjunct lager brewing process that yields a delicate sweetness and levity to the beer, keeping it easy-drinking and not too heavy. Yes, you’ll want to spring for the 12-pack.
Kolsch, 5.5% ABV
New Glarus, Wisconsin
Cult-favorite Spotted Cow gets most of the love, but Kid Kölsch is a sleeper summertime hit in New Glarus’ seasonal lineup. As a middle ground between ales and lagers, kölsches offer the easy drinkability of the latter with some of the delicate fruity fermentation character of the former. Put more plainly: Kid Kölsch is super clean but with a bit more oomph than a light lager. The barley and wheat malt in this particular kölsch is double decocted, a time-intensive brewing process that yields more robust, bread-crust flavors. German Spalt hops contribute their signature earthy-herbal character, though they don’t dominate the sip. You could certainly pore over this beer’s technical merits—it’s supremely well made—but it’s the kind of accessible beer that’s really built for lakeside afternoons and backyard cookouts.
Ok, now we’re officially sensing a trend with another lime-flavored beer. Seems like craft brewers are now readily admitting that incorporating a little squeeze straight into the recipe can make an already delicious recipe truly sing. That’s the case with Lawson’s infinitely crushable summer sipper, which has been affectionately nicknamed “Scragarita” by its creators. The perfect balance of sea salt and citrus helps to create a tart yet refreshing beverage that manages to highlight the strengths of the original Czech pilsner base beer. Keep it on hand for get-togethers if you’re looking for a seasonally appropriate crowd pleaser.
Pale ale, 5.5%
Creature Comforts quickly became mentioned in the same sentence as neighbors Terrapin Brewing and Georgia Bulldogs, thanks to its highly lauded juicy Tropicália IPA, which Thor was drinking in the highest-grossing movie of all time, Avengers: Endgame. As the brand expanded, Creature launched a limited edition of Automatic, a bright, crisp American pale ale reflecting the perfect balance of Mosaic and Crystal hops. The result leaves the tongue and nose with notes of tangerine, grapefruit, pine, and stone fruit, but just enough of a dry finish to encourage consistent sipping under the sun. And a shout out to the can’s designer, Michelle Fontaine, with the pastel colors further embracing the season. It’s fire. Look for the new satellite brewery location in Los Angeles in late summer of 2022.
Queens, New York
By now, Narragansett has managed to come full circle from being a brand many purchased for nostalgic purposes to being a product that lives up to its motto of being “sold on merit.” In many ways, some would argue this is proof that nothing should be done to change the recipe that has clearly won over beer fans from all walks of life. But after the Rhode Island brewery accepted an invite from New York City’s Finback to collaborate on a tweaked version of its verified classic, the results appear to prove that a meeting of the minds really can improve just about anything. Brightened by a touch of sea salt, the Neighbor Neighbor puts a refreshing spin on an old standby that won’t alienate fans of the original lager. Despite the new approach, Narragansett’s reputation for providing a reliably refreshing crusher is not lost in the final product, making it a great option for anyone looking to reacquaint themselves with a true standby.
San Diego, California
No lie, it’s hard as hell to be a standout brewery in one of the best beer cities in the world, but Societe said “Hold my beer” and did it. The flagship selection, The Pupil IPA, is undoubtedly one of the staples to memorialize the brewery’s 10th anniversary in June 2022. While revered for its GABF award-winning, hop-forward ales heavily in demand on the West Coast, the lawn-mowing, beach-chilling Kolsch lovers get some love with the Societe Light Beer. The beer may be lightweight, but the complexity still remains with the one-two punch of Sterling and Saaz hops mellowed out with a base of Pilsner malts. Yup, macro beers beware. This is the one for gangster beer imbibers wanting to make a full day of steady sippin’ without being compromised in the flavor department.
New England-style IPA, 7.5%
San Antonio, Texas
Of course, you don’t have to travel all the way to Texas to drink New England IPAs. But in the case of Weathered Souls’ Who’s Got the Juice Now?, you should probably consider it. This hazy refresher of a beer is packed full of tropical fruit flavors that hit just right on a summer afternoon, with notes of pineapple, passion fruit, and (what else?) lime zest floating atop a silky mouthfeel. It’s a mellow crusher for a style that you know all of your beer geek friends will be reaching for all summer long
Brooklyn, New York
This women-owned, Williamsburg brewery has been making waves for its minimally bitter, fruit forward beers, perfect for this time of year. Talea has proven itself to be a brewery that’s especially at home with the sour and gose style, using flavors like blackberry, strawberry, passion fruit, and Pink Himalayan sea salt. This summer, reach for a Haba Haba Smash brewed with sweet mango, key lime, and habanero peppers for some heat on the finish. The brewery recommends mixing it with a shot of mezcal for a summery beer cocktail.
Golden ale, 5%
One of the worst mistakes that someone can make with picking a beer for summer is assuming that “refreshing” is interchangeable with “boring.” Instead of going watery, go for something with bright, fruity notes that don’t overpower the malt backbone and are finished with lemony, minty aromatics. Exactly like this golden ale made by Montruo De Agua. This beer is made with prickly pear from the nopal cactus, giving it an almost spa water-like cucumber flavor that makes it an ideal thirst quencher on a hot day.
American light lager, 4.6%
St. Petersburg, Florida
The marketing tropes of condensation-dappled cans of beer on a hot day have stuck around for decades for a reason: When the temperature spikes, the vast majority of people just want to drink something that will make them feel good. So when it comes down to developing a perfect beer to beat the heat, it’s not surprising that Florida’s world-class Green Bench Brewing would come out with one of the most excellent options. Bench Life offers the easy-drinking, crisp flavor profile you crave with a low ABV and a dry finish that still offers a lot more than your typical light lager. It’s also the kind of beer that can act as a perfect gateway brew for anyone who’s still shy about dipping their toe into the craft beer waters.
It may surprise some people, but not all lagers have to be straw-colored. Historic styles like Zwickel are a great way to start wading into beers that manage to straddle the line between complex and outrageously drinkable. In the hands of a lager-only brewery like Jack’s Abby, it’s especially worth checking out. “It’s so, so refreshing, but it completely takes you out of the New England IPA realm, which is a nice place to be if you’ve been surrounded by those all summer,” Steil says. On the geeky side, she adds that this is a great way to learn about “what water adds to the equation” because this style lets its subtle components of subdued yeast and mellow hops shine through. “It’s so clean and crisp that it allows me to focus on the main ingredients.”
Chicago is the type of beer town that’s so good, it knows it doesn’t even have to leave its borders to prove that it’s one of the best destinations in the country for brewing. But when Hopewell first began rolling its kegs and cans out to new markets, people outside the Windy City began to fall hard for the delicious IPAs, sours, and saisons that had made it a hometown hit. The First Pils, in particular, is the perfect example of a summer party beer. Putting this into the cooler will keep the beer geeks happy with its crisp, hoppy finish, while those who are simply looking to enjoy a can of something cold will love the bready malt profile that makes it much more remarkable than your typical light lager. It’s a rare brew that’s both perfect for starting the night or winding things down after sunset.
Zach Mack is Thrillist's contributing beer writer, the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in NYC, a Certified Cicerone, and nothing else. Follow him @zmack.
Ale Sharpton is an award-winning journalist, blogger, photographer, and beer authority based in Atlanta. Follow him @realalesharpton.