Ladies and gentlemen, it is finally summer. That means Game of Thrones has left a permanent gaping void in your schedule, the “sweat stain situation” replaces the “painfully cold face dilemma,” and the parties suddenly become longer and greater in number. To tackle all of these seasonal developments, you’re going to need a few good beers at the ready. Lucky for you, we had some time on our hands to test some out for you and share the results.
Because we’re available to readers anywhere with internet access, we’ve decided to pick stuff that’s relatively accessible to larger chunks of the country. No offense to your local one-off, taproom-release-only brewery! We’re also not sticking to just summer seasonals, since then we’d be covering basically nothing but kolsches and session IPAs. These beers are from all over, representing a wide array of styles. The main thing they have in common is they're all extra great to drink out in the sun, on during a twilight cookout. Clear up some cooler space. These are the best summer beers.
Berry blonde ale, 4.7% Longmont, Colorado Distribution: Most states… find it using Left Hand's beer finder Typically, a summertime glass full of something pink is paired with somebody dropping the phrase "rosé all day" into casual conversation. This unexpected treasure out of Longmont seeks to change the dialogue. Flamingo Dreams resides in a strange alternative universe where somebody re-imagined Founders' coveted Rubaeus as a session beer, one whose notes of raspberry and blackcurrant swing things to the sweeter side, but get mellowed out by the in-can nitro, which gives it the consistency of well-poured Guinness. Even better, that nitro results in the trademark cascades you'd expect on a pour from a nitro tap, only this time it's neon pink, showing you can make a psychedelic, colorful, delicious beer without resorting to glitter.
IPA, 5% Houston, Texas Distribution: Texas You might’ve noticed that anywhere there is beer now, there are juicy NEIPAs by the boatload (and to think just barely two years ago this was considered a niche trend!). This also means that whenever one is good enough to stand out among the sea of hazebombs, you’re likely to take note… especially when it’s on the lighter side of ABV. SpindleTap’s sessionable take is just that: Bright, citrusy, and easy-drinking, with plenty of tropical fruit flavors and a smooth mouthfeel that finishes nice and dry. It’s a great way to get your hop fix without having to dive head first into the boozy DIPAs that make up the bulk of the style.
IPA, 5.8% Oceanside, New York Distribution: New York IPAs are the style that knows zero limits: Not base ingredients, not ABV, and certainly not seasons. But Barrier’s summer seasonal release stands out in a genre that is crowded with less-than-impressive takes on craft beer’s most popular style. Instead of taking the warmer months as an excuse to water down flavors, Lomax retains a clear, hop-forward-yet-balanced profile with bright citrus flavors and a medium-light body. The lower-than-usual ABV makes this a great option for packing along for a day hike or hitting the beach, too.
Berliner weisse, 4% San Diego, California Distribution: 14 states, including California, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Tennessee The food and beverage world has no shortage of weird mashups these days, with most erring on the side of shock value over actually working. But Mikkeller isn’t just stunting with this Berliner Weisse, which is a sour ale brewed with rye barrel aged coffee and raspberries. Please don’t let that scare you off! It pours a hazy pink in the glass with a tart, unmistakable flavor of bright berries over a light body, finishing with soft, freshly brewed coffee that comes through as an aromatic aftertaste. A unique flavor combo? For sure. Does it work? Absolutely.
St. Louis, Missouri Czech pilsener, 5.4% Distribution: Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia Amid the wave of craft lagers we’ve seen hit shelves in the past couple years, I’d love to see more Czech pilsners in the mix. They’re not quite as dry as their German counterparts, and generally offer more flavor and oomph than American pilsners. St. Louis’ 2nd Shift makes one of my favorites, a Saaz hop-driven crusher that’s right in line with what I expect from the style. The herbal-spicy hops dance over smooth, cereal-like malts with just the right level of refreshing carbonation.
IPA with Oats & Lactose, 8% New York, New York Distribution: New York Love them or hate them, lactose IPAs have comfortably settled in as a large subcategory that everyone with a fermenter seems to be taking a stab at these days. And while results are decidedly mixed, those that hit the mark are usually the ones that embrace their finicky ingredients and push the envelope without going overboard. Fire and Rainbows accomplishes exactly that: Built on a sturdy, full-bodied base of oats, wheat and barley, flavors of creamsicle, Orange Julius, and vanilla milkshake are balanced by Cascade, Mosaic, and (new kid on the block) Lotus hops for a truly comforting beer experience.
Fruited lager, 5.5% Konosu, Naka, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan Distribution: Nationwide Even as American beer interests trend more towards hyperlocal offerings, it’s important to remember that there are plenty of import options that still hold a solid fan base. Kiuchi Brewery is precisely one such brewery. They've played a relatively major role in expanding the footprint of Japanese craft beer through the American market for decades. While many know them for their White Ale or Dai Dai IPA, it’s the release of their Yuzu Lager that might help them win over an even bigger audience. Bright flavors of yuzu (which tastes like ripe orange with a dose of lemon, and is having a huge moment in the beer world at the moment) work over a smooth, dry lager base that refreshes the palate. Don’t let the addition of fruit juice fool you: this is way more a beer than a radler, even though it’s equally easy to enjoy. Have these cans on hand for the first day it hits above 90 and you’ll be happy you planned ahead.
Seattle, Washington IPA, 6.5% Distribution: Idaho, Oregon, and Washington You can’t go wrong with the hoppy offerings from Reuben’s Brews -- shout out to the single-hop Crush series, especially -- but when the sun's out the Summer IPA is king. It toes the line between IPA and session IPA with a slightly thinner body than a normal IPA and a 6.5% ABV. But it still delivers all the grapefruit and orange-zest notes I look for in a warm-weather IPA (thanks, Mosaic hops!) with a way less sticky body. If there’s such a thing as a beach IPA, this is it.
Fort Collins, Colorado IPA, 7% Distribution: Most states, find them near you here The first time I ordered this beer on draft, a few patrons at the bar all turned to look around the room so they could find out who’d lit a joint. That’s how pungent this hemp-laced IPA is, and it raises the bar in terms of how much sticky, resiny flavor you can pack into one beer. The beer owes that to a combination of de-shelled hemp seeds plus a dry-hop with Simcoe and experimental HBC 522. Admittedly, this isn’t a beer I’d drink five of in a sitting, but for a pure sensory experience, it’s pretty wild.
American porter, 6% Kihei, Maui, Hawaii Distribution: National… use Maui's beer finder tool here No matter what you may think, dark beer works in warm weather. It simply does! (And if you disagree, we will politely directly you towards that little trend of rich stouts pouring out of Florida as fast as OJ.) The fact is darker beers can be some of your best options for pairing with grilling, which also tends to come back into fashion during the summer. Maui Coconut Porter stands as a great accompaniment to burgers, brisket, or blackened catfish with deep, roasty flavors of coffee and cocoa, balanced by earthy baked real coconut (this doesn’t taste like sunscreen, we promise!) and subtle vanilla. At the very least, this goes well with s’mores around your campfire.
Saison, 6.5% St. Petersburg, Florida Distribution: 21 states, including Florida, Colorado, New York, Illinois, and Alaska Saison literally means “season,” and while there is certainly no time of year where drinking one is inappropriate, summer practically screams for them. Finding one with such bright, fruity notes dusted with peppercorn as Saison de Banc Vert is a real treat: This beer is refreshing and comforting, slightly rustic, and firmly effervescent, perfect for sipping while tending to the grill or after coming in from a workout. It also makes for a great brunch beer, so if you have any morning adventures planned, consider taking this along.
Missoula, Montana Hefeweizen, 5.6% Distribution: Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming Hefeweizens are a quintessential summer beer -- at least in Bavaria -- but it can be surprisingly tough to find a version brewed stateside that isn’t loaded with fruit. Bayern’s version hews about as close to authentic as you can find without booking an overseas flight: It’s unfiltered, with the telltale moussey head and hazy, orangey-yellow glow. A house hefeweizen yeast makes this wheat beer distinct from the others lining shelves; the brewmaster claims the recipe dates back to the Brauerei zum Schiff, located 60 miles southwest of Munich.
Everett, Massachusetts Pale ale, 4.5% Distribution: Massachusetts, Maine, and New York All the innovation in the IPA world hasn’t rendered pale ales obsolete -- at least not where Night Shift’s concerned. This little gem of a 4.5% beer packs a ton of hop aroma and flavor into a teenie package: lemon, pineapple, kiwi are even brighter on the tongue thanks to a slightly scaled down malt bill that lets the hops do the talking. Zippy bubbles and a pared-down mouthfeel make these 16-ounce cans disappear even faster than you’d think on a hot day.
American pale ale, 6% Marengo, Ohio Distribution: Most of the Midwest and Northeast, plus California, Colorado, Kentucky, Oregon, and South Carolina There’s a strange American obsession with having to categorize things, and in the case of beer, there are no exceptions. But what if you tell them they’re about to drink a “Party Pale Ale,” like this easy drinker from Hoof Hearted? If you wanted to give them a hint, you could say that it uses tropical, bright Galaxy hops from Australia and piney, citrusy Falconer’s Flight hops from the US to create a well balanced pale ale that doesn’t overwhelm the palate with bitterness or dankness. Think of it as an American Pale Ale who’s ready to jump on the aux cord to take things up a bit.
Golden ale, 6.9% Hood River, Oregon Distribution: California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington A while back, when we named pFriem the best beer in hops-rich Oregon, we cited the ability of the Hood River-based brewers to do pretty much everything, including crowd-pleasing populist beers, barrel-aged experiments, and anything in between. This fruity golden ale basically makes that argument with each sip. It's a stunner, a beer that should bowl over casual drinkers and nerds alike thanks to its massive flavor profile, which lilts across the tongue, giving off everything from a slightly sour funk that puts its Belgian influences to the fore, a sweetness from those nectarines, and a little woodiness courtesy of the nap the stuff takes in chardonnay barrels. This sucker won gold in the Great American Beer Fest's competitive Belgian fruit beer category in 2018. It deserves a permanent place in your cooler.
German pilsner, 5.1% Grafenhausen-Rothaus, Germany Distribution: Nationwide There are probably few styles of beer Americans are more comfortable returning to the import fridge for than pilsner. Even as world-class lagers begin to fill their share of the craft market domestically, there’s an underlying trust for refreshing beers from the Old World (especially Germany, where history and price point can make it an easy decision to make). Rothaus stands as a perfect example as to why that trust hasn’t been lost. Sure, having been founded in the '50s may make it a relative toddler compared to some of its medieval-born counterparts, but isn’t that the kind of thing that makes European beer quirky in the era of the overnight American beer rockstar? But you didn’t pick up a pilsner to stew on history: You picked it up because you wanted a bright, grassy beer with a light body and a crisp finish, which is exactly what Rothaus is. There’s no reason not to have a few tucked in your fridge at all times through Labor Day.
La Vista, Nebraska Helles lager, 4.8% Distribution: Nebraska It takes a deft hand not to overdo either the malt or the hops in a subtle lager style like a German helles, but Kros Strain does an admirable job with this crispy brew. At just 18 IBUs, the earthy hops contribute just a brushstroke of floral-herbal greenness before the sip finishes with a quiet touch of honeylike malt sweetness. The brew is named for Hell Creek, which flows into the Papio Creek behind the La Vista, Nebraska brewery; it also provides the inspiration for the colorful bottle artwork.
San Francisco, California Mexican lager, 4.8% Distribution: 26 states, find out if you're one of them Mexican-style lagers are everywhere on beer shelves, from OGs like Corona and Modelo to craft breweries’ newcomers. But few are just as purely chuggable as El Sully, thanks to its pilsner and Vienna malts as well as a bit of flaked maize which gives it a kiss of sweetness. The Vienna malts lend just a touch of complexity, but they’re at a low enough level to never read as rich or doughy. Everything about this beer is engineered for summertime, from the sweet grainy-corn maltiness to the 4.8% ABV to the eye-catching can design.
Dry-hopped sour with Italian plum, 5% Stratford, Connecticut Distribution: 32 states… check out where to find it here Summer drinking usually takes place in a rotating set of venues that range from beach to balcony, so finding a beer with versatility should be high on anyone’s list of priorities. All things considered, Insetto pretty much as it all nailed: It achieves the sweet and sour balance of biting into a perfectly ripened plum, making it an incredibly thirst-quenching and approachable beer with the refreshing qualities of well-balanced cocktail. The next time someone in your group of friends tells you they hate sour beer, make them try this and watch them eat their words.
Kansas City, Missouri Gose, 4.2% Distribution: 39 states, find out if it's near you A summertime barrel-aged beer? That’s not an oxymoron. This ultra-zesty, sunny gose riff from Boulevard actually benefits quite a bit from the barrel’s rounded flavor, which helps smooth out the considerable lime tartness and twangy lactic punch. The tequila portion translates as earthy agave, which is a smart choice to dovetail with the base gose’s traditional coriander note. Unlike other goses whose salt level can border on “sea water,” this one keeps its salinity in check.
Wild ale, 4.6% Los Angeles, California Distribution: California We’ve all been there: You’re standing in the wine store, bottles in either hand, nervously scanning the shelves with your eyes, already picturing your dinner host’s disapproving eyes when you hand over a bottle of bush league pinot noir. We recommend avoiding this situation entirely by bringing along a bottle of this gem of a funky beer instead. It’s made with all of your favorite microbial friends (Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, Saccharomyces, and Brettanomyces), as well as peach and nectarines over a sturdy base of wheat and barley. The barnyard funk and balanced tartness make this perfect for sipping with a great meal, or even a mediocre meal, or even no meal at all if you just need something nice and complex in hand to make conversation about.
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Kate Bernot is the associate editor at The Takeout and a certified beer judge. She loves German lagers and lives in Missoula, Montana. Follow her @kbernot.
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.