At the moment, there are effectively four major summer styles. That being said there are many more than that, but for some reason they never make it too Atlanta. Atlanta it is just entering the market place and thus only the easy sellers and the auteur styles make it; the sublime and the ridiculous.
The first of these styles is the IPA. In brewing, the Hoppiness is known as IBUs (International Bitterness Unit). Unless it is a ‘malt liquor,’ it has to have hops to be considered a beer. It ranges from 2-100, some beers claim to be higher than 100, but Science! tells use you really cannot detect over 100. Though you probably cannot tell subtle differences, most Science! tells us you can only tell a differences of at least 3-5, the subtle difference is really told by the sweetness of the remaining beer. Now in general, an style, you put ‘American’ in the style name and that makes it hoppier; you put ‘West Coast’ in the title and it is even hoppier. Calling it American adds about 25% hoppier and West Coast adds about 50% more.
The Hoppier beers, the IPAs, Pale Ales, American West Coast Amber Ales, Imperial Pale Ales, are the
most popular style in the south. The hoppier the better. In someways, this is a shame. The basic style is Pale Ale (30-45 IBUs and 4.5%-6.2% Alcohol By Volume or ABV). Amber Ales are malty sweeter and darker than Pales, but more on them later. IPAs (India(n) Pale Ales are (40-70 IBUs and 5%-7.5% ABV). As a side note, they are called such because on the long journey between Britain and India beer would spoil and it turned out that Hops are antibiotics. Making it hoppier makes sure the beer lasted longer. Imperial Pale Ale is the slow drinker and the hardest to balance. The hops are supposed to be out of control (60-120 IBUs) and to counteract that, there is a heavy dose of sweetness and alcohol (7.5%-10%). There is something complex worth note, I will get into it more in another article. The IBU is really the blood curling bitterness, not the citrus/floral/grassy/earth hop tasty. So you can have a hoppy tasting beer that is not bitter. As a goofier side note, we personally name the hoppiness Quincing, a portmanteau of our reviewer Matthew Quinn and wincing. He has QSO4 Sensitivity, intense bitterness sensitivity. He physically thrashes with bitter tastes. The level of this is the Quince.
The Sweetwater crowd tends to call all out its beers ‘West Coast style,’ the IPA is almost not worth mentioning it could be the generic IPA from almost any brewery. However, the 420 is truly a great example. The hops have a great flavor and you taste hops, without it being hoppy-bitter, hence Pale Ale not India(n) Pale Ale. Terrapin, as a whole, is hoppy, very hoppy. Hopsecutioner is a great example of this. Across the country, there are many great examples. Russian River produces Pliny’s the Elder and the Younger considered the classic examples. Dogfish Head produces your 60 Minute (Pale Ale), 90 Minute (Indian Pale Ale, almost Imperial), and 120 Minute (Definitively Imperial, 120 Ibus and about 20% alcohol). Avery produces Maharaja. Standards include Stone Arrogant Bastard and Rogue Dead Guy are Hoppy West Coast Amber, Sierra Nevada Pale ale, Great Lakes Burning Rivers, Heavy Seas Hop3, There are many great summer only editions, of which I will mention a few easy to find ones. Terrapin’s Monk’s Revenge, a hoppy Belgian beer (sweet, smooth, but bitter like religious defeat), Terrapin’s Rye Squared, could fall into rye/wheat (next category), but also hoppy, so it is here, and Terrapin’s Big Hoppy Monster, no comment. If you want Hop flavor, but not bitterness try Sweetwater Road Trip and Sam Adams Latitude 48.
The next style is the Ryes and Wheats. As most of you know, most beer is barley. Barley is mostly fermentable and all beer in this country, to legally be considered beer, needs to be at least 50% barley. There are plenty of other sugars that can be fermented; this includes table sugar and rice sugar which completely ferment out. Then there are hundreds of others that mostly ferment out and leave a flavor; this includes roasted sugars, honey, wheat and rye. Wheat has a sweet and baked goods flavor, rye has a spicy flavor, think like the bread. In general this style is set up into two groups; American and German. The American style is hoppier and sweeter to counteract the hops. The German Style is dry and subtle, like champagne think brut. There are hundreds of beers here, I will mention a few of each that I really like. American Styles in Atlanta are Jailhouse Slammer Wheat (the Best, trust me), Terrapin Rye Pale, Red Brick Summer Hummer, Sweetwater Sch’wheat (Old Recipe was better). American Styles on a national level Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin,’ Goose Island 312 and Bell’s Oberon, are the best. In general, I don’t like the overly fruity ones, like Sweetwater Blue, Dogfish Head Peche, etc. but Terrapin Sunray is delicious. German Style are mostly international, but there are a few and are mostly easily found. Most are called hefewiezens or Weisbeeres and all the Germans put out a good one; Ayinger, Weihenstephaner, Schneider Weisse, Paulaner, Augustiner, Hofbrau, etc. In the area, there are a few special examples Terrapin’s Indiana Krunkles and Waterkeeper. If you like the style, but want a higher octane, try the ‘imperial versions’ of the style; Dunkelweizens. They are sweet like American wheats, but low in hops like the Germans; however they are high proof.
In general, these are the two stories that are overwhelmingly represented. Frankly, I like hops in spring and wheats rarely. I prefer these next two style, they are American maltier beers and European styles growing in popularity. In general, these styles are close, but distinct. The American style tends to get the sweetness from the grain, specifically the caramel malts. Think the difference between white sugar, brown sugar, and caramel. The darker and roastier, the more flavor. The European styles will get sweetness from malt, but mainly it is the yeast that flavors them. This is harder to explain, but European beers tend to have a complexity to them, whereas American beers are much more simple.
The American Styles are the Ambers and the Brown ales. To me, this is drinking a Coke on a hot day. I said coke, soda, root beer. No one thinks of bitter stuff on a hot day. “Wow it is a scorcher today mom. Brussels Sprouts! Gee whiz! Thanks!’ They think nice and sweet. If you think lemonade, think wheat, I think Coke at a braves game. Note, when I say brown, I don’t mean stout or porters. I know snobs will correct me on this, but more Stouts and porters tend to be heavy. Brown ales are not heavy, they are sweet. Like the other American Styles, these go from sweet to hoppy. These are styles you know, think Sam Adams Boston Lager and Ale, New Belgium Fat Tire, Sweetwater Georgia Brown (smooth as a Bill Clinton apology), Red Brick Laughing Skull and Brown and He’brew Jubiliation for an Imperial one. Now my two favorite are easy, nationally it is the Lagunitas Censored and the slightly imperial Wild Heaven Ode to Mercy. On the Hopier side, Dogfish Indian Brown, Highland Gaelic Ale, Terrapin Hop Karma, and Lagunitas Lucky 13.
The Final Style I want to talk about are the emerging styles. They are Belgian, French, English and German Styles that are sweet and refreshing, but never hoppy, with one exceptions. I will not go into a lot of examples, the post is already nearly 1300 words, but I will give one each. First up, the Belgians. The styles they have for summer are the Dubbel (sweet), Trippel, (Dryer, more alcohol), and the American created Belgian Pale Ale, this is one of the previous style, but hoppier. Belgian beers are everywhere and all the Belgian breweries will put out each of these styles; try Chimay (Belgian), St. Bernardus (Belgian), Maredsous (Belgian), Delirium (Belgian), Piraat (Belgian), Ayinger (Germany) Ommegang (USA), and Unibroue (Canada). There are random examples, but as a primer try something from these. You may want to avoid Quads and Special Darks, they are winter beers. Next style is the the French Farmhouse Styles, the light version is the Saison and the sweeter and more alcoholic style is the Biere de Garde. Both are casual beers, they are brewed at ambient temperature with wild yeast (traditionally). The Saisons are everywhere, nearly all of the American breweries have at least one, but many of them merely water down a good beer, confusing the session and the saison (that was pretentious, sorry). So, your best bet is to try the Belgian Breweries above. At the moment, though Terrapins Side Project 14, Tomfoolery, is a great example. Biere de Garde, though, is very hard to find, but is growing in popularity. As a homebrewer, I find more from other homebrewers in then in stores, but Ommegang and Flying Dog has one each. From the English, try the English Brown or ESB, no breweries, but you will recognize them as the less bitter version of American Browns. Finally, German Bocks and Marzens have been given a resurgence in the states. They are sweet and delicious. The German Bock is roastier and simple, all German Breweries have one, try Red Brick’s Helles Bock or for higher octane try the German Weizenbock (combines higher proof, Wheat and Bock, American Sweet and German Hop) or Dubbelbock, high proof Bock. The Big Brewers from Germany in this front are the Munich Brews, Spaten, Lowenbrau, Hofbrau, and Paulaner. Many Americans are coming up now as well, just ask the employees at a good store, however many American breweries are making winter bocks, so just look at the IBUs, a good summer one is between 20-45. Marzens are the light easy drinking beers for Octoberfest, traditionally in this country if it is called Marzen, it is a lager (meaning bottom yeast, aged and fermented colder; this is traditional) this means they will be more subtle. If it is an Octoberfest, it will be an ale (meaning top yeast, this means almost no flavor will come from the yeast, but it is done in a quarter of the time,) to compensate American brewers will add a lot more malt (specially Munich Malt) to try to add the flavor. Note: if it is spelled Oktoberfest, it is a crap shoot, so look where it is made.
Hope this encourages you to make a stab at a new beer. In the end, ask someone at the store for a good example of the style. If they look blankly, find a new store.