"Beer, if drunk with moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health." - T. Jefferson
"Mmmm ... beer." - H. Simpson
Two men, both great philosophers of their eras, share a love for beer.
And while there's never a bad time to tip one (or more) back, the advent of spring and summer perhaps offers the best opportunity to do so: Done mowing the lawn? Beer. On the golf course? Beer. At a baseball game? Beer. At a cookout? Beer.
But you don't really want to grab a thick, heavy Guinness to quench your thirst after an afternoon of pulling weeds in the heat. An ice-cold can of Budweiser certainly would do the trick. But if you're willing to step beyond the pale lager, there is a vast array of beer styles suitable for a summer suds session.
While all beers are brewed using malted barley to some extent, many warm-weather styles also use wheat in the brewing process, which can be a bit of a surprise to someone new to wheat beers.
"A lot of people, the first time they drink a wheat beer, they don't know if they like it or not," said Mike Parkes, owner of the Brewhaus bar, the beer lover's nirvana. "Once you have a wheat beer, you know what a wheat beer is the rest of your life."
The wheat imparts a decidedly banana-like fruitiness to the beer, particularly the German style known as hefeweizen, which literally means "yeast wheat."
The yeast used in fermentation is left in the beer instead of being filtered out, like in most styles. As a traditional Bavarian style, there are a number of hefeweizens from which to choose, such as Paulaner, Erdinger and Hacker-Pschorr, which Parkes calls the "most notorious" for having the banana-like overtones.
Another German style associated with warm weather is the bock. Traditionally, German monks would brew an extra malty beer to provide sustenance during the Lenten fasting season.
Bocks also are lightly hopped. That, coupled with the extra malt, gives bocks a lingering sweetness as well as higher alcohol content.
The Maibock ("Mai" is German for the month of May), however, is a lighter, dryer version of the bock and is associated with springtime, specifically the month of May. Maibock is considered a "transitional brew," according to the German Beer Institute's Web site, something to quaff after the cold temperatures and stronger beers of winter disappear but before the heat of summer brings the standard lager style.
Other German warm-weather styles include Kolsch, a light ale native to the western city of Koln, and the shandy, which typically is a 50-50 mix of a lighter beer and lemonade.
Or as Nick Jensen, assistant manager at Friar Tuck, puts it, "it's almost like drinking lemonade with a little bit of beer in it."
Across the Rhine River and through the Netherlands lies Belgium, the home of the Witbier, another warm-weather style brewed with wheat.
Witbiers are "kind of like a German wheat beer," Jensen said, in that they're unfiltered and share a lively carbonation.
"But they're flavored with coriander and of a lot of other spices that give it a lot more complexity," such as bitter Curacao orange peel, he said.
The coriander adds an earthiness to the beer, while the orange peel gives a light citrus flavor. The beer's pale color gives the style its name, as "wit" is Flemish for white.
In the United States, many of the beers considered seasonal are American interpretations of traditional European styles.
"Everybody has a wheat," Parkes said.
The popular Blue Moon, for example, is brewed in the traditional Belgian Wit style, and similar beers are made by dozens of other microbreweries, such as Boston-based Samuel Adams, Denver's Flying Dog and Boulevard, which is in Kansas City. Chicago's Goose Island and New Holland from Michigan both make a Kolsch-style beer during the summer.
And New Belgium of Fort Collins, Colo., and Austin, Texas-based Celis, founded by Belgian native Pierre Celis, are renowned for their interpretations of traditional Belgian styles like wit, tripel and grand cru.
Another popular American wheat beer is made by Bell's in Kalamazoo, Mich., called Oberon.
Jensen likens it to a German wheat beer but says the flavor is a bit more complex "because the malt's been roasted a little bit. And it has more of a hop presence than the German styles."
Some brewers, though, make seasonals that don't really have a European analogue.
Founders, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., brews what it calls Red's Rye P.A., which, as the name suggests, is brewed with rye instead of wheat.
Chico, Calif.-based Sierra Nevada, renowned for its pale ale, produces a spring seasonal called ESB, which normally describes an English style called extra special bitter.
Sierra "kind of made a twist and called it the Early Spring Beer," said Nate Short, a bartender at Brewhaus. Sierra's ESB is essentially a standard American pale ale that uses entirely different hops than the flagship pale ale, according to the brewery's Web site.
Fruit beers also are well-represented during the warm-weather months. Breweries run the gamut of the produce section, brewing beers such as: Blue Moon's Rising Moon pale ale, made with lime; Celis raspberry wheat; Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat; Chippewa Falls, Wis.-brewed Leinenkugel Berry Weiss; Dogfish Head Aprihop, brewed with apricots in Delaware; and the Buffalo Bill's Orange Blossom Cream Ale, which Short said "tastes like an orange cream soda, but it's got a little bit of wheat aftertaste to it, too."
Parkes said that Buffalo Bill's, based in Hayward, Calif., typically only makes seasonal styles, such as the spring and summer Orange Blossom and its fall Pumpkin Ale, but they're all done well.
"The beers they make are just top-notch," he said. "They're the ones everyone tries to copy."
And a few summer styles that aren't made with fruit often come served with it. Examples include lime served with Corona and other Mexican beers, lemon served with hefeweizens and the orange slice that comes with a draft Blue Moon.
"Blue Moon actually advertises (the orange slice). It's their little niche," Parkes said.
All beers named in this article are available in Springfield in various forms at the Brewhaus, Friar Tuck, Famous Liquors and other retailers and bars.
Story published Friday, May 1, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 3 )