Summer is knocking on the door as we enter the Memorial Day weekend, and with the incipient sunshine and hot temperatures, the best way we know to retaliate is with an ice-cold beer--or at least, a hybrid malted beverage, if we find it worthy.
Synonymous with summer, these simple, almost innocent drinks have no competition when it comes to relaxing refreshment--in moderation. Clean, crisp and cold--what can be better? If you want a bottled water or a sports drink, turn to Left Field.
Many breweries develop new summer beers for this time of year, while others bring back successful seasonal beers from previous years. While the name may not be new, the beer itself will be crafted to imbue subtleties, nuances that may not have been apparent before. Something new, something different because of a taste variance in that year's ingredients and other brewing factors.
Winter and summer seasonal beers are highly anticipated by the beer lover. And each year, Urban Tulsa Weekly strives to bring its readers the latest news in the seasonal brews with its annual winter and summer beer guides.
This summer, as before, UTW hand-selected a cast of expert tasters to sample new beers for the season, beers new to the Tulsa market, and some old popular standbys from previous years--as varietal reminders.
It's a tough job. These tasters spend more than four hours tasting beers and even malt beverages, high energy drinks and a new water product, many of which came highly recommended from local distributors. Others were selected by UTW simply because.
Beers were evaluated according to four basic categories common to the tastes of all beer lovers: appearance, aroma, palate and flavor. Each beer was judged in these categories on a scale from one to five, with five being the best. Labels, while not calculated in the tally of a possible 20 points, were considered important first impressions for all, but not graded.
Given these select parameters, we set out to rank the brews we think will slake the taste for summer thirst.
Twenty-six beers were selected to taste, and the scores percentage-wise ranged from 79 percent to 36 percent. There were no landslide winners, as in previous years. One woman's beer is another man's wimpy drink. A man's stout is a woman's cough syrup. There is nothing truly scientific about the judging, truly it is highly subjective. One person's favorite might be another's dog.
But, we made some surprising discoveries. Indeed, the playing field among new beers is leveling out to a higher plane.
Thus, we are getting tougher in our assessments
But enough of the talk.
Here is how UTW's Beer Drinking Team judged with its rating score averaged out of a possible 20 points, from least favorite to the most highly recommended among 26 beers:
Number Twenty Six
Tecate Light was judged by one as "your classic Oklahoma Q.T. cheap beer," with "not much flavor -- it tasted like flavored water," said one. It was basically non-distinctive. One reviewer suggested heavy lime be added. Tecate Light was developed in 1992 as the first light beer in Mexico. The beer rattled the UTW Beer-O-Meter with a 7.3 reading.
Number Twenty Five
Of Tractor Brewing Company's Hay Maker Honey Wheat Ale, a beer just introduced to the Oklahoma market, one tasters said, "It smells like digested fruit--but tastes worse." "The appearance," said another, "is cloudy without a significant head and an aroma of witch's brew." The beer was cloudy as a wheat should be. In the final analysis, comments ranged from "this Haymaker missed its mark" to "it didn't make hay with me" to "it must have been a mistake." It's ranking was 7.6 but it had a great labeling concept.
Number Twenty Four
A brand new Anheuser-Busch seasonal brew, Spring Heat Spiced Wheat, is a Belgian-Style Wheat Ale that brought mixed reviews, way high and way low. The label received attention, a pumpkin head (maybe it was an orange that looked like a pumpkin head) with a tuft hair of wheat and colors of orange, blue and green. The label, nonetheless, has a autumnal/harvest look to it rather than a summer theme.
This beer pours to a naturally cloudy, hazy, pale yellow with a full white head that dissipates quickly. It is brewed with orange, lemon and lime peels and coriander. It has a summer smell of citrus, but the spice is more akin to winter, thought some of our tasters. The body is light and tastes light as it goes down. Those giving it high marks said it was "not bad, but not good" and "like Budweiser, yet lemony."
It is recommended that this beer is served in a tall glass with a wide mouth to allow the beer's aroma to fill the nose of its spicy and citrus accents.
I rather fancied the beer myself, thinking it would go well at picnics, sporting events and garden parties. Out judges gave it an 8.6.
Number Twenty Three
Sol is not a new beer, nor is it new to the market, but we like to bring a brew back for review from time to time. It was rated 9.8 overall, with one giving it 16.5 on his individual ranking. He said it "looks clean, tastes clean," adding that it would be good with pizza or out on the beach." One, who ranked it fairly low, said he thought it tasted "skinny."
"Not much flavor, too bland; too light to be taken seriously" were other remarks. Sol is a Mexican light-bodied lager, bright yellow in its clear bottle. It is a "powerhouse" in Mexico and is apparently popular in Asia, the Middle East and South America.
Something Completely Different
New Grist from Lakefront Brewing Inc., Milwaukee, WI, received modest marks from most, but a 10.28 overall. This beer has the claim of being the first beer brewed without malted barley or any gluten-containing product to be recognized as beer by the U.S. Government.(Perfect for those on gluten-free diets.)
The bright yellow, red and green summery label gives away this beer's unique ingredients -- sorghum, hops, water, rice and gluten-free yeast grown in molasses. All these ingredients still did not make our tasters go for more. One offered to say it is "very unique" in taste. Another said it had a "salty palate" and taste "really oriental, and probably very healthy."
Another commented that he probably would not buy it, for it smells and tastes stale, dank and musty, "making me want to fly a plane into a battleship." One final comment was that it "smells unwashed. It tastes like either rice or medicinal ointment -- downright strange."
Number Twenty One
Grolsch Light Lager, hailing from Holland, it is "light" in the European style, meaning color, mostly, for the flavor still comes intact. The distinct Grolsch green, box-shaped bottle is a re-styled version of the old-fashioned styled pop-top familiar to long-time Grolsch fans. Obviously, not a new beer, but being brought back for review by Team UTW.
This "light" version of traditional Grolsch, released nation-wide just last year, offers an authentic lager tasted with the comforts of a light beer. With only 107 calories, its appearance is a pale, golden yellow with a somewhat sturdy head finishes to a light lacing. The palate is light-bodied with no complexity of malt.
The reviewers were all over the place here. One suggested soaking a lime in it to build on the flavor; another who rated it a "14" said it is "exceptionally clear, with a clean taste and probably good with simple food--more complex flavor than some others of this type."
Another said it was "underwhelming, the appearance was very good, but the taste got me down."
As said by one taster, it "might be for someone else who likes might be impressed with the Grolsch heritage." Its ranking was 10.3.
One of Chicagoland's favorite brews, Leinenkugel had been content for years doing its own flagship thing, without too much regard for the specialties rage. But all of that has changed. It now sports as many varieties as its competitors and this season comes Summer Shandy beer, with natural lemonade flavor, ranked next.
A "shandy" is simply defined as a lemon-flavored beer. It has a light, crisp lemony flavor which, in my estimation, is a great summer beer. My fellow tasters only found it moderately fine. One, who gave it high marks, commented that he would buy it again, for it was "an enjoyable summer seasonal, much better than Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat (see below).
"A refreshing, delightful lemon flavor that finishes fast and will be a good thirst quencher," continued our reviewer. One even said it is more of a lady's drink, and even possibly mixing it with something to jazz it up. One said its appearance is a "strange yellow" with a fruity taste. Another gave it high marks as perfect for a day at the beach -- a "cloudy, lemony aroma (as the lemon presents itself first), yet smells like 'real lemon,' not as bad as a fruity 'malt beverage.'"
Another says it looks "like a malted lemonade. As a beer, not near enough, but tasty -- would make a great popsicle." Lemon cough drops, anyone? It earned a solid 10.9.
Heineken has always been a favorite of many, and now these lovers of this famed, top selling Dutch beer (possessed of great ads) can enjoy beer on draft right in their own homes.
Heineken has released a 1.33-gallon keg of this lager favorite, and it lasts up to 30 days after opening. Most here gave it high marks -- impressed with the freshness and carbonation, and novelty of its large Heinekin can keg concept.
One high-ranking tester said it would be great with pizza and pretzels, saying he particularly enjoyed the "perfumy" background.
If you like Heineken, one said it "beats bottled Heiny by a long shot." It tasted very fresh, the palate experience was very stable, and one said it "smells like Europe." Our reviews rated it 11.4.
Tied with Heineken with a 11.4 on the Beer-O-Meter is an attractively labeled beer, Tracker Brewing Company's Farmer's Tan Red Ale. A drawing of a farmer, showing his tanned left arm, beginning below the rolled up, short-sleeve, definitely grabs one's attention.
Farmer's Tan is a crisp tasty ale that was said by some, surprisingly light-bodied. It has a mild, roasty flavor on the palate followed by a slightly sweet caramel finish. It was said that this was just an average drink, somewhat unremarkable amongst the legion of similar, but better-tasting beers currently available.
Catering to a New Palate
Redbridge, another Anheuser-Busch, Inc., product, but a hybrid intended to compete with other 21st century brews made without wheat or barley but from sorghum, corn, yeast, imported Hallertau and domestic cascade hop varieties and water.
It classifies as another wheat-free, gluten-free beer, and in fact, its target audiences are celiacs, vegetarians and vegans. With more than 3.2 million people allergic to wheat, this new product allows this population to enjoy a beer. Our tasters said it has a sweet taste, one that ladies may enjoy. A low score by one said, "I wouldn't cross this bridge if I came to it."
One had a little better thought, saying it has an interesting palate, light, yet with a little effervescence." One said he would drink it "only to get all my vitamins." One enjoyed it, saying it would make a good "party beer." It earned a 11.5.
Organic Wild Hop Lager is gaining in popularity, basically because of its organic nature and the fact that it is environmentally friendly. It is brewed with USDA certified organic malt, sourced from family-owned organic farms and Cascade Hops from the uber trendy Willamette Valley.
This beer is not only made with organic ingredients, but is also made with 100 percent recycled packaging. Our testers said the palate was clean with no harsh aftertastes, although one commented that it has a bit of a bite to it.
Its appearance is a beautiful golden color, with a fleeting aroma, rich at first then disappearing quickly. Overall, we found it good, but a bit disappointing followup to its fragrant aroma.
It was pleasant, fruity, fresh and smooth, according to most of our judges. One found it only okay and said he would possibly buy it again, "probably only to save the earth." 11.8
Next in line is a full pale imported from Europe's bread basket, Poland by Stawski Imports in Chicago, O.K. Beer, (definitely intended for the Sooner State market in this Centennial Year) brewed by Okocim Brewery in Poland. The appearance once poured is of a deep golden-yellow hue, and has a creamy white head. The aroma is a spicy, markedly hop-influenced, while the palate receives rich and rounded malt flavors up front with a medium body; some said it has a snappy, bitter hop finish. One commented that it was "sweeter than the clear appearance would suggest, with odd aftertastes. Not bad, but a little odd."
Compared to some of the other labels, this one is boring, said one. Yet, it does shine through of Polish heritage, with the colors, and a drawing of a Polish dancer in costume. One said this would be great for a special occasion. Viva Poland! This beer from Europe's heartland came in at the middle of the pack with a 12.3 rating.
Next, we sampled another Leinenkugel's, this time Sunset Wheat. This beer is brewed with select wheat and pale malt, cluster hops and natural coriander. For optimum enjoyment, the label recommends to pour this beer down the middle of the glass to release the natural flavors, then garnish with a slice of orange.
A few of our testers said this would be good with sushi. It has a very summery taste in its own category. It has a nice head, a cloudy appearance with an orangey and fruity taste. One tasted a hint of raspberry, and overall most of said we would buy it and try it again. The Beer-O-Meter reading: 12.4.
Not necessarily a seasonal beer, but a new product in the Tulsa market is Mendocino Brewing Company's Blue Heron Pale Ale. A few commented on its attractive blue label, which sports a heron in flight. This beer is billed as a hop lover's dream.
It is a full-bodied golden ale and a distinctive hop character, leaving a clean, fresh hoppy taste on the palate. It is brewed using premium two-row pale malted barley, generous amounts of both Cluster bittering hops and Cascade finishing hops as well as a special, proprietary yeast strain.
This beer follows the India Pale Ale, or IPA tradition in British brewing, which is characterized by a high alcohol content and a very high hop flavor. It pours with a nice, tall head, but some commented that the finish taste was a bit too bitter for them. Overall, we found it fair to middlin' at 12.5.
Banzi! From the land of the rising car hegemony comes Sapporo Light Beer. This product was introduced just two years ago from Sapporo. The company says this is the first Asian low carb beer and is described by Sapporo U.S.A. as "Low in calories (97 calories), low in carbohydrates (4.5 grams), gentle, smooth, and elegant in flavor ... the most advanced evolution of light beer ... [exhibiting] the delicate bouquet of European Saaz hops and an exceptionally clean finish."
It contains just under four percent alcohol by volume. It pours light in color, with a small head. Our tasters said they enjoyed it. One said, "If you like the regular Sapporo, you'll like this" and with fewer calories. One commented the smell was "rubbery" and disappointed it is in a bottle and not the distinctive can.
Milwaukee, you don't have to worry yet, but if it is made in Japan, chances are the Rust Belt will be getting crustier in the next few years. We gave it a 13.3.
The third and penultimate offering we reviewed by Tractor Brewing Company (New Mexico) is its Sod Buster Pale Ale. Possessed of another colorful label, this time the beer delivered farm to market. The goods received high marks for taste.
It is rich and complex in malty sweetness, yet loaded with Cascade hops from the Pacific Northwest. It has a slightly thick head and is slightly cloudy in appearance. It is rather harsh on the tongue, with one saying it had too much of a bite. Another said there are "several strange flavors, yet they don't seem to blend or work together." It poured with a substantial head.
While one said to "lay the sod over it," another rather like it, saying it had a "good appearance and flavor; a good beer after a long day in the field or garden." It registered 13.38 on the Beer-O-Meter.
Tied with Sod Buster is another rural, western state beer, Oklahoma's own 1919 Choc Beer, via Krebs. While the label is modified from last year, most of us sage tasters estimate this is the original beer, just with a new label.
In fact, the label received many comments, from the front picture to the history of the beer on the back.
The appearance of the beer itself is cloudy, as Choc should be, and the aroma is extraordinarily light and fresh, like a home brew. It has an inviting aroma that finishes with a unique end. Overall, we cheer on this local favorite!
The fourth and final Tractor Brewing Company label we checked out is the best of the bunch, Double Plow Oatmeal Stout, having earned its 13.5 with a solid brew. This thick and roasty beer, made with freshly rolled oats, is of the stout family, and the taste, we all agreed, has an earthiness to it.
It has a deep, dark, aroma when poured, and goes down very smoothly. It's lacing appears like amber clouds in the late afternoon, western sky and it's thick foam forms a head that lasts to the final draw.
One commented that, for a stout, it was very effervescent, which he liked. A few made note of the characteristic of a stout -- a chocolaty smooth and nutty flavor, with an enticing appearance and full flavor, even robust.
One said, "If I could drink beer instead of coffee for breakfast, this is what I would drink."
In a tie with the Oatmeal Stout is another new beer to Oklahoma from the Mendocino brewing Company, Red Tail Lager. Introduced two years ago, this lager has a medium body, a beautiful red hue, a snow-white head, is lightly hopped, has a rich refreshing flavor, is clean and has a crisp sweet finish and very slightly effervescent.
Lighter in body than the Red Tail Ale (which was rated runner up to the best in this tasting), Red Tail Lager is fermented at low temperatures using Mendocino's traditional lager yeast. The palate, said one observer, is thin -- in a good way -- and light. He suggested it would be good for a summer BBQ. Overall, it was enjoyed as a very good beer, smooth and tasty. One gave it a 17 out of 20, saying, "It's the real deal -- nothing fancy, just authentic. Now that's a beer!"
Blue Moon, a product of Coors Brewing Co., has been around for a while, but was given to us to sample, so we did. And we liked it.
Blue Moon is a Belgian White, Belgian-style wheat ale, with a medium body, and spiced with fresh coriander and orange peel for that typically complex taste you get from this type of brew. It has an uncommonly smooth finish.
The name "Belgian White" is a reference to the cloudy white, opaque appearance of the beer. "Belgian White" also refers to the style of beer, which has been brewed in Belgium for about 300 years. This type of ale is brewed with malt, wheat and oats.
It is unfiltered, which allows protein and yeast to remain suspended in the beer and creates the cloudy appearance. This also adds to the smoothness and full body of the beer. Blue Moon is traditionally served with a slice of orange, and that is how we drank it. Comments were that it was "very good," "very refreshing, especially with the orange slice," and a great beer for the hot summer months. The Beer-O-Meter rang up 13.75.
It's just not summer without a Samuel Adams seasonal brew, so we brought some in for review and the Summer Ale is near the tops again this year. It's a great, refreshing beer with a golden hue, a very nice head and distinctive ale taste. This beer is described as refreshing, crisp and tangy. . . brewed with wheat malt, lemon zest and Grains of Paradise, a long-forgotten and mysterious brewing spice used by medieval brewers centuries ago.
One taster said it is a very summertime beer because of the crisp spicy fresh flavor. Another said it felt good and refreshingly clean in the mouth. Our experts gave it 13.8.
A Natural Pastime
Next is another seasonal beer reviewed last year, earning even higher marks this year at 14 on the Beer-O-Meter--it's Pyramid Brewing Company's aptly named Curve Ball, a crisp and golden Kölsch-style ale.
What a great name for a beer to represent summer, one commented. Its appearance is cloudy with a light head and the taste is clean and refreshing. Good for a summer backyard event.
One said it would be ideal with a braut. Another said it was a good, fun and a well-rounded, very drinkable beer. Take me out to the ball game!
Sierra Nevada Summerfest, rated 14.2, was also tested last year, and it has proven a good summer beer worth sampling again and again--in moderation, of course. This seasonal beer, only available from April to August, is a refreshing pilsner-style lager.
While lighter in body than Sierra Nevada's ales, Summerfest displays a significant hop aroma. The long lagering period adds a smoothness that makes this beer a great summertime treat. Our tasters noted it a notch above most other American beers. The appearance is golden with a good head size.
Comments for this beer ranged from it being very smooth with a tangy hop bite. One said it would be great with burgers, pizza, or tacos. Overall, most agreed this beer had a great look and a great taste for summer.
A surprise for many tasters slides into the top three spot--Lakefront Brewing Company's Organic E.S.B. (Extra Special Bitter.) It is made with organic malted barley (two-row, Munich and caramel) and organic German Perle hops -- a spicy, sometimes minty variety. This beer carries the USDA organic seal of approval.
Our tasters loved this beer, saying it pours a hazy amber with hints of red and brown. It pours a large carbonation of bubbles and a thick, tight, foamy head, with significant retention. Rated 14.57, it drew comments from some on the citric aroma, earthy, with hints of lime and a soft pale malt for the finish.
Mendocino brewing Company's Red Tail Ale, (14.68-rated), was the runner-up favorite this year. This Ale is naturally brewed in the traditional style and is a full-flavored amber ale. Its taste is built from a blend of Pale and Caramel malted barley and is balanced to a slightly dry finish with whole hops.
Our testers noted the clean, crisp taste almost immediately. It is described as "very drinkable -- a summer beer to be sure." The color, said one, is "radiant like a church window, with a good and balanced flavor, but it shouldn't be consumed with only heavy flavors." Another said its palate is "velvety smooth with a dry finish."
Tops of the Hops
The winner this year is a local product from Krebs -- Choc Beer Company's Basement Batch Pale Ale. Popping the lid off the Beer-O-Meter at 15.8, it sports a label as well-designed and entertaining as Choc 1919. Basement's label's description reads this beer is a "traditional American-style Pale Ale . . . Starting with a base of American-grown two-row malted barley we add liberal amounts of caramel and Victory malts to give Basement Batch a rich, almost nutty, malt backbone to complement the unique citrus character of Cascade hops."
Our tasters said it is a "good beer. Real beer. Tasty beer. Smooth at the teeth like a velvet Elvis." Another enjoyed the good blend of flavors.
Another said this is a "manly beer. One need not be embarrassed to drink this beer!" "Good head, smooth, fruity flavor," said another, and finally, "starts fresh, moves in a mature direction toward a strong finish-then a mellow aftertaste."
Staple Summer Beverages
Besides these beers, a few malt beverages, a few energy drinks and a new water distributed by Anheuser-Busch were sampled.
First, the water. A sobering thought.
Icelandic Glacial Natural Spring Water comes in a clear, boxed-shaped plastic container with a refreshing picture of a glacier in full view through the front label to the back inside label.
The label's description says this water comes from "one of the cleanest environments on the planet . . . universally acclaimed for its unique taste and exceptional purity." The source of Icelandic Glacial water is the legendary Ölful spring -- a naturally replenished source formed more than 4,500 years ago and shielded from pollution by an impenetrable barrier of lava rock." Our tasters say it is all that and more. The smoothness and clean taste is exceptional on top of the world.
The malt beverages had a separate rating, mainly on taste and looks. Here are the rankings in order of first preference:
Ranking 18 points out of 20, Smirnoff Raw Tea, a premium malt beverage with brewed green tea, natural flavors, caramel color and caffeine was a great surprise among all. One said it best: "It looks like green tea, and will taste great on a hot day at a concert or at the lake. Be careful, it could catch you off guard." And we're not talking about too many anti-oxidents!
Second best at 17.3 was Jack Daniel's Citrus Jack Splash. It has a great label, an aroma of cool aid, and a palate like Juicy Juice. Great summer drink in the hottest of temperatures. "Jumpin' Jack Splash -- put this in a squeeze pack."
Mike's Hard Berry is third with 16 points. One said the taste is almost cranapple-ish; another said it has a great aroma -- very berry and very smooth. If you are familiar with and enjoy other Mike's products, you'll love this.
My personal favorite among the malt beverages came in fourth place with 15 points: Smirnoff Ice Pomegranate Fusion. It is fruity, simple and clean on a hot summer's day. Too bad it's not packaged in plastic; it would be a great beach drink.
Woodchuck Draft Cider was recommended by one distributor as a refreshing summer drink. It has been on the market for years now, and remains very popular. It came in next to last with 13.8 points. It was enjoyed as "great stuff -- an institution." It would be good ice cold on a hot day.
Last, with 10.75 points is Abita's Purple Haze, a Raspberry Wheat Brew. Comments range from a "good taste with a tough after taste" to "too fruity," to "give it to Prince -- maybe he would like it."
Need a Boost?
Two popular energy drinks were tested, and if you made it through this entire article, you may wish you had one at this time. Anheuser-Busch produces 180 Blue with Acai and 180 Red with Goji.
180 Blue is made with carbonated water, vitamins B-6, B-12, C (all vitamins at 100 percent recommended daily allowances), caffeine and grape and blueberry flavors. It is the first packaged energy drink that contains the acai berry, small grape-size berries found on acai palms, which grow in the rainforests of Central and South America. The taste is refreshingly berry and very drinkable.
180 Red with Goji contains carbonated water, vitamins B1, B2, B6 and E (all vitamins at 100 percent recommended daily allowance), caffeine, goji berry, acerola cherry and lychee. Goji berries are small, round, red berries found on wild vines which grow in Tibet.
180 Red also has natural guarana, which helps give it is "boost." This comes from the seeds of a shrub native to the Amazon rain forest. The seeds are roasted and ground and the resulting powder contains a natural form of caffeine.
Both energy drinks are refreshingly good, and give a definite boost of energy!
Share this article: