POSTED ON MAY 23, 2012:
Brews You Can Use
Summer beers to beat the heat
On a clear and warm late spring evening that might have been enjoyed pursuing any number of outdoor activities, from lounging on the roof of El Guapo's to dusting off the backyard grill, nine men chose rather to lock themselves away from family and society in a windowless, upstairs room under the buzz of florescent light, chosen for its lack of distraction, to seek a higher purpose.
They came to drink.
With temperatures rising, grass growing and charcoal blazing, it's time to make a preemptive strike against the powers of summer thirst. How better to do that than with one of man's oldest and greatest inventions: beer!
Readers of Urban Tulsa Weekly know that, as a service to mankind, we seek out the new, the interesting and even the swill of summer brews -- those beers and related fermented grains-turned-to-liquid you'll find on the shelves and on tap during the dog days of the year. We do it so you won't go thirsty.
"We take beer seriously so you don't have to," said one nameless staff member, sitting in the corner sniffing a glass of lemon shandy.
"We're just here to drink beer," said another swab.
Our concierge through the sometimes exotic land summer brews was none other than our 6th Street neighbor and brewmaster, Eric Marshall of Marshall Brewing Company, whose cause was furthered by a crack outfit of beer-lovers: Chris Bryant, manager of Gran Vin Bottle Shop; Mac Butcher, homebrewer and certified beer judge; Tony Collins, bar manager for the McNellie's Group; Matt McClurg, distinguished homebrewer; Ian Picco, specialty coffee roaster for Topeca Coffee; Garrick "The Meat Cleaver" Ritzky, brewer at Marshall Brewing Company; and Ethan Warlick, co-owner of Mercury Lounge. The author was the ninth, and a few others came and went. Special outside reconnaissance was conducted by Freddy Lamport, owner of Biergarten Wine and Spirits in Jenks.
Although led by experts in the knowledge of beer crafting and tasting, this was no ivory-tower, academic study. The plan for the evening wasn't to produce a definitive, scientific, comprehensive proclamation on the benefits and handicaps of the libations listed below. This was a "roll up your sleeves and get at it," but casual and enjoyable gathering of passionate beer-lovers who weren't afraid of giving straight, gut opinions from their own perspectives.
There was no standardized scoring or rating system, but these guys know what to look for. So, in general, you'll find comments on the color, the head (the foam on top), the smell, and the taste of each brew, and many general impressions.
Note: Comments below from our guide, Eric Marshall, are noted as such, while unattributed quotations are from various members of the group, either written or said.
AVBs and IBUs
No, these aren't acronyms for military vehicles or weapons systems, but they are two tools of our battle, giving some indication of important beer characteristics, and we provide this information when available from the manufacturer.
AVB = Alcohol By Volume
IBU = International Bittering Units (The higher the number, the more bitter the beer)
While these reflect only two of the many aspects of beer, many people find this information helpful. You can take them or leave them.
21 Brews You Can Use (In the Order Tasted)
Underdog Atlantic Lager
Flying Dog Brewery
ABV: 4.7 percent
This East Coast lager, brewed with rye, Cara-pils and wheat malts and Perle and Goldings hops, had a clean, straw appearance with an earthy, mild hops aroma and was easy to drink. "Good on a summer day. Good with anything," one taster said. "A pale lager with a nice crisp light taste," Eric Marshall said. "A little bready sweetness and easy soft finish ... Good summer beer."
Anderson Valley Summer Solstice
Anderson Valley Brewing Company
ABV: 5 percent
From the beautiful rolling hills north of San Francisco comes this clear, golden, low-hops brew that is another easy summer drinker. Tasters noted it has a slight caramel aroma with a somewhat creamy flavor. Pleasantly "reminiscent of cream soda," some said, but it has a good malt backbone. "A nice variation from what you would typically think a summer ale would be."
Mustang Summer Lager
Mustang Brewing Company
Oklahoma City's Mustang Brewing Company makes this summer lager available from May through August. It has a clear, light, golden color -- the traditional lager look -- with a slight green apple aroma and flavor, low on bitterness. "For someone looking for a sweeter, lighter beer with full flavor," one reviewer said. An "easy-drinking, refreshing" brew, Marshall said. "Non-offensive, but reminiscent of mainstream lagers."
Shock Top Lemon Shandy
Shock Top Brewing Company
ABV: 3.2 percent
This summertime quencher from the Anheuser-Busch family has a light lemon aroma and a light body. "Very light and unoffending. Good for hot weather." "Good for mowing the lawn in the middle of July," Marshall said. Probably not a go-to for hardcore beer-geeks, one of whom said, "They've finally invented a beer that every high school cheerleader can agree on." But this one will be welcome to fans of a light drink in the heat.
Newcastle Summer Ale
Newcastle Brown has both fans and detractors in plenty, and this new seasonal offering will continue that course. "Summer ale for those Newcastle fans," said one of our reviewers, perhaps with a hint of snickery. It has a very clear, light golden color with good head retention, but several tasters noticed a medicinal aroma and odd, rubbery flavors -- even a "band-aid" funk -- that seem out of place for a summer brew. The guy in the corner liked it, though, and he quickly finished the leftovers.
Samuel Adams Summer Ale
The Boston Beer Company
ABV: 5.3-4.1 percent
Sam Adams' Summer Ale is an easy-drinking medium-bodied American wheat ale that is spicy, and peppery with a lemon finish. It has a cloudy, deep golden color with a good head, with a lemon and grains of paradise aroma and flavor. More than one reviewer noted similarities to the Shock Top Lemon Shandy, but "Shock Top for adults," they said. "A nice, spicy wheat ale that is refreshing and easy to drink."
Choc Summer Belgian-Style Blonde Ale
Krebs Brewing Company
ABV: 5.5 percent
This is a summer beer like Lisa Lampaelli is a swimsuit model.
One of our locals gives us a serious weapon against thirst with this sweet, lively Belgian blonde with a copper hue and sweet nose (are we still talking about beer here?) "A bit wheatier than a typical Belgian blonde," one taster said. The hops are absent and the malt forward in this great sipping summer ale.
Tallgrass 8-Bit Pale Ale
Tallgrass Brewing Company
ABV: 5.2 percent
"Take it to the lake." This Manhattan, Kansas, brew has a great malt/hops balance, slightly favoring the hops, but not overly so. It has a cloudy, golden color and a fresh floral and fruity aroma. "Imminently quaffable." Plus, it's in a can, great for the go. One of our tasters wrote, "Take it camping, throw it in your saddle bag or bike rack, drink it on a stoop with a boom-box blaring or in a backyard house party." A winner.
Choc Signature Gratzer
Krebs Brewing Company
This one is unique. Maybe the most interesting beer of the bunch. Part of a top-secret, underground development program in the war against summer thirst, it arrived at the UTW offices in unmarked bottles -- with just a card from the brewers. No need to destroy after drinking, though, because it turns out this was actually Choc's Signature Gratzer in disguise. More than one of our tasters came quickly and independently to the conclusion that this beer smelled like a savory Polish sausage. Others likened it to smoked Gouda. The complex aroma was also described as "salty" and "fatty" "with a touch of hardwood smoke." The very full, but not heavy, flavor would go great, our tasters said, with Bar-B-Q on a hot day. "Nice work from the local guys."
Marshall Arrowhead Pale Ale
Marshall Brewing Company
Did we say this was going to be impartial? Look. This isn't a contest -- this is a war against summer thirst. And even the most objective view will tell you that this is "a good ale for what ails ya," as one observer noted. This pale ale has a "cloudy golden-orange appearance" with a healthy, "off-white" head. What does the general say about his own beer? "Caramel sweet, soft malt character and big grapefruit hop taste." Another wrote that it finishes "with a late zing of hops." "A great, refreshing pale ale."
COOP Horny-Toad Cerveza
COOP Ale Works
ABV: 5.3 percent
This Oklahoma City brew is billed by the company as "a great introduction to craft beer and to COOP Ale Works." That seems about right. It's light in color and "cloudy" with a good head. Tasters noted that it is "very light bodied with medium carbonation" and slightly sweet, "with a pinch of hops in the finish that gives it some redemption. Easy-drinking, and refreshing, but without much complexity. "For those not yet acclimated to hop forward beers," wrote one reviewer. "Not bad for an easy-drinking beer in the sun."
Krebs Brewing Company
ABV: 4 percent
This third, and final, offering from one of Oklahoma's own is an award-winning light American wheat beer that one taster described as "a beginner's wheat." Its light, hazy "straw" color and low head formation go along with a "slightly sweet" malt and low hop aroma and flavor. "Easy drinking," wrote Marshall. "A good everyday summer beverage."
Michelob Golden Light Draft
ABV: 3.2 percent
OK. This isn't a connoisseur's beer, but it certainly is a possible deep summertime-weather go-to. As Marshall wrote, "When it's 118 degrees outside in the middle of the lake, this will do." Others weren't so kind. "Looks like slightly yellow water," said one taster. A "sulphuric," "egg-like" aroma was detected by some. "Funky," said another (and he wasn't referring to George Clinton). Another taster got philosophical about it: "Everything that's wrong with the world in a bottle," he wrote. Still, in the war against thirst, perhaps on the golf course, some will find this light-bodied, non-bitter beer refreshing.
Angry Orchard Crisp Apple Hard Cider
Angry Orchard Cider Company
ABV: 5 percent
The only beverage in our bunch that isn't a beer, this hard apple cider has a very clear golden color, with no head, and a "bright," "sweet" apple aroma and flavor. "Tart apple aroma with champagne notes," Marshall wrote. This is definitely for those who are looking for something sweet -- especially if they like apple juice. "Prison wine with sugar," someone else said -- probably an ex-con.
Bud Light Platinum
ABV: 3.2 percent
A triple-filtered light beer in an attractive cobalt-blue bottle marketed as "the only beer worthy of the name Bud Light Platinum." Probably true. Although you often see great, bulging, iced buckets of these going around on rooftop bars to happy customers (admittedly, where the beer is of secondary importance), this crew would have nothing of it. Extremely light and clear, and high in carbonation, Platinum has what some described as a "sulphury," "chemical" "puddy" aroma, rather low in flavor. "Reputed to have been exposed to hops," wrote one wag. "Stick with regular Bud Light, if you drink it."
Rogue Dad's Little Helper Black IPA
ABV: 5.8 percent
Philosophical sidenote: although not the first to do so, Rogue gives us liquid food for thought by taking the pale out of pale ale (or by putting the black in). Contemplate that while sipping this hoppy, "roasty" bitter brew. "Chocolate brown" in color, with a thick light-tan head, this has the aroma of caramel malts with a "faint citrusy" scent. "Bitter chocolate taste with tangy notes and a sweetness as well," Marshall wrote. "Not super-complex, but flavorful." Some tasters thought this ale was a bit imbalanced. "Good, but not memorable."
Tulsa Drillers All Star Wheat
Marshall Brewing Company
This German-style hefeweizen from Marshall's, which was premiered the night of our tasting, is available only at ONEOK Field during Drillers games and other events. Marshal said the partnership fell into place because the Drillers were looking to host something unique and local -- and it gave his team an excuse to craft a good German-style beer. It has an unfiltered orange-hued, golden color, and a typical hefeweizen aroma, reminiscent of banana, bubblegum and clove. It has a light body and is "semi-sweet," with a very complex, well-balanced flavor. As one observer noted, this would be "great with peanuts and crackerjacks." Go Drillers!
Unibroue Grand Reserve 17 Dark Ale
ABV: 10 percent
"This is a summer beer like Lisa Lampanelli is a swimsuit model," observed one taster well into the evening. But summer isn't all about cookouts and lake parties. This dark ale from Canada is more of a "good special occasion drinker," Marshall said -- one that's a rich and complex "warm beer," best served at cellar temperature (about 55 degrees) "with four good friends on a cool summer night with a plate of cheese or a fine cigar," another taster wrote. Medium golden-brown, almost "mahogany" in color with a good head, it has a strong "candied malt" aroma. Some noted "light oak" and spicy flavors. "Nice example of a darker Belgian style." "Blithe, assertive and wonderful" (like Lisa?)
Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager
Abita Brewing Company
ABV: 4.2 percent
A wheat beer from the Deep South with a slightly hazy, light-gold color and light body. Perhaps partially due to the late hour, this brew drew out some particularly colorful responses from our tasters. Some observed a "funky," "buttered popcorn" aroma, also hints of "Hostess strawberry cake" and "pink Laffy Taffy." "Did a stripper make a beer from her preferred scent?" quipped another detractor. Although made with late-season Louisiana strawberries, some thought the flavor synthetic and chemical.
Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere Farmhouse Ale
Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales
ABV: 4.5 percent
Here's one our tasters would go back to. A complex ale from Michigan's Jolly Pumpkin, Bam Biere is a pleasantly cloudy and silky yellow (alternatively, "dirty gold") with a good white head. The aroma was "floral," "piney" and "tangy," and was also described as "awesome!" The flavor is complex, but at the same time refreshing. "Not everyone will love this," Marshall said, "but it is a quality complex beer that screams summer on a farm." Certainly one of the favorites of the night.
Sierra Nevada Hoptimum
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
ABV: 10.4 percent
Yes, that's 100 IBUs, which means Big Hops for this full-cone imperial IPA on both the nose and flavor. It's a "clean" "golden-orange," "copper" pour with a thick head. Although, obviously, hops is key to this ale, the tasters found it remarkably balanced with sweet malty flavors. According to Marshall, "This is a beer-lover's beer. Also, big in ale (see the 10.4 percent alcohol content). So be careful, but awesome!" Long aftertaste that finishes clean and sweet, as we hope does your summer.
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