Pairing libations with food and occasions is a refined art, practically as old as libations themselves. But for the average beer drinker, there might be no factor more pertinent in choosing a beer than the weather.
In fall, heavily spiced beers, dark amber ales and porters tend to complement the chill of a cool night around a fire. In winter, seasonal selections tend toward warming beers, darker and more heavily bodied.
But summer? Summer is when brewers really get to shine. Warm weather lends itself to creations that aren’t just flavorful, but refreshing. Summer affords brewers the opportunity to dabble in any variety of styles, and in a town so craft-beer-rich as Pittsburgh, there’s truly something for everyone. Here’s a look at a few of our favorite local summer beers:
The Brew Gentlemen’s Cucumber Wheat
From vague idea to superb execution, The Brew Gentlemen’s Rapid Prototype Factory No. 13, a.k.a. Cucumber Wheat, is the clubhouse leader for the best new Pittsburgh beer of 2014.
But the impetus for this brew was inauspicious, surprising for how popular the beer has been since.
“It was a hot day and we were serving cucumber-infused water,” says head brewer Brandon Capps. “So I took a pint of White Sky, chopped up a cucumber and left it in there for a couple of hours.”
Inspired by how refreshing the result was, Capps set out to make a cucumber-centric beer. Starting with the same basic American wheat base as White Sky, he cleaned, pureed and sanitized 50 pounds of cucumbers. After fermenting out the beer by itself, Capps added the cucumber right into the fermenter after extracting the yeast.
“All in all, it was pretty gosh darn simple,” Capps says.
After letting the cucumber diffuse in the finished wheat beer for a few days, Capps knew he’d made something special. The beer is served with a lime wedge garnish, offering drinkers the option of adding a citrusy augmentation. The idea for the lime wedge came from brewery co-owner Asa Foster.
“The first few days we had it on tap, Asa was just walking around the brewery, throwing stuff in there—lemonade, basil, and at some point, he dropped a lime in there,” Capps says, adding that while he prefers it plain, the lime does work quite well.
“It adds to the flare of it as a summer beverage,” he says. “Something I wanted to convey was that a beer doesn’t have to have a ton of flavors to be complex and interesting. If you take the time to slowly sip it, you’ll see that there’s a lot going on.”
Surprisingly refreshing for its 5.6 percent ABV and milky amber color, the Cucumber Wheat has been such a big hit that the Gentlemen have already decided to make it one of their regular offerings.
“It will be added to our flagships as a summer seasonal called ‘Garden Party,’” Foster says. “We just made the executive decision to call it that [Monday].”
Hop Farm’s Provision Saison
Hop Farm Brewing founder Matt Gouwens has sold so much of this farmhouse-style ale that he’s barely been able to keep up with demand. In fact, he’s already ordered more tanks to increase his production capacity.
“We’re selling a lot of it,” Gouwens says. “The bars are ordering it and we got the word out last weekend with a couple festivals, and people are really enjoying it.”
Provision is a sweet and light-bodied session beer, reminiscent of a cross between a pilsner and a heffeweizen, offering faint notes of banana and clove. It’s also the subject of numerous experiments at the brewery—Gouwens has combined it with a sour blonde finished with cherries, and plans to roll out a lime basil version within the next few weeks.
East End’s Monkey Girl dunkelweizen and StrawberRye session ale
The sister beer of East End’s Monkey Boy heffeweizen, Monkey Girl is a dunkelweizen, a dark wheat beer, which presents some of the same banana, wheat and clove flavors as its counterpart, but with a lighter body and alcohol content.
A clean, refreshing fruit beer, StrawberRye is part of East End’s Session Ale series, brewed in small batches with 100 pounds of local strawberries. This summer session ale clocks in at 4.2 percent alcohol by volume, making it an ideal complement to any yard work you might find yourself doing on a 90-degree day.
Roundabout Brewery’s Polish Hill Pils, Ginga Wheat
When Steve and Dyana Sloane opened Roundabout Brewery in Lawrenceville last summer, their Ginga Wheat—a ginger-forward American wheat beer brewed with lemon and local honey—instantly became one of Pittsburgh’s most popular local brews. Sweet and spicy with a citrusy finish, it remains one of Roundabout’s best-sellers.
For those who might be more inclined to reach for a pounder of Pabst, Roundabout offers Polish Hill Pils. Made with 90 percent Lublin hops, this crisp pilsner is cool and refreshing with hidden complexities.
“I don’t think it’s easy to brew a decent pilsner, especially on this equipment,” Steve Sloan says, admitting that even though Roundabout’s summer seasonals this year include a Summer Wit and a version of the same finished with blueberries, the Polish Hill Pils remains his personal favorite. We wholeheartedly agree.
Four Seasons High Hopes IPA
While widely known in brewing circles, Latrobe-based Four Seasons Brewing might be a fresh face to many local beer drinkers.
This summer, they’ve brought their A-game with High Hopes IPA—a crisp, hop-forward beer with a citrusy finish that’s sure to delight both hop heads and haters alike. Clocking in at a sneaky-high 6.9 percent ABV, High Hopes is surprisingly refreshing for an IPA, especially one loaded with so many flavors.