July has come and gone, and by now most beer drinkers have checked out the various "summer beers" on the market. I know I’ve been overwhelmed by the variety of beers with the sub-name “summer” available at my local beer store. The style just didn’t seem to have a neat grouping, like fall has Oktoberfest, since summer beers range from IPAs to wheats to pilsners. This begged the question then: What even is a summer beer?
As it turns out, the summer beer category was created, according to Aaron Goldfarb at PUNCH, by Anchor Brewing Company in 1984 with a beer they called Anchor Summer Beer. Since then, the craft beer market has taken up this idea in force. Summer beer has become another niche that modern brewers are trying to gain a share of.
However, seasonality of beer is far older than the creation of Anchor Summer Beer itself…it’s existed for ages. Two classic examples specifically come to mind: the Märzen, which is traditionally brewed in March to be consumed during the fall harvest, and the Helles Bock, which is brewed and consumed in the springtime.
Seasonality also came to us for some historically pragmatic purposes. Brewing predominantly took place in the winter and fall. According to Emma Christensen at The Kitchn, “This was when new barley was harvested and the workers themselves no longer had to put in long days in the field.” In addition, the summer heat threatened fermentation and would spoil ingredients, mainly hops. To avoid waste, brewers would produce a quick-brewing, light-bodied beer in the spring with the remaining stores of hops and grain. Thus, we have our first instance of a summer beer!
Now, in the contemporary era, we have the technology to keep temperatures controlled and globalized trade for ingredients. Modern farming techniques allow us to produce all the grains we need for any style of beer we could possibly want to produce. Modern brewing technology, coupled with no specific style guidelines for “summer beer,” has allowed craft brewers to get creative and produce whatever style of beer they want for the season. However, most stick with a pilsner, Kölsch, IPA, or wheat-based ale since they are easy to consume in hotter weather.
All that being said, since summer beer technically isn’t a specific style, but more of an idea, there are no proper style guides to summer seasonals. My favorites are Long Trail Thru Hiker, Ommegang Witte and Sierra Nevada Summerfest, but I’d love to hear what your favorite summer seasonal is. (Or, maybe just the beer you happen to drink in the summer!)
Steve Pendergast is a beer and food enthusiast. After going to school in Albany, he's split his time between drinking beer and writing about it. He's always searching for a new craft beer to try, and loves finding the local brewpub to immerse himself in the unique taste that each town develops. When he's not writing or reading, you can be sure to find him sitting by a campfire with a bottle of Green Blaze in hand or hiking whatever mountains are close at hand.