~ by Jenny Benzie, Advanced Sommelier + Certified Wine Educator, Proprietress of Épernay Wine & Spirits ~
The goal of a summertime beer is all about refreshment. Having a nice cold brew on a warm summer day (or as warm as it gets here on island) will never go out of style, similar in concept to your Nantucket Reds.
The best place to start this journey of looking for a iced cold one is just a leisurely bike ride out to Cisco Brewers. Located on Bartlett Road as a diversion on your way to Cisco Beach, the brewery produces a handful of classic beers that are available year-round. They also make small batch quantities of Island Reserve selections that are typically available only as a bomber (22 ounce single bottle). And finally, you may be lucky enough while on island at the right time to taste one of their few seasonal brews.
Their summer seasonal brew is Summer of Lager, which is considered a Munich Helles Lager. The name Munich is in reference to the town in Germany where this type of beer was created to compete against traditional pilsner style beers. Helles means bright in German. Hence, this style of beer pours a clear, bright straw yellow to pale-golden color with a creamy white top and moderate plus clarity (as in it is not hazy). As for its tasting profile, look for a touch of hay and cut grain on the palate with some light citrus notes. It is a fairly crisp beer with citrus-like acidity (this is the mouth watering sensation on the sides of your mouth) and a mild earthy finish. The Summer of Lager is typically available from late spring through mid-summer and usually sold out at some point in August. Nice beer, if you can get it.
Across the water back in America, Samuel Adams, also known as The Boston Brew Company, has Summer Ale as their aptly named seasonal beer. This beer is available starting in March (when all of us are just thinking about summer plans for Nantucket) through July (when you are in the midst of your summer vacation here). This is an American Wheat Ale that is brewed with lemon peel and Grains of Paradise. Grains of Paradise, also known as the Melegueta pepper, is a rare African pepper, which is more closely related to cardamom than pepper. Its flavor profile is crisp and tangy with refreshing lemon peel and a hint of pepper. The balance of the bright citrus, hops & pepper spice create a lively brew that’s perfect on any summer day.
Another refreshing summer beer beverage is a Shandy. This is beer combined with a little something extra, perhaps a soft drink, but most commonly lemonade. When you order your sandwiches to take to the Steps Beach from Something Natural, be sure to pick up a couple bottles of their new lemonade to add to your beer and try this combination. If you prefer a little spritz, carbonated lemonade such as San Pellegrino Limonata, would be perfect. Barritts Ginger Beer or regular Ginger Ale is also an option to create a libation that is not quite so moody as a Dark and Stormy. The amount of each ingredient is adjusted to taste, but typically blended half-and-half and served in a pint glass. The concept of a Shandy is that it is light and refreshing, hoping to quench your thirst after an afternoon of trimming your garden, yet low enough in alcohol that you don’t need an afternoon nap.
Why go through the trouble of making your own shandy, however, when you can purchase one already perfectly mixed for you? Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy is a limited release (read summer seasonal) made from Weiss beer with natural lemonade flavor. The 5th generation brewery is located in the middle of Wisconsin. The tale of how they created their shandy is that once upon a time, thousands of cyclists pedaled into their tavern. Afraid they would run out of beer, they mixed the last of it with lemonade as it was the only thing on hand. The cyclists loved it and hence their shandy was born.
Another variation on the shandy is to use grapefruit juice instead of lemonade. Leinenkugel calls their rendition of this simply Grapefruit Shandy. Nantucket’s Cisco Brewers has their version on tap this summer as a test batch and hopefully will be bottling it this fall. Always creative with what they name their beers, this one is called Gripa. Get it? Grapefruit + IPA. IPA stands for India Pale Ale, which is a complex, hoppy and bitter style beer and the type of beer used for this modified shandy. The tart freshness and acidity of the grapefruit eases the bitterness and hoppy character often found in this type of beer. While grapefruit is a winter fruit, this easy-drinking ale tastes like summer.
For more of a twist on a refreshing beer concoction, try the addition of a fruit based cordial to a lager. A cordial is when you have concentrated fruit syrup that is added to a distilled spirit. This is how Triple Eight Distillery produces their flavored vodkas. For their blueberry vodka, they use all natural ingredients to create a highly concentrated extract made from Maine blueberries. This is then blended with the vodka to create the final product. This allows you to see the color of the fruit and taste more of it than if the flavor components were produced artificially. Pour a ‘floater’ of the blueberry vodka on top of their Grey Lady Belgium style wheat beer and you have yourself a Blue Haired Lady. The richness of the beer, which is still considered lighter than a Hefeweizen, helps to keep the floater on top as you sip into the afternoon.
As the summer days continue (and get a bit hotter), these tasty beverages may be a touch lighter in weight but are no less flavorful. Whether you are grilling at 40th Pole on Sunday afternoon or just finished a long run out to Madaket and back, these beer concoctions will be sure to satisfy your summer thirst.