In case you missed it, summer 2020 came in the middle of a global pandemic. In a period that has required following safety measures, including mask wearing and social distancing, many of the season’s pastimes that so often accompany beer — barbecues, beach days, ballgames — have looked different or been abandoned altogether.
The custom of beating the summer heat with a refreshing drink, too, has taken on unconventional forms amid the coronavirus pandemic, as most states have temporarily loosened laws around takeout and delivery alcohol, a small lifeline for a handicapped food-and-beverage industry struggling to survive.
Craft brewers, for instance, have been battered by evaporated on-premises sales at taprooms, bars, and restaurants. In a survey of its members conducted by the Brewers Association in April, the majority did not believe they could stay in business for three months if current conditions continued. And, as a cost-cutting measure, data shows innovation has slowed: Almost half as many new beer releases, themselves an earmark of small, independent American breweries, are being registered compared to the same period last year due to Covid-19.
Still, producers are pushing through the crisis — for one, they’re adopting creative ways of packaging and selling in a constantly changing regulatory landscape. And, as we share below, many brewers are still releasing new offerings, helping beer lovers salvage the sublime joy of summer imbibing.
So, with this far-from-normal summer nearing its end, we asked brewers across the country to tell us about the beers that impressed them the most so far.
“Let’s be honest: Summers in Phoenix are BRUTALLY hot. Like, working the deep fryer inside of a food truck parked at the gates of Hell hot. It’s a type of heat that’s so intense, only those who experience it know how truly awful it is — and why liquid solace is needed. For me this summer it came from Humble Seas’ West Coast-leaning pilsner, Beverly Krills 90210. Dry-hopped with a nice blend of American and noble varieties, it’s a great example of what a contemporary American pilsner can be: Dry, sessionable, with subtle fruity hop aromatics, and the perfect amount of balanced maltiness. The head retention absolutely begs for a slow pour so you can build those nice frothy, aromatic peaks, almost like Arizona’s mountainous landscape.” — Kyle Kreig, Taproom Manager, Wren House Brewing Co., Phoenix
“With everything that’s been going on, it’s been incredibly important to find joy in the little things. I definitely found a bit of joy this summer in Tripping Animals’ joint can release, Am I A Cat? and Am I A Dog? It’s ‘90s cartoon nostalgia meets experimental beer cuvée, where both are designed to stand alone and also be mixed. Both titles had the same sour base and coconut additions. But the Cat was conditioned on blueberry and pomegranate, and the Dog pineapple and key lime. Once you combined them, it was like a perfectly tart key lime pie with a berry reduction on top! Changing the ratios of the cuvée made each drink exciting, playful, and unique. I had a lot of fun drinking something so interactive and flavorful!” — Susie Bennett, Quality Assurance Analyst, Motorworks Brewing, Bradenton, Fla.
“To support the Black Lives Matter movement, several brewers have stepped up and launched initiatives to speak about and work toward combating the racial injustice we face. Weathered Souls’ Black Is Beautiful ignited this large-scale industry support and it has been astronomical, while more recent efforts such as the ongoing, open-source project BREATHING : CONVERSATIONS from Finback in New York will go deeper into the route of problems, and further push necessary change. Knowing the people at Finback, it isn’t a brewery to make a beer to appease BIPOC and not seem racist, or to follow ‘woke’ trends, but to effectively bring forward conversations and ideas that aren’t comfortable, but need to be had.” — James Higgs, Brand Ambassador, Forager Brewery, Rochester, Minn.
“Saaz Off Shotgun, a Czech-style pilsner from Radicle Effect Brewerks, was my go-to summer beer. Radicle is a nanobrewery, so it doesn’t put out too many lagers. But luckily for some small brewers, Covid-19 allowed them to have extra time to lager. Saaz Off was released right when patios started to open back up here, and it was the perfect way to bring some normalcy back. Crispy, and all of the character from the Saaz hops shine.” — Glenn Cole, Brand Ambassador, Midwest Ale Works, East Moline, Ill.
“Weathered Souls’ Black Is Beautiful initiative unified over 1,000 breweries this summer to take a stance and bring awareness to the systemic issues that challenge communities of color. This led to an incredible lineup of varying stout recipes, like ours, in tandem with Trillium Brewing, aged on a bed of Papua New Guinea vanilla beans. Aside from our deliciousness, one Black Is Beautiful stout that really stood out was from two other Massachusetts beer makers, Vitamin Sea and Brockton. They put an extra twist on their version and went with a blackberry sour that had a complex yet subtle layering of marshmallow and chocolate whirled into a deep dark color bursting with blackberry flavor. Well balanced and absolutely a memorable beer.” — Ray Berry, Founder and President, White Lion Brewing, Springfield, Mass.
“Key Brewing’s Semi Charmed takes me back to the time when pale ales and Northwest hops ruled the beer land. Light amber in color, with distinct maltiness and assertive bitterness presented harmoniously. The Baltimore tie-in to ‘Charm City’ also tells a great story.” — Rob Day, Senior Director of Marketing, Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers and Springdale Beer Co., Framingham, Mass.
“At the start of summer, my girlfriend and I drove up from Texas to a cabin nestled on a lake in the Adirondacks. On the way, we spent the night at my old stomping grounds, in northern Virginia, to stay with a friend. To my delight, she had a case of Aslin beers waiting for me. Aslin’s That’s Facts, a pilsner dry-hopped with Waimea and Motueka hops, became my go-to adventure beer. Though everything we drank during that time tasted better thanks to the setting and company, That’s Facts was the one I kept reaching for when hiking or kayaking, or when sunset was involved. And just like our time quarantining on the lake, my 4-pack of this crispy pilsner was thoroughly enjoyed, finished way too soon, and left me craving more. And that’s facts.” — Eli Traks, Photography and Social Media Manager, Turning Point Beer, Bedford, Tex.
“My pick is the Big Ditch and Ommegang collaboration, Superior Helles. Of course, any well-crafted helles is a sublime summer crusher, but these two Upstate New York brewers took it to the next level with the deft addition of Hallertau Blanc and Bavaria Mandarina hops, which together layer a delicate aroma of noble hops and tropical fruit atop a sound, cracker-y malt base which adds a soft sweetness. The beer is a perfect accompaniment to a sweltering day, yet also holds its own in a food-pairing situation with lighter summer fare such as a salad or pasta primavera. Prost!” — Ethan Cox, Founder, Community Beer Works, Buffalo, N.Y.
“As a brewer who likes to spend their spare time hiking and camping, I like to reach for beers that I can pack easily and are the ones I’ll wanna drink when I get to a lake or summit. That beer for me this summer is Kolsch 4.5, by Logsdon Farmhouse Ales. I’ve had an admiration for Logsdon since getting into craft beer, with its ability to produce beautiful saisons and mixed-culture beers. The Washington [State] brewery moved facilities and has expanded to brewing styles like IPAs and lagers. Kolsch 4.5 is a perfect example of the team’s rounded ability to make a delicate, crisp, and refreshing German-style ale that can be taken with you on any adventure. And yes, it’s really 4.5 percent ABV. And no, it doesn’t come with Zig-Zags.” — Anne Aviles, Brewer, Breakside Brewery, Portland, Ore.
“My pick is from Nashville’s one-man operation, Barrique Brewing and Blending. Joel Stickrod’s BBA [bourbon-barrel aged] Freeman Red is a traditional Flanders red initially aged on red muscadine grapes, then finished for an additional six months in a Wild Turkey barrel. The extended bourbon-barrel-aging adds some wonderful vanilla, char, and whiskey character to a style that is oft overstated and can tiptoe the line of aggression.” — Dylan Field, Operations, Southern Grist Brewing Company, Nashville
“White Sangria Hut, from Half Acre’s Wyld program. This open-fermented, oak-aged saison was racked onto Michigan peaches and Pinot Gris must, and then introduced to Cara Cara orange peels. It offers tons of bright, exotic, tropical flavors — kiwi, peach, coconut, citrus — and truly makes you feel like you are sitting beachside somewhere on the coast of Spain. It has definitely provided the greatest degree of escape from the confines of summer quarantine in Chicago. It’s hard to tell while sipping, but this beer also packs a hefty 10 percent ABV. And though that is typically a bit higher alcohol than I like in my day-to-day beer, it’s exactly what I want when I‘m pretending to lounge around on a faraway beach.” — Averie Swanson, Founder and Brewer, Keeping Together, Chicago