Lawnmower beers that don’t suck
By Kevin J. Gray
The spring rains have finally stopped and suddenly it’s 90 degrees, sunny and humid. Summer has finally come to the Miami Valley. After spending the morning fighting with the lawnmower and the weed trimmer, reward yourself with a light and refreshing summer beer. Below are nine craft brews perfect for sipping in the hammock or while standing around the grill. And all of these beers are produced here in the Midwest.
Ales brewed with wheat tend to have big frothy heads with moderate bodies that appeal to a large variety of drinkers. These tasty beers lure newbies into the craft realm, with enough nuance to satisfy more jaded palates. Skip the fruit slices, but decant the leftover yeast from the bottle into your glass — it accentuates the beer’s flavor and some folks swear the extra B vitamins make the next morning a bit easier.
Oberon (Bell’s Brewery; Kalamazoo, Mich.; 5.8% ABV). Named after the king of the fairies in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the beer’s bright yellow and orange label tells a summery tale. One of this brewery’s flagship beers, with a huge, white, billowing foam set atop a yellow-orange body, the wheat malt and Bell’s proprietary yeast combine to give this beer hints of fruit and spice.
312 Urban Wheat (Goose Island; Chicago, Ill.; 4.2% ABV). From Chicago’s largest craft brewer comes this very popular wheat ale. It’s a bit simpler than Oberon, but equally refreshing. Lightly hopped and lower in alcohol than many craft beers, this hazy straw ale is a perfect backyard session beer.
Gumballhead Beer (Three Floyds Brewing Company; Munster, Ind.; 5.5% ABV). Named after Rob Syers’ underground comic book cat, Gumballhead is the hoppiest of the wheat beers listed here, but is also one of the most balanced. Brewed with American red wheat and Amarillo hops, this ale blends the best elements of wheat beers and pale ales. Three Floyds stopped distributing to Ohio some time back, so ask your friends over the border to pick up a sixer for you on the way to your cookout.
Archangel (North Peak Brewing Company; Traverse City, Mich.; 5.0% ABV). This northern brewer recently started distributing to the Miami Valley. The retro labels and stubby bottles conjure summer nights years ago, but the beers themselves are very modern. This wheat ale has an addition of Michigan cherries in the secondary fermentation, giving the finished beer a tart, refreshing flavor.
Several other ale styles, such as blonde ales, Kolsches, California commons and cream ales blend flavor and refreshment for hot summer afternoons. Generally, these beers are lighter in flavor, slightly malt-dominant, and often end with a satisfyingly crisp finish. Below are two midwestern examples.
Full Circle Kolsch-style Ale (New Holland Brewing Company; Holland, Mich.; 4.9% ABV). A style originating in Cologne, Germany, Kolsches are ales brewed with a yeast strain that mimics the subtle complexity of a lager. New Holland’s offering blends a soft malt character with a low hop profile, creating a balanced beer with a clean finish. The brewery recommends pairing this beer with “fish, grilled vegetables, grilled sausages and just about anything else served on a patio.”
Blonde Ale (Mt. Carmel Brewing Company; Cincinnati, Ohio; 5.5% ABV). Similar to a Kolsch, blonde ales are simple, clean beers. The flavors are delicate, but the blonde ale is a bit more malt forward than the Kolsch. The blonde ale was one of Mt. Carmel’s first, as the fledgling nanobrewery expanded its reach throughout Ohio. This beer, with its subtle malt and nuanced hops, is crisp and uncluttered.
Lagers have a bad reputation thanks to the watered down Bud-Miller-Coors products, but they deserve a second look. True craft brewed lagers are much more flavorful, and summertime begs for their clean, uncluttered flavors. Unlike ales, which tend to have complicated aromas and flavors, lagers get straight to the point, delivering a punch of hops and malt in a crisp, refreshing package. Here are three, all brewed in Ohio, which should quench any summertime thirst.
Helles Lager (Rivertown Brewing Company; Cincinnati, Ohio; 5.3% ABV). Rivertown is the latest brewery to etch its name in Cincinnati’s rich, sudsy history. Started by two homebrewers, one of whom won the Samuel Adam’s Longshot contest, the Helles Lager is brewed as the Bavarians brewed it, with German malt and choice hops. Serve this one cold in a tall pilsner glass.
Dortmunder Gold Lager (Great Lakes Brewing Company; Cleveland, Ohio; 5.8% ABV). This deceptively clean lager derives its name from the German town of Dortmund, where, in the 19th century, all of the city’s breweries collaborated to brew a single style of beer. The Great Lakes version has been winning gold medals at World Beer Championship since the early 1990s. The crisp, simple flavors pair well with grilled chicken or fish.
Wooden Shoe Lager (Wooden Shoe Brewing Company; Minster, Ohio; 4.6% ABV). The original Wooden Shoe Brewing Company dates back to the 1860s and was one of the few local breweries to weather Prohibition. The brewery closed in the 1950s but has been resurrected with the goal of brewing classic heritage styles. This lager is brewed in the style of pre-Prohibition lagers — a true everyday beer.
Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com.