Summer drinks: Getting your cooler ready for the sunshine

May 27, 2015 at 12:04 pm

As the weather warms up, we’re starting to dip our toes, metaphorically speaking, into the beverages of summer. With a little prudent shopping (and the occasional gift basket from Powers Distributing), we have put together a collection of beverages we’ll be testing out for the next few weeks. This is by no means definitive, just a report from our ongoing explorations into mixing sunshine with alcohol.

The beers this season are light but classic. This summer is all about shandies, wheats, Kolsches, which, despite their lightness, bear little relation to mass-produced American beer. We’re talking full-flavored, all-malt, lighter-bodied ales. After a few decades of hop-forward IPAs and soaring IBUs, it seems now officially OK now to produce lighter beers meant to be ice-cold and slammed. Better still, some of these brews are canned, which makes them ideal for camping and cookouts.

On the non-beer side of things, the recent fascination with mixology is renewing our acquaintance with some classic ingredients and simple preparations. No need to slave while you’re poolside or at the beach; the best drinks require just ice and a slice of cucumber or a bit of citrus rind.

Motor City Brewing Works Summer Brew
This quickly became a classic. Order it at the brewpub and it’ll come with a half-round of orange in it, but this American-style wheat beer has citrus notes of its own. It’s available June through September, in sixers and 24-packs. Now, if only it came in cans.

Magic Hat Brewing Company’s Stealin’ Time Summer Wheat
What makes a good summer beer? Wheatiness doesn’t hurt. Maybe it’s the notes of fruit and ginger feel so refreshing. Or maybe it’s the gal in sunglasses winking at you on the label. Sure, Magic Hat does seem to try a bit too hard (a friend complains that they’re “always putting some random-ass shit in the beer), but if you have craft-averse friends, this might be a nice introduction.

Leinenkugel’s shandies
Yeah, it’s not a real craft brewery, but this division of SABMiller is doing some interesting things with the shandy idea. On Memorial Day weekend, we picked up a mixed case of shandies, which came in orange, grapefruit, and even a ginger shandy. That last variety was extremely sessionable, going down as smoothly as ginger ale on a hot day. Load up on those gingersnaps if you can find ’em.

Alaskan Brewing Company’s Summer Kolscsh-Style Ale
An IPA this isn’t, clocking in at 18 IBUs. And it drinks lighter than its golden straw color would suggest. Instead, it’s a buoyant balance of hops and malt, maybe a bit stronger in flavor than many Kolsch-style ales. Bonus: Made with glacier-fed water flowing from the Juneau Ice Field. That’s ice-cold, baby!

Lillet Blanc
This enhanced wine has been around since the late 1800s. It’s a favorite of chef James Rigato, who tells us, “It was popular like in the 1920s on cruise boats, kinda trickled over to America, and got mixed in with the cocktail scene. It’s an ingredient in the Vesper Martini or the Corpse Reviver, but it’s best on the rocks, in my opinion.” It has a golden raisin color, a lot of citrus notes from the liqueurs they blend in with it. It’s like a stiff glass of wine, good on ice with a lemon peel, and only costs about $18 a bottle.

Extra Dry Vermouth
Like the Lillet Blanc, a fortified wine can take center stage. Americans might sniff at the idea, that a glass of extra dry vermouth on ice is anything but an aperitif, but we’ve seen it practically guzzled in Milan. It’s inexpensive, aromatic, strong, and versatile enough to be shaken into something else if a mixologist is handy.