Everyone remember the beginning of July when it was 40º C and really gross? I looked in my fridge and it was full of all the usual beer geek delights – IPAs and pale ales, a couple of porters and stouts, the odd strong bottle left over from spring and a good chunk of sours that had just returned from Belgium. There were some great beers, but I didn’t want to drink any of them. I wanted something lighter, more refreshing and a beer that wouldn’t challenge my taste buds too drastically on the way down. At the same time, I still desired something with character and a beer that would match well with the lighter foods that constitute summer cooking. (I live in a BBQ-less universe, so my wife makes a lot of delicious grain salads in the summer.) I also wanted a beer that could easily be transported around town (both from the LCBO and to summer gatherings) so I limited my options to cans.
I went shopping to a couple of LCBOs without checking what they had in stock and started picking an assortment of beers. My carts were filled with cans from around the globe – European lagers nestled next to Ontario craft beers and I even threw in some of the retro hipster brands from the Big Boys. Most of the beers I hadn’t tried in years and it seemed only fair to give everyone a chance at being my mainstay for the summer months. My hope was to find something that would be available at most LCBOs in order to maximize convenience, while not giving up taste. Ideally the beer was also going to be 5% ABV or less and available in tall boys, though it didn’t matter if they were lagers or ales.
I used to have a favourite can for summer, back when Muskoka canned the Hefe Weiss. Since then the brand has been changed to Summer Weiss, went to big bottles (then six packs) and lost me along the way. At the time, it seemed like it was going to be a long, hot summer and I knew that my current beer selection would not do. Of course, the summer has turned out to be relatively mild and it has been easy to drink whatever a beer geek fancies, but I kept going through with my quest. The weather is supposed to heat up in Toronto this week, so this may be the last chance to release my findings at an appropriate time.
A couple of early offerings were Ontario beers that hadn’t crossed my palate in some time, but neither the Wellington Best Bitter or Muskoka Cream Ale matched what I was looking for (a little too much malt in the former, while the latter just made no sense to my taste buds). The hipster retro offerings (Molson Old Style Pilsner and Labatt 50) were more exciting than your average industrial beer, but neither would be able to hold my interest over the course of the summer.
Next up were some middle of the road offerings – Cameron’s Lager and the Hogtown Ale (which is of the Kölsch family). Two beers that were easy to drink and with a bit more complexity than the ones listed above, but they didn’t stand out from the pack. The Cameron’s Lager was clean with lots of cereal grains coming though, but too empty in the finish. The Hogtown Ale had some noble hop characteristics that were nice and helped create a dry finish, but the beginning was too sweet and the beer lacked some finesse. It is also only available in Toronto, which isn’t helpful for the rest of the province.
That Pilsner Urquell would be one of the top two choices is probably not a surprise. It is the classic example of a Bohemian lager, well balanced and with a great evolution from start to finish. This is a refreshing beer, while still being very tasty and intriguing. The second beer that will be a mainstay for hot days is the Steam Whistle Pilsner. Most beer geeks relegate Steam Whistle as one of the beers they drink when nothing else is available, which is a disservice to this beer. It won’t do the trick for those times when you’re craving a pale ale, IPA or stout, but works quite nicely when you’re drinking a fresh can on a hot day. It avoids the lager trap of being too sweet and just feels right for those really hot days. Plus, it’s just about impossible to walk into an LCBO and find some cans. I’ll admit that Steam Whistle wouldn’t have been my guess for a beer to come out on top of this exercise, but maybe the beer has slowly worn me down through the years.
So that was my very unscientific experiment of the summer. There will probably be people that say, “I can’t believe you didn’t try (insert beer name)!” but remember that I just went to an LCBO and picked what was available. I also purposefully avoided hoppy beers like Crazy Canuck, because there are enough of those in my fridge and the whole point was to look for something different. If you’ve got a go to summer can for hot days, camping trips or park afternoons, let me know in the comments.