Craft beer can be intimidating to people who are used to drinking pale lagers or who say they don’t like beer because it tastes bad (which really means that it tastes like a macro lager). The notion of different beers styles may be confusing and/or scary, especially if you don’t know what that Belgian wheat beer or pale ale is supposed to taste like. They may jump into the deep end with an American IPA and then never head back in the sweet, malty water. So I created this little cheat sheet of beers that are fairly accessible, both in terms of taste and availability in Ontario (suck it, rest of Canada/the world!). Summer really is the best time to begin your journey with craft beer, so print this list and take it with you the next time you buy your booze.
I haven’t included any of the LCBO Summer Release beers, because they are already in convenient list form and will only be around for a short while.
Before you buy a wheat beer, it is important to know that there are two types: German and Belgian. The subsection of German wheat beers known as (hefe)weissbiers are usually full of banana and bubblegum flavours, with a golden or straw coloured body (Note: If you see the dunkelweiss, it’s a different ballgame, at least in turns of colour and malt profile). Belgian wheat beers (aka. white or wit beers) are often made with cloves, orange peel and/or coriander, with the flavours to match. Hoegaarden is the Belgian wheat beer that most drinkers are familiar with. Some other notable wheats are:
Denison’s Weissbier (Ratebeer) – The third best German wheat beer in the world (according to Ratebeer) is available in cans in the GTA and environs. Not as consistent in cans as it is on tap (found at better beer bars), it is still great for camping or at the softball diamond. Subtle, nuanced and thirst-quenching.
Mill Street Belgian Wit (Ratebeer) – Why buy Hoegaarden when you can get a local beer for less? Cloudy and spicy, making it just as authentic as the ones from Belgium.
Muskoka Summer Weisse (Ratebeer) – Another German take, this one is very sweet with a lot of lemon. The newer format may not be as convenient for drinking on a dock or while playing the sport of your choosing, but put it on the table when you’ve got company and impress your guests.
Amsterdam Oranje Weiss (Ratebeer) – Chris Schryer (at the Toronto Beer Blog) has a nice piece on the title, but the most important thing is that this wheat beer gently mixes the orange flavour with cloves and anise.
Weihenstephan Weissbier (Ratebeer) – A number of excellent German (ie. from Germany) wheat beers are available through the LCBO (see: Schneider and Paulaner) and I highly recommend trying them all. I’m confident that you’ll find the Weihenstephan to be the best of the group. It pummels the palate with banana and bubblegum, pours with a great head and typifies the season in a glass.
When most people think of beers for summer, they think of lagers. Clean, crisp, and refreshing are the typical words associated with a nice pilsner, all attributes to look for when seeking out a beer on a hot day. Not usually a style I am a fan of, but these three beers would be welcome in my fridge.
Czechvar Budvar (Ratebeer) – If friends ask, just say this is the originial Budweiser. Crisp biscuit malts up front, but a dry, hoppy finish that will keep you interested after more than one.
King Pilsner (Ratebeer) – The standout Ontario beer in this category. Possibly a little milder in the hops than the other two beers, but every bit as delicious.
Pilsner Urquell (Ratebeer) – The classic pilsner, make sure to buy the canned version as opposed to the green bottles. The bottles will let in light that makes for skunky beer, whereas the cans will keep fresh longer. Maybe owned by a big company, but still brewed without additives.
You don’t need to understand the science (ale yeasts used at lager temperatures) so enjoy these beers. They combine the best of both worlds: the cripsness of lagers with the fruitiness of ales.
Anchor Steam (Ratebeer) – A little maltier than your average lager, this is still a very refreshing beer with an added caramel sweetness. Dry finish, but not overly hoppy.
Beaus Lug Tread Lagered Ale (Ratebeer) – Freshness is really importance with a lot of beers, which is why it helps to get them from an Ontario craft brewer – you get the beer as soon as it is made. The Lug Tread excels early on – crisp, clean, but with a noticeable grassiness that adds character to this easy sipper. Great for people looking to crossover from the likes of Bud and Canadian.
The pale ale family is one of the broadest styles and the one I still find the most confusing thanks to the slightly ambiguous boundaries between the different varieties. Luckily, no one will ask you to define the various characteristics of pale ales when you purchase these beers. These beers go well with a wide range of foods, including burgers and hot dogs.
Black Oak Pale Ale (Ratebeer) – Always a stand-by of mine for the citrusy hops, biscuit malt and bitter finish. Essentially, it is refreshing but won’t bore your taste buds.
Great Lakes Crazy Canuck Pale Ale (Ratebeer) – I already know that this will be my most recommended beer of the summer. An excellent balanced beer – the citrus plays right into the hoppy finish, while the body perfectly sits between refreshing and satisfying. Nice for an evening session or a daytime thirst quench.
Black Creek Pale Ale (Ratebeer) – A subtler version of a pale ale, the Black Creek is more akin to an English ale. Fruity, with caramel and pine. Doesn’t try to hit you over the head with any element, but just lets the flavours play out on the tongue.
This should be self-explanatory: fruit beers are made with either real fruit or an extract that is added. They may have a girlie reputation or be frowned upon by some beer geeks, but these beers deserve a fair chance. Best served with dessert.
Mort Subite Framboise (Ratebeer) or Kriek (Ratebeer) – These beers are both heavy on the fruit (raspberries and cherries, respectively), but contain enough acidity to provide balance. Subtle lambic elements, meaning they work for discerning palates or your parents.
Amsterdam Framboise (Ratebeer) – Once again, a fruit beer that comes through on its promise. This is a sweeter raspberry beer than the Mort Subite, but the best local fruit beer by far.
Creemore Kellerbier (Ratebeer) – A great lager for fans of ales. The cereal element is there, but with some orange peel and black pepper notes. This years version also ups the profile with some roasted tones.
Flying Monkeys Netherworld Cascadian Dark Ale (Ratebeer) – Don’t be scared of a little malt in the summer. A bit of roasted flavour can be a nice contrast to a seasons worth of biscuit and pale malts. They key is to make sure there is a hoppy or dry finish, which is why a black IPA/cascadian dark ale is perfect. You can’t always judge a beer by its colour.
This is obviously not a complete list, but my favourite beers that will most likely be in my fridge for the next two months. The pale ale and pilsner categories are noticeably small, so don’t be afraid to branch out beyond this list and find your new favourite beer. Even better, grab a bunch of pale ales or pilsners and a bunch of friends for a backyard/cottage tasting party. Isn’t that what summer is for – good friends and good beer?