Beer is made for long summer days: it’s mostly water, fairly low in alcohol, refreshing and hydrating. The only difficulty is coping with the vast array of choice on offer as new styles, brands and breweries – both micro and mainstream – emerge.
With so much on offer, which should you look out for – especially today, on National Beer Day?
Not as well known as lager, but great for summer, are sour beers. No, I haven’t gone mad. Some styles are deliberately sour. It may not shout this on the label, so read the tasting notes or look for names and terms such as “Berliner Weisse”, “Gose”, “lambic” and “gueuze”.
Think of these as acidic rather than sour, in the same way acidity is a positive characteristic of wine. Adventurous brewers are making sour beers inspired by lambic and gueuze from Belgium or Berliner Weisse and Gose from Germany. The former gets a cider-like sourness from wild yeast, the latter are wheat beers given tart flavours by adding special bacteria and, in the case of Gose, salt and herbs.
It sounds odd but the results are delicious. Modern versions often also incorporate wonderful fruity flavours from hops and make a sophisticated summer tipple sipped from pretty flutes.
Beer is perfect for picnics, too, and the craft beer movement has prompted the return of the can. Not only are cans lightweight, they are also brilliant at keeping beer fresh because they protect the contents from light.
Once the holiday season kicks in and the sun is shining, there’s a temptation to get stuck into all-day drinking. Cue “session IPAs” – another beer style imported from the US. They have all the piny, resinous hop bitterness of a US IPA but less of the alcohol so you can put away a few pints without feeling too much the worse for wear the next day. It’s something the British excel at and the Americans have learnt from our brewers.
Or you can simply soak up the booze by pairing beer and food – something Americans could teach us about. Whether it’s a malty amber beer with a burger or a tangy lambic with shellfish, you’ll find plenty of bars in the US include suggested beer pairings on their menus, but few British pubs follow suit.
For some diehard beer drinkers, all such trends are anathema. Fear not. Traditional British beers are not only alive and well, but also great for putting you in the holiday mood.
Keep cool with the best brews in cans
Moor Beer Raw (4.3%)
Bristol-based Moor Beer has done the best job of putting beer in cans I’ve come across. Raw is a modern British bitter, drinkable and liberally hoppy but without being overly bitter or in-your-face. I could drink this one all day. Available from Honest Brew.
Beavertown Holy Cowbell (5.6%)
Just because it’s sunny doesn’t mean you can’t drink dark beer. Described as an India stout, this beer is packed with German and American hops and a slew of special malts to create a zesty delight entwined with black coffee and dark chocolate flavours. Available from Honest Brew.
Brooklyn Brewery Brooklyn Lager (5.2%)
American-brewed amber lager made in the style of an Austrian beer – but don’t let that put you off. It’s a tasty balance of caramel malt and peppery hops that will convince even the most stubborn ale fan. Perfect for washing down whatever you’ve cooked on your portable/beach barbecue. Available from Beer Ritz.
BrewDog Elvis Juice (6.5%)
As juicy as its name suggests but not as grapefruity as a grapefruit-infused IPA sounds like it will be. It’s a memorable IPA with lots of peachy hops kept super-fresh by being in a can. Available from Morrisons.
Redwell Brewery Steam Lager (4.6%)
Someone described this to me as having an aroma of crushed Hobnobs and drinking like a liquid biscuit. It’s fruitier than some lagers but still fairly crisp; perfect for a summer’s evening as the sun drops but the day remains warm. Available from Tesco.
Sour beers to sip in the sunshine
Wild Beer Co Wild Goose Chase (4.5%)
Tangy and tart with a suggestion of cider about it. It always makes me want fresh goat’s cheese and crusty bread. Available from Honest Brew.
Magic Rock Salty Kiss (4.1%)
Made with gooseberries, sea buckthorn and salt there’s perfect bitter-sweet balance, juicy fruitiness, a savoury edge with soft acidity that leads to a tiny curl of the lip with each sip Delicious. Available from Honest Brew
Siren Craft Brew Calypso (4%)
Made in the style of a Berliner-Weisse, a sour German wheat beer. This is tart and spritzy rather than sour; extremely refreshing and light-bodied with a fruity, thirst-quenching finish. Available from Honest Brew
St Austell Small Batch Brews Steady as She Gose (4.5%)
A soft, juicy beer with apricot flavours contributed by the hops. It’s also noticeably – but subtly – flavoured with coriander and Cornish sea salt. Available from St Austell Brewery Shop.
Cantillion Rosé De Gambrinus (5%)
This pinky-red coloured beer is a frambozen, a lambic to which real raspberries have been added. Everything about it is summery from its colour and its flowery aroma to the tart and refreshing flavour which tastes like raspberry sorbet. Available from Beer Hawk.
Great lagers for long summer days
Brewdog Kingpin (4.7%)
Clean-tasting and easy-drinking brassy-gold-coloured brew with soft hoppy bitterness, a hint of lemon and a pleasing dry finish. Available from Beer Hawk.
Cheshire Brewhouse Dane’ish (5%)
A clean, brisk, light and malty lager with a decent smattering of British hoppiness. Summer simplicity. Available from Hop Hideout.
Pig & Porter Neither Nor (5%)
Not 100 per cent lager as the name suggests. This is a hybrid lager-pale ale, boldly aiming to convert lager drinkers. It’s not too bitter, but still fairly hoppy – with a good deal of fruity character. Available from BeerGoggles.
Pilsner Urquell (4.4%)
Lager was invented in Pilsen in the Czech Republic and this claims to be the original. It has a bready, floral aroma and a soft but obvious hop bitterness balanced with gently sweet malt. Widely available including at Sainsbury’s
Westerham Brewery Bohemian Rhapsody (5%)
Clean, refreshing lager, brewed in Kent, but in the style of a Czech pilsner. Expect relatively high levels of hop bitterness from saaz hops – which adds to the refreshment on a hot day. It’s also gluten free. Available from Westerham Brewery.
Founders Brewing Co All Day IPA (4.7%)
This was the beer that introduced me – and many others – to session IPAs. It’s American IPA’s baby sister. Aromas and flavours of spruce, pine and grapefruit threaded through with other tropical fruit and citrus flavours, such as peach and orange, and IPA-levels of bitterness. Available from Beer Hawk.
Beavertown Neck Oil (4.3%)
Seven hop varieties give this brew a big, pithy grapefruit bitterness. It’s beer that’s not for the faint hearted despite the relatively low ABV. Available from Honest Brew.
Northern Monk Eternal (4.1%)
One of very few British beers to win a medal at the recent World Beer Cup. Oily, piney bitterness gives way to fruit salad and then digestive biscuit flavours from the malted barley which gives the beer its balance. Available from Beer Hawk.
Vocation Heart & Soul (4.4%)
Passion fruit and pine are the main flavours in this drinkable but resinously bitter beer from Hebden Bridge. Available from Beer Hawk.
Saugatuck Backyard IPA (4.5%)
Tropically fruity zesty and assertive bitterness washes over your tongue with blunt force delight (rather than trauma) in this beer from Michigan, USA. Available from Beers of Europe.
Traditional British favourites
Westerham Brewery Scotney Bitter (4.3%)
Don’t be fooled by the aromas of plums and fruitcake – although there’s good body in this bitter it’s very drinkable. Marmaladey hop bitterness is perfectly balanced with wholemeal-bread-like malts. Available from Westerham Brewery.
Westerham Brewery for Marks & Spencer 9 Hop Kent Pale Ale (4%)
This is a lip-smacking English pale ale with an assertively hoppy earthy-peppery flavour, subtle soft lemon notes and balancing malts that taste almost savoury. Available exclusively at Marks & Spencer
Five Points Railway Porter (4.8%)
Dark beer in summer is the drinking equivalent of going into the shade when it gets too hot. This is a classy, fairly traditional example of a beer that used to be London’s vernacular brew. It’s subtle, but satisfying, malt-driven and rocks flavours of chocolate and coffee with a gently dry hop finish. Available from Honest Brew.
Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter (3.5%)
Although I’d rather drink the cask version, this classic bitter’s low ABV makes it a great summer drink. It’s a delicate balance of biscuity malts and peppery somewhat citrussy hop flavours. Available from Waitrose.
Timothy Taylor’s Landlord (4.3%)
Classic British pale ale, thirst-quenching and hoppy and, because of its citrus notes, brilliant with fish and chips on your staycation. Available from Tesco.
Foodie beers to pair with salads, sausages and ice cream
Goddard’s Brewery Wight Squirrel (4.3%)
Available in mini casks (about nine pints). Malt-led and laced with lovely biscuity and chocolate notes – but isn’t too sweet. A great match for burgers and sausages as well as roasted meats. Available from Goddards Brewery.
Anchor Brewing Anchor Porter (5.6%)
On its own this is more a winter beer, but it’s lovely in summer paired with vanilla ice cream. The flavours work together like a choc ice. Available from Beer Hawk.
Opperbacco Tripping Flowers (6.3%)
This Italian saison is great with crab salads. It smells clean and floral and it’s pleasantly dry and snappy with delicate honey and lemon flavours. Food brings out floral notes and a palate cleansing-zesty tang. Available from Beers from Italy.
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (the classic Märzen is 5.1%; they also make an Urbock, 6.5%, and a wheat beer, 5.2%)
Share a bottle of this beech-smoked beauty with friends – and a plate of cold meats and cheeses. Available from Beer Hawk
Branscombe Vale Brewery Summa That (5%)
Pair this pale ale with light salads such as prawns or chicken. Its hoppy flavours cut through creamy dressings to refresh the palate and make prawns taste extra juicy. Available from Tuckers Maltings.