While the venerable Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) meticulously defines 28 styles of beer, most of which have between three and five subcategories, "summer beer" is not one of them. ("Christmas/Winter Specialty Spiced Beer" is present.) There are more instances of summer-beer shunning, but our space is limited; just know the vaguely defined-yet-immensely popular seasonal concept (BeerAdvocate's website currently lists 1,175 beers with "summer" in the name) has been open for interpretation, from brewers to consumers, for decades.
According to Bellport Cold Beer & Soda's Dave Schultzer, owner of arguably Long Island's best spot to buy beer to-go, "summer beers should be light, refreshing, and perfect company on a hot afternoon while I'm grilling something on the barbecue." We asked Schultzer, affectionately known as "Bellport Dave," to employ that criteria to pick his five favorite brews—all available to purchase at his store—to drink in the summer:
Blue Point Summer Ale
I’ve had a long and great relationship with Mark and Pete [Burford and Cotter, respectively, founders of Blue Point], and I can still remember when they first started out, driving around Suffolk County in a beat-up van with a dog in the front seat trying to sell Toasted Lager. It was truly a grassroots thing, and I’m really proud of how much Blue Point has grown, and what it represents to both Long Island and Long Islanders. I’m also proud to say that Bellport Cold Beer & Soda was their first non-family retail account, and at the time—this before the days of stores filling growlers—we sold pre-packaged growlers of Blue Point’s Oatmeal Stout, Toasted Lager and ESB. As the brewery grew, they started introducing more and more beers in more packaging formats, and one of those was Summer Ale, which quickly became one of my favorites. Even though “summer ale” is more of a mind state than a specific style, this is what I would consider its archetype: a golden beer in the style of a blonde ale, heavy on the wheat malt to give it a slight tartness, light lemon and citrus flavors and aromas, all blended together to sip effortlessly at the beach.
My idea of globetrotting is traveling west past Route 112, so unfortunately I’ve never been to Germany. But I can always get there in my mind because of the selection of great German beers we’ve grown at the store over the years. Before craft beer became as big as it is now, it was all about the imports from Belgium and Germany. I think in the late 90s we had about 20 German brands, which was unheard of the time. Due to the success of those 16.9 ounce-bottled originals like Franziskaner and Paulaner, they ushered in the next wave, which included Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, still considered the best hefeweizen out in the market. The hefeweizen is a style that many summer beers are based on, and you’ll always find a high percentage of wheat. (“Weissbier” literally means “wheat beer.”) But here the yeast plays the most crucial role in the recipe, producing beautiful phenolic flavors of banana, clove and bubblegum that play well with a dry, slightly sharp finish. Also: The prefix “Hefe” means “with yeast,” hence why the beer is unfiltered and cloudy. Its complex flavor profile makes it a great summer beer to accompany some grilled goodies with a sweet barbecue sauce on it. Poultry and fish go best, but it all works.
21st Amendment Hell Or High Watermelon
Like clockwork, once the first hint of warm weather flows into Bellport our customers start begging for Hell Or High Watermelon. I can’t tell you how much this beer sells every summer. It’s a lot. When August hits and people know its seasonal production period is coming to an end, they start stockpiling cases just to last them through the fall. For me, Hell Or High has become a tailgating staple because it’s an easy-drinking and flavorful beer I can share with my Mets fan friends, many of whom don’t really drink craft beer. This is a wheat beer, which many summer beers are, but the difference here is that it’s fermented using fresh watermelon giving it a pleasant lightly sweet quality that never feels like a sugarbomb. I often describe this beer as "crushable,” because the first time I drank it I easily drank a ton. Best of all, due to the low alcohol percent these cans can be pounded all day while mowing the lawn and barbecuing up a meal for the family without ever running the risk of falling down (or into the barbecue).
Tröegs Sunshine Pils
Before one of my best friends, Rich Thatcher, worked in the store, he was a customer. And I remember him regularly coming in to buy Tröegs’ Sunshine Pils in the summer and speaking highly of it. Once I decided to try it, I was hooked, and I still am even more than a decade later. People talk a lot about Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale being the best gateway into craft beer, and I agree. But you can’t have the conversation without mentioning Sunshine Pils somewhere, especially since it’s a pilsner like so many “macro” lagers. Here, though, you have a crafty twist on the classic pilsner style with a little more hoppiness. This beer has everything one needs in the summer: a light body, crispness, and a bold but not overbearing flavor. It’s great to drink with some fish fresh off the grill or a summer salad as the flavor of both the food and the beer don’t get lost.
Spider Bite Boris The Spider
This is my go-to nighttime summer beer, perfect near the end of a barbecue when the weather starts to get a tad cooler but none of us want to call it a night yet. Spider Bite is in Holbrook, and I was able to try a lot of the brewery’s beers before they became a brewery. And I remember tasting the first iteration of Boris The Spider from Larry [Goldstein, co-owner and brewmaster of Spider Bite] years back and being blown away. Sure, it’s a high-alcohol beer and it seems intimidating at first, but it drinks so easy! I love its roastiness and distinct chocolate and coffee notes. But for me, I really like it because I like to have some crazy seasoned grilled meats and often these foods will mask the flavors of traditional summer beers. Not so with this one. To go back to my earlier point, one of the other things I really enjoy during the summer is to sit outside at the end of the night and smoke a good cigar. This is a beer that can stand up to that cigar. And it may also help you sleep better.
All five beers are available now at Bellport Cold Beer & Soda (417 Station Road, Bellport; 631-286-0760; bellportbeer.com).
Photo: Rob Seifert