August/September 2005, The Beers of Summer
(download print edition)

The mission of the Beer Beacon is to guide the GLBN readership to the best beers available in the Great Lakes region. To this end, an informal tasting is convened at a local pub before every issue, and a team of tasters (some expert and some novice) sample a variety of selected beers available on draft and/or in bottles throughout the region. The theme for this month's column is "Summer Beers", and a variety of bottled seasonals were blind-tasted and rated on a scale of zero to five mugs. The tasting was carried out at the Pizza Plant Italian Pub (Walker Center location) in Williamsville, New York.

Leinenkugel Honey Weisse
124 E. Elm St., Chippewa Falls WI 54729
The first beer sampled was Leinenkugel's Honey Weisse, described by the brewer as a refreshing American style wheat beer with a clean, crisp and sweet taste. Taster reviews were mixed; Karl and Pasty described the beer as delicious, smooth, quenching and likable. Others were impressed with the aroma, but found the body to be on the lighter side. Overall, the tasters agreed that, if served ice cold, Leinenkugel's Honey Weisse would make for a satisfying way to beat the summer heat.

Ithaca Apricot Wheat
606 Elmira Rd., Ithaca NY 14850
This wheat beer from Ithaca Brewing is infused with apricot puree to produce a light-bodied beer intended for the easy-drinking days of summer. Some of the tasters found the fruity nose and malty sweetness of the beer to be overwhelming, and Hop Jack suggested that more hops were needed to balance things out. Other tasters enjoyed the fruity malt character and felt that the combination of sweetness and apricot tartness worked well. Like the Honey Weisse, it was agreed that the Apricot Wheat would be most refreshing when served ice cold.

Victory Whirlwind Witbier
20 Acorn Lane, Downingtown PA 19335
Victory's summer offering is a Belgian-style white beer produced using imported Belgian yeast. It is a delicate beer with a spicy aroma and body that the tasters generally found both enjoyable and refreshing. Hop Jack described it as "very nice, a good example of the style - balanced and refreshing". Annie inferred the witbier style and called it "gentle, with a characteristic banana-clove finish". Meanwhile, Vinny thought Victory's interpretation of the style was "clean and refreshing - it's simple but it works". Pasty registered a dissenting opinion, calling the beer soapy: "It smelled like soap. It tasted like soap…not good for a beer".

Unibroue Blanche de Chambly
80 Des Carrieres, Chambly QU J3L 2H6 CANADA
The 4th beer to be sampled was Blanche de Chambly from Unibroue. It is a white ale that is lightly-hopped and partially filtered so that the beer contains fresh yeast in suspension. Relative to the Victory Whirlwind, tasters agreed that the Blanche de Chambly offering was a lighter, perhaps blander, interpretation of the style. While some tasters faulted the beer for its bland quality, others found Blanche de Chambly to be quite enjoyable. Vinny enjoyed the beer's lingering tartness and Pasty (who strongly disliked the Whirlwind) called it "the most traditional beer yet, a common beer for the common man."

Anchor Summer Beer
1705 Mariposa St., San Francisco CA 94107
Anchor's summer offering surprised most of the tasters, as they expected more from such a reputable brewery. It is an all-malt brew, with more than half the malt coming from malted wheat. The beer has been around since 1984 and is the first modern American wheat beer. While the brewers intend Anchor Summer Beer to be light and refreshing, most tasters found the beer to be too light and lacking in flavor. As a summer beer, Vinny and Pasty found that Anchor's brew grew on them. Vinny enjoyed the "sweet berry nose" and thought the body started out mediocre but developed into something reminiscent of a pale-ale at the finish.

Blue Point Summer Ale
161 River Avenue, Patchogue NY 11772
Blue Point Brewing produces its Summer Ale using a blend of wheat and barley malt. A dash of lemon and a secret ingredient are added to give the beer a light and quenching citrus flavor. Tasters liked the pilsner quality of the beer and Magistrate commented that the "malty pilsner nose smelled great - like Urquell." Although the beer lacked a solid hop finish, it was generally appreciated as a good summer beer that could be taken hiking (Pasty) and would go well with a picnic lunch (Karl). Vinny has had Blue Point Summer Ale on draft and maintains that it is "totally different on tap."

Southern Tier Hop Sun
PO Box 166, 2051A Stoneman Circle, Lakewood NY 14750
Southern Tier's Hop Sun was the best reviewed of the eight sampled summer beers. This wheat beer is filtered and dry hopped, resulting in a refreshing session beer that is meant to accompany a variety of summer activities. Annie commented that the beer "combines the notion of summer with a pale-ale", and Hop Jack found it to be "well-balanced -- my kind of summer beer." Meanwhile, Vinny detected some spice and a hint of lemon in the body, which had "a nice, fresh hop follow through."

Wolaver's Organic Pale Ale
793 Exchange St., Middlebury VT 05753
Based out of Middlebury, Vermont, Wolaver's line of organic ales is distributed throughout the northeast and in an increasing number of Great Lakes states. Wolaver's Organic Pale Ale is made in the classic American Pale Ale style using certified organic barley and hops, resulting in a full-bodied beer with a characteristic hop finish. The tasters agreed that the organic pale ale showed promise and were inclined to regard the beer as a work in progress. Annie "wanted more out of it" and Pasty concurred that the beer "started out good, but is not quite there." Other tasters enjoyed the body and hop finish, but described the nose as "very faint" (Hop Jack), and "like a [paper] ballot" (Vinny). Hop Jack commented on the "harsher bitterness" of organic ales and noted that organic brewing is in its infancy and should be expected to improve with time.

For the most part, the tasters found something they liked in each of the eight summer beers that were sampled. The tasters generally found the selected beers to be "average", "pretty mild", "traditional", and/or "light". Judging by these adjectives, many self-proclaimed hop-heads will no doubt regard such beers with a certain level of disdain. But on a hot summer day, is there anything quite as refreshing as a light-bodied beer with a mild hop finish? Maybe that's what summer beers are all about.

--- by L. Shawn Matott, Beer Beacon columnist

Reviews Listed by Brewery
Taster Profiles

Comments on Beer Beacon should be directed to

Copyright 2005, Great Lakes Brewing News