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This weekend is the official start of summer fun. A beer is definitely in order…but make sure you kick off your summer right — with good warm-weather beer. Spending Memorial Day with a six-pack of Guinness would be like pairing a fine cut of beef with a wineglass full of cat piss.
You want something light, refreshing and drinkable, that can go with grilling burgers and throwing horseshoes. Canned beers are great if you’re going to the beach or pool. And we’re talking three days of drinking here, so aim for something with low enough alcohol that you’ll actually remember how much you enjoyed your holiday weekend.
With those criteria in mind, here are our 11 best bets for kicking off summer 2013…and backup brews, just in case you can’t find the main picks.
1. Bell’s Oberon
Larry Bell has been brewing Oberon for nearly three decades, yet demand for this easy-drinking summer wheat from Michigan is as strong as ever. Maybe because it’s only available six months out of the year and in just 18 states. Bring a few to your Memorial Day barbecue and you’re sure to be a hero — more so the farther you are from Kalamazoo.
Backup Brew: Can’t score Bell’s? Swim across Lake Michigan and grab some cans of the less subtle, but equally quaffable Stevens Point Nude Beach Summer Wheat.
2. Samuel Adams Summer Ale
You don’t have to search far and wide to find a great summer beer. This is a super-smooth American wheat brewed with lemon zest and grains of paradise for nice hints of both citrus and spice. It’s consistently great year after year, and available everywhere. And in cans!
Backup Brew: We also give our summer seal of approval to Sam Adams’s new Double Agent IPL, an aggressively hopped lager that tastes like an IPA but drinks like a pilsner.
3. Harpoon Brewery UFO Hefeweizen
If you’re looking for more assertive wheat and yeast profiles, move right along to hefeweizen — a full-bodied style that still manages to be super-thirst-quenching. Harpoon’s American take on the traditional German brew is delightfully citrusy and clean, packing less of the banana punch you’ll often find in bigger hefes. Oh, yeah, and you can get it in cans, too.
Backup Brew: UFO is basically a hefeweizen light. If you want the real thing, you can’t go wrong with grabbing one of the originals: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier.
4. Pyramid Apricot Ale
Like a little kick in your wheat beers? Pyramid has been making its Apricot Ale since 1994, a time when putting fruit in American beer was almost unheard of. Twenty years on and it’s still one of the best brews to bring fruit into the mix — a tasty delight, especially on a hot summer day.
Backup Brew: Lots of breweries make fantastic apricot beers. Ithaca’s Apricot Wheat is especially close in profile to Pyramid’s.
5. The Bruery Hottenroth Berliner Weisse
Sour beers have become increasingly popular in beer geek circles. Their funky, often vinegary notes can be tough for the uninitiated to handle, so many of these brews might be a bit much for your casual Memorial Day barbecue. But they’re amazingly perfect for sipping in the hot sun. Berliner Wiesse is one of the more palatable sour styles: often tasting similar to ciders. The Bruery’s version is as good as any you can find in America. And it’s only 3% alcohol, so drink (pretty much) all you like.
Backup Brew: Need a Berliner Weisse that’s even smoother? Dogfish Head’s Festina Peche has added peach to accent the style’s already fruity characteristics.
6. Cigar City Jai Alai IPA
Possibly the most popular beer style today is the India pale ale. These super-hoppy brews (with scents ranging from lemony citrus to forest greens) can feel too aggressive for a hot day. But Cigar City is in Florida, so they know a thing or two about warm weather. Their Jai Alai IPA lands all those good tropical fruit flavors you want in a summer IPA, and it now comes in cans.
Backup Brew: Also new to cans is San Diego’s Ballast Point Sculpin IPA — another city that knows about the heat.
7. Founders All Day IPA
One of the biggest problems with IPAs is the ABV. Typically well over 6% alcohol, these big beers can put an end to your Memorial Day weekend by sundown on Saturday. Luckily, there’s been a push towards lower alcohol “session” IPAs like Founders All Day IPA. It has all the hoppy goodness but at only 4.7% alcohol. That’s less than a Budweiser. It’ll keep you in the game. The drinking game! It’s also the only Founders brew sold in cans (as any good “all day” beer should be).
Backup Brew: Lagunitas DayTime IPA is the same concept and tastes just as good. Bad news: It isn’t available until July.
8. Yards Philadelphia Pale Ale
Before the advent of easy-drinking India pale ales, people were stuck drinking good ol’ fashioned regular pale ales. The best ones tend to be light and citrusy, perfect for warm weather. A favorite American pale is the Yards Philadelphia Pale Ale, but with hoppy beers, the fresher the better so you don’t lose any hop character to aging. Your best bet is to find a great locally brewed pale ale near you.
Backup Brew: A couple other favorites in different locales are the Sun King Osiris Pale Ale in Indianapolis and the Drake’s 1500 Pale Ale in the California Bay Area…but there are plenty more.
9. Victory Prima Pils
We’ve dug through a lot of ales, but most beers sold in America (Budweiser, Miller, Coors) are lagers — specifically, the clean and crisp lager style known as pilsner. These light characteristics make all pilsners refreshing beers for the summer, but possibly the best example of a pilsner in America is the Victory Prima Pils. It’s loaded with a solid bitter backbone that the big American brews lack.
Backup Brew: Sly Fox’s Pikeland Pils is another great take on the traditional pilsner style, and it’s available in cans!
10. Pabst Blue Ribbon
All right, you’re beer-geeked out. Let’s get back to the basics. As Dennis Hopper famously said in the movie “Blue Velvet,” “F*** that s***! Pabst Blue Ribbon!” And it’s a perfectly acceptable brew. In fact, you know who won gold for American-Style Lager, Light Lager or Premium Lager at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival? That’s right — Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Backup Brew: Miller High Life is another macrobrew that drinks better for summer. But it’s all up to your tastes.
11. Modelo Especial
American beers aren’t your thing? Who knows how to make warm-weather beers better than Mexico? When you go for cerveza, you can’t go wrong with Modelo Especial. It’s got a natural lemon essence that makes it tastier than maltier Mexican beers like Tecate.
Backup Brew: If you want to go even farther south of the border, try impressing friends by bringing the most popular beer in Colombia: Cerveza Aguila — similar in style to Modelo but a little milder.