Summer and beer. Is there a better combination? (The answer is decidedly no.)
And what better way to celebrate sunny days and cool Midwestern nights than on the patio with a cold, crisp craft beer?
We at Garth’s Brew Bar did an informal survey of craft beer geek guests, team members, family, and friends to showcase our favorite beer and summer activity pairings. Try one out yourself, and be sure to tag us on social (@garthsbrewbar) when you post a pic of it.
Kayaking and West Coast IPAs
This combo is bold, sharp, and sometimes unforgiving. As waves knock furiously against your kayak, you fight the wind and reach down between your knees to crack open a piney and crisp West Coast IPA.
This beer style boasts a distinct copper color, medium body, and resiny flavor. Check out Sproose from Black Husky Brewing (Milwaukee, WI). They brew this boozy West Coast Style with actual spruce tips. It smells and tastes like a calm, dewy morning by the tent. What’s better than paddling to and from a secluded campsite? Enjoying a craft beer while doing it, of course!
Another great West Coast IPA option is Snake Hollow from Potosi Brewing Company (Potosi, WI). The Potosi region was once teeming with rattlesnakes, which is how this citrusy IPA got its name. Fair warning: Rattlesnakes can swim, so drink fast and paddle faster.
Bag Toss (Corn Hole) and Light Lagers
Picture this: The sun is beating down on your neck. You haven’t applied sunscreen in over two hours. You’re down 3 points. Reach into the cooler and retrieve your secret weapon – a clean, crisp light lager.
Light lagers are extremely prolific in macro-breweries, but many local craft breweries have more delicious versions. At the beginning of the year, we brewed Picture of a Picture, with Sahale Ale Works (Grafton, WI). This German-style Helles lager is light, slightly cloudy, and crushable at only 4.7% ABV. (For more on our collaboration brews, check out this post.)
There are a dozen more lager styles under the sun (but hopefully safe in your cooler). Czech-style pilsners have recently come into vogue, with several local craft breweries brewing up batches. Public Craft Brewing (Kenosha, WI) has an aptly named version – The Reality Czech. This style is lightly hopped with slightly sweet flavors of toasted biscuit and bread.
Whether you’re applying a cold can to your neck, or pouring it into a glass for a quick sip between tosses, a light lager is the right drink for corn hole.
Baseball Games / Tailgates and American Pale Ales
Take me out to the ball game! Take me out for a beer!
OK, so those aren’t the words. That shouldn’t stop you from cracking open a light hoppy American Pale Ale while enjoying America’s pastime.
This beer style is characterized by sessionable alcohol content and light body. It’s got all the hoppiness of an IPA without the boozy, malty finish of a double or triple.
With an alcohol content of just 6% ABV, Driftless Kick-Axe Pale Ale is the ideal baseball game companion. It’s light enough to allow belly room for peanuts and Cracker Jacks, but it still has citrusy hoppy notes that you won’t find in a typical light beer from the concession stand.
Boating and Fruited Sours
Have you ever noticed that lakes sometimes smell like, well, lakes? Our recco is that you cover up any unpleasant fishy aroma with a bright, fruity sour beer.
Fruited sours are usually quite sessionable, with light body, but tasty tart flavor. Perhaps the best part is that craft brewers have so many fruits to work with. Cherries, blueberries, blackberries, pineapple, yuzu, and more. It’s an adult juice while you soak up some rays on the pontoon deck.
The best part is that even when you drink it right from the can, you will typically get a good amount of aroma from the fruit, too.
For a regional craft beer option, there’s Sick Mix by Modist Brewing Co. (Minneapolis, MN). It’s a beautiful orange color, reminiscent of your favorite childhood orange powdered drink, and is stuffed full of apricots and raspberries.
Another fruited sour to check out is Bramble Brawl by G5 Brewing Company (Beloit, WI). (Note: We’re biased with this one!) We teamed up with G5 to brew this and we crammed it with blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, and raspberry. A true brawl of berries. They’re all fighting for your tastebuds’ attention. We also added a hint of vanilla and cinnamon to mellow out the brew and give it a bit of a pie-like experience.
Yardwork and Mexican Lagers
There’s some cathartic about clipping tree limbs or mowing the grass. As you push your mower through the blades, look back proudly upon your work, then whip out a refreshing Mexican lager.
Mexican lagers are extremely light beers that sometimes feature a hint of lime, lemon, or salt. What makes Mexican lagers different from a traditional American lager is the addition of flaked maize, which is corn that has been rolled through hot rollers to remove the germ, oil, and most of its protein. This dries the beer out and adds crispness. Additionally, with the protein stripped from the maize, the beer is super clear.
Don’t be fooled – we aren’t recommending a macro Mexican lager, which typically come in clear bottles. (Clear bottles are prone to extreme skunkiness.)
One of our favorite Mexican lagers is from 18th Street Brewery (Hammond, IN), suitably named Simply Mexican Lager. It’s clear as a summer day, and crisp as the blades of grass after being cut down by your mower.
608 Brewing (La Crosse, WI) also boasts an extraordinarily drinkable Mexican Lager. The brewer added lemon and lime zest into this one, giving it a subtle citrusy nose. This pairs well with the aroma of fresh-cut grass.
If the Mexican style doesn’t pique your interest, try out Dad Shoes by Public Craft Brewing (Kenosha, WI). The can art – a pair white sneakers with grass stains along the soles – should inspire a satisfying day cleaning the yard. It’s enough to motivate any craft beer drinker to pull some weeds.
Fire Pit and Barrel-aged Stouts
One of our favorite combos is relaxing by the campfire and sipping slowly on a barrel-aged stout. It is the perfect counterbalance for a summer day crushing light beers.
For some boozy, roasty regional options, check out Maplewood Brewing’s “Cuppa” series. The brewers at Maplewood have made this beer several ways, each with unique flavor additions. There’s Barrel-aged Cuppa Vanilla Rye, which has three different varieties of vanilla beans. Then there’s Barrel-aged Cuppa Breakfast, which includes coffee, maple, cocoa, and vanilla. Perhaps the latter will be reminiscent of a decaf coffee after a hearty dinner. (Don’t worry too much about the caffeine level in beer, by the way.)
No matter which variety you choose, a roasty, boozy barrel-aged stout pairs perfectly with a smoky and woody campfire. Even better, it’s easy to split with the friends who are likely to be around the fire with you, eyeing what you’ve brought and if you plan to share.
“-Ing” State of Mind
The beauty of Wisconsin is that it’s an “-ing” state: hiking, grilling, camping, kayaking.
This is one big reason that the best craft beer retailers and bottle shops focus on providing canned tall boys (16oz) and 12oz cans of craft beer. Cans, unlike glass, will stay safe in your backpack or boat, allow you to walk through parks carefree after seeing the sign “glassware prohibited,” and will ensure your beer doesn’t get lightstruck.
Who wants to clean up shattered glass from the bottom of your cooler or drink a skunked beer, anyway?
If you’re looking for a larger format size to share, consider getting a crowler (32oz) of draft beer. We teamed up with Pints & Panels to create a summer-specific, Wisconsin-themed crowler label, too.
If it’s not already there, perhaps it’s time to add “drinking” craft beer to your summer “-ing” list. You won’t regret it.