Weather-wise, Minnesotans are doubly blessed. Following winter's deep freeze, we get to suffer the sweaty swelter of summer. Fortunately, we're also blessed with local breweries that craft seasonal specialties to enhance our enjoyment of this meteorological good fortune. As the weather warms, these brewers pack away their heavy winter-warmers in favor of lighter, easier-drinking summer suds.
Lagers are the ultimate summer "lawn-mower" beers. Crisp, clean and refreshing, they go down easily after a hot day of yard work. Summit Pilsner is a great choice for locally brewed lager. This classic Czech pilsner puts the emphasis on hops with assertive bitterness and perfumed aromas overlaying smooth, grainy-sweet malt.
Or try Hell from Surly Brewing. "Hell" means "light" in German, and that perfectly describes this golden Munich Helles style beer. Less bitter than a pilsner, Surly Hell maintains a delicate balance of bready-sweet pils malt and spicy European hops.
For similar character in a rounder, lightly fruity ale version, look for Lonely Blond, the draft-only summer release from newcomer Fulton Beer.
One of my favorite summer beer styles is saison. This Belgian farmhouse ale was originally brewed as a low-alcohol quencher to hydrate thirsty farmhands. Today's saisons are heftier, but still light and effervescent, with a dry finish and abundant fruit and black pepper notes. There are two local examples to choose from. Lift Bridge Brewery's Farm Girl is a light, hazy, golden ale that drinks like a lager but with Belgian yeast complexity. Surly Cynic Ale is fuller bodied, with more of the unique spice and fruit that defines the style.
Another great summer style is hefeweizen or German wheat beer. One of the best locally is brewed at the Town Hall Brewpub in Minneapolis. Light and citrusy with the characteristic banana and clove German yeast flavors, it goes down so easily that you will have to remind yourself to slow down, lest you drink the whole glass in one go.
Other unusual summer selections include Flat Earth Brewing's Sunburst Ale and Lift Bridge's Minnesota Tan. Or head to Herkimer Brewpub in Minneapolis for a gose (pronounced GO-suh). It's a rare German ale from the time before lagers conquered Europe. It originated near Leipzig, where lightly saline water gave this tart wheat ale a pleasant saltiness that enhanced the bready malt.
Lift Bridge's Minnesota Tan is a Belgian triple-style ale with lingonberries; its pink color reminded the brewers of that first summer "tan." This strong Belgian ale has a dry finish that keeps it light, with the lingonberries providing a refreshing, cranberry-like tartness to balance the beer's malty sweetness. Minnesota Tan will be available in bottles this year for the first time.
To make Sunburst Ale, Flat Earth infuses its Belgian Pale Ale with apricots. The juicy, fruity infusion blends with and enhances the stone-fruit notes in the beer. Combined with the biscuity malt flavors, it makes for a beer that reminds one of apricot cobbler. It is one of my personal favorite locally crafted offerings. Sunburst is available only on draft or in growlers directly from the brewery.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.