Editor's note: We're making a few changes in our wine-and-spirits coverage. Michael Agnew will be writing once a month on beer. Bill Ward will continue to write on wine twice a month. And we will have a cocktail recipe from a local bartender once a month. (If you have requests for specific drinks, send them to email@example.com).
"Gimme a Summit."
Say those words in any Twin Cities establishment and chances are good you'll get an Extra Pale Ale (EPA). Brewed in St. Paul, Summit EPA is a Minnesota standard. This easy-drinking, classic, English bitter has a gentle bite of bitter hops at the start that gives way to smooth caramel malt and light floral notes. It's flavorful enough to appeal to beer geeks and accessible enough to be enjoyed by casual beer drinkers. Best of all, because of popular demand and Summit's hefty output, it's available everywhere.
Because of its lack of pretention and wide availability, Summit EPA is often taken for granted. For many it's a "fallback" beer. In the words of Summit founder and CEO Mark Stutrud, "We've been around long enough that to a lot of people, we're a second thought." But perhaps we Minnesota beer drinkers don't appreciate what we have.
At an April ceremony in a ballroom overflowing with more than 2,000 craft-beer luminaries from around the world, Summit EPA took the World Beer Cup gold medal for Classic English Style Pale Ale. The competition is a prestigious, international event sponsored by the Brewers Association, a trade group representing U.S. craft brewers. This year's gathering, held in Chicago, drew 3,330 beers from 642 breweries in 44 countries. "For a brewer, a World Beer Cup gold award allows them to say that their winning beer represents the best of that beer style in the world," said Charlie Papazian, president of the Brewers Association.
The Summit gold medal was no small feat. Having bested 28 other entries in its category, the World Beer Cup medal puts the brewery in the company of some of the top breweries in the country and the world, including England's Bass, Chicago's Goose Island and Germany's Schneider & Sohn.
"We've been making Extra Pale Ale for 24 years. I've always said that we set a standard with the quality and the style of it," said Stutrud. "It's nice to be recognized in this way for something that we've been doing for such a long period of time. "
Summit Extra Pale fits solidly in the tradition of English pub ales. These are beers meant for long sessions of drinking and conversing with friends. They are light enough that they won't fill you up, low enough in alcohol that you can drink a few and still carry on a conversation. They are flavorful enough to make you want another, but simple enough that they don't become the center of attention. Summit EPA has all of this in spades. It's a great beer for a night on the town or a back-yard barbecue with friends.
So next time you say, "Gimme a Summit," remember that it isn't just a "Summit." You're about to drink a world-class, gold-medal beer, a beer that has earned the right to call itself the best of its style in the world.
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.