Friday, 9 November 2007

Beer O'Clock: Summer Ales

In this week's regular Beer O'Clock post, some summer ale stories from the ever-SOBA Stu.

This week I’ve been basking, cycling and working in some warm, and unseasonably calm, Wellington spring days. It’s given me a chance to think about some of the thirst quenching summer ales that will be on the shelves – and in my fridge – this coming summer.

Contrary to popular belief and what DB would really like us all to believe, Summer Ale (aka Golden Ale) is actually a beer style rather than a brand. It’s a style that grew out of the English ale that breweries need to compete with the growing consumer swing to mainstream international lagers. It blends the look and feel of mainstream lagers with the subtle fruit and spice complexities of ale, resulting in a real thirst-quenching drop.

The first summer ales date back to the late 1980’s but the growing trend towards producing these beers has grown exponentially over the last 10 years or so. Some of the English versions are now available all year around, giving beer drinkers a little ray of sunshine in the dreary depths of winter. Look for the same to happen in New Zealand soon.

Monteith's Summer Ale is easily written off as a bland lager with flavouring, but it's a a bland flavoured lager that really does work for a lot of people. Honey-tinged, sweet and slightly spicy – it crosses the line between beer and RTD. Rumour has it that the beer now accounts for more than half of Montieth's sales, with Radler the next biggest selling "beer." It’s not a drink that's likely to be found in my beer fridge, at any rate.

A beer that I would love to have in my fridge more regularly is Emerson's Pale Ryder, which is going to be the hardest summer ale to get a hold of. It’s been on tap around and about Dunedin and at Auckland’s Galbraith’s and Hallertau brewpubs, but I’m not sure where else and I’m even less sure how much of it is left.

A complex blend of four cereals (lager, rye and wheat malts plus oats),plus a spicy addition of juicy American hops and coriander results in a very smooth and highly quaffable summer drop from New Zealand’s most experimental brewery. It certainly would be in my fridge if I could find more of it!

Mac's Sun Dance Summer Ale is an excellent addition to the summer ale stable and should be widely available soon. It’s a beautifully balanced beer with a generous fruity note from the Riwaka hops (the hop formerly known as Saaz D). Lemongrass adds a little flavour and interest, blending well with the hops, and also ups the perceived bitterness a shade. I think this beer will be a big hit in the summer of 2007/08.

Three Boys Golden Ale, which featured in Beer O'Clock in March, is probably my pick of the bunch. It is simple, subtle and superb and is well summed up as New Zealand in a beer bottle – a great showcase of Canterbury-grown (and malted) barley and Nelson's unique Sauvin hop. It's malt character is a little weightier this year, and the jury is still out on that move, but it still packs a superb hop punch that begs another inspection. I’ll definitely be retesting this year’s vintage a fair few times before the summer is out.

Roll on summer!
Slainte mhath, Stu


  1. And on that note:

  2. Well, well, well... how topical. What a coincidence!\.


1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.