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CBN Session Beers & Summer Ales Blind Tastings

CBN Blind Tasting Panel
• Jay R. Brooks, Tasting Panel Director, CBN
• Bob Coleman, Reporter, CBN
• Tom Dalldorf, Editor / Publisher, CBN
• Paul Marshall, Beer Judge
• R.J. Trent, BevMo / Former Brewer
• Special thanks to Mike Long, BTP Tasting coordinator/head steward

Despite one prominent regional brewery having trademarked the term session beer, it remains a colloquial expression for a beer that is generally lower in alcohol and thus may be enjoyed over a longer period of time or “session” without the drinker becoming what the Brits call legless. The term itself is thought to have originated in England. Session beers are not a style per se but instead are classified based on how they will or should be consumed. They can be light or dark in color — it’s the body that is most important. Guinness, for example, may be considered a session beer. So generally are the English-style bitters and mild ales. A session beer is one you take on picnics, to ball games and on golf courses. They’re ideal for poker nights because you won’t lose your ability to bluff effectively. You may also mow your lawn without impairment, and it is for this reason they are also sometimes known as lawnmower beers. In short, session beers are ones you can drink a lot of without filling up too quickly and without becoming too inebriated. Of course, to our way of thinking, they should still taste good. They should, at a bare minimum, still have flavor, even if it may be delicate, appropriately muted or restrained.

Summer ales, likewise, include a broad range of styles that are all generally lighter and more refreshing, especially when chilled to a cool temperature and consumed on a hot, sunny day. The most common styles for summer ales include golden ale, pale ale, kölsch, saison and many fruit beers, along with hefeweizen and other wheat beers. If you can imagine drinking one on a blisteringly hot day, then it probably can be considered a summer ale. Many breweries create lighter-style beers as summer seasonals. Some actually call the beers summer ales, while many others just make a style that is most appropriate for the season. Some of these beers, like hefeweizens, may be available year-round but receive special attention from brewers during the summer months. Because there are many of these sorts of beers, we have included only a small sampling of those available. In addition, there is a style recognized by the Brewers Association known as English summer ale, of which Fuller’s Summer Ale is a prominent example.

Like holiday ales in winter, with which brewers show off their skills with big, flavorful and sometimes spicy beers, summer ales give brewers a similar though contrasting opportunity to explore the more delicate flavors of these lighter beer styles. In many ways they are more difficult to make than the big, strong, hoppy beers because flaws are not so easily masked and the margin for error separating the average from the divine is so slight.

Éphémère Apple
Unibroue, Canada

Rich, fruity nose of apples, pineapple and juicy-fruit. Cloudy gold color with a gigantic, pillowy head. Very sweet and refreshing with candied apple notes. There’s an underlying complexity, but the strong, puckery, tart apple dominates with a bullwhip-cracking persistence throughout, down to the long, lingering finish.

Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse
Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu, Germany

Signature banana and clove nose. Cloudy straw-gold color and a huge, pillowy, white head. Long, rich flavors, refreshing and cleansing. A classic, perhaps the classic, example of the style.

Schneider Weisse
Private Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn, Germany

Bready nose with clove aromas. Dark amber color with a giant white head. Creamy, rich, full flavors of clove and spices along with citrus undertones. Very complex and warming, with a slow, lingering finish.

Watermelon Wheat
21st Amendment Brewery, Restaurant and Bar, California

Sweet watermelon nose, bright golden color and a thick, white head. Creamy, with great sweet melon flavor and a soft mouthfeel. A real quaffer (in the positive sense). Delicious with a long, luxurious finish.

Alaskan Summer Ale
Alaskan Brewing Company, Alaska

Subtle nose of bready malt and quiet hop notes. Bright gold color with a thick, white head. Creamy, rich flavors with soft, round malt and floral hop character. Finishes clean.

Drake’s Blonde Ale
Drake’s Brewing Company, California

Clean, malty nose with pine and citrus notes. Straw-gold in color with a white head. Creamy, with clean malt flavors and spicy hop character. Well-balanced, with a lingering, bitter finish.

East Side Ale
Bison Brewing Company, California

Herbal hop nose, bright amber color and a light tan head. Good balance, with excellent malt flavor and a big hop blast. Very drinkable, with a rich, long finish.

Augustiner Brewery, Germany

Soft, clean nose, light straw-gold color and a thin white head. Creamy, with soft, rich flavors, great balance and a long finish.

Hacker-Pschorr Weisse
Hacker-Pschorr, Germany

Light herbal nose; cloudy, light amber color; and a huge, light tan head. Creamy, with big, spicy flavors and a long, lingering finish.

Iron Springs Wheat
Iron Springs Pub and Brewery, California

Perfumey herbal nose with hints of clove and lemon. Clear golden color with a light tan head. Rich wit style, creamy and tart; very zesty with huge follow-through.

Magnolia Pub & Brewery, California

Light malt nose, dull golden color and a white head. Sharp herbal and malt flavors with good hop balance. Lemon-zesty with a clean finish.

Paulaner Hefe-Weizen
Paulaner, Germany

Light nose with hints of clove. Cloudy amber color with a giant, light tan head. Rich and soft but full flavors. Creamy, with lemony zest and a slight sweetness.

Samuel Adams White Ale
Boston Beer Company, Massachusetts

Big, hoppy nose, rich amber color and a thick, light tan head. Creamy and tart with a big, rich blast of malty flavor. Citrus hop character and woody smoked hints with a sweet finish.

Session Premium Lager
Full Sail Brewing Company, Oregon

Clean nose with subtle hop and malt character. Clear, light golden color with a thick, white head. Rich, clean flavors with biscuity malt and fruit esters. Nice balance with a long, lingering finish.

Skinny Dip (f.k.a. Loft)
New Belgium Brewing, Colorado

Rich, toasty nose with spicy hop aromas. Very bright amber color with a thick, light tan head. Light-bodied with soft flavors, some creaminess and a subtle underlying hop spiciness. Clean, with good balance and a quick finish.

Otter Summer Ale
Otter Creek Brewing, Vermont

Herbal nose of alfalfa and lychee with hints of tropical fruit and ripe guava. Very bright gold color with a white head. Light but creamy-soft with good malt flavors and lemony citrus hop character.

Summer Ale
Shipyard Brewing Company, Maine

Herbal nose, bright amber color and a thick, white head. Creamy, with clean sweet malt, lemony citrus hop character and a lingering finish.

Summer Honey
Big Sky Brewing Company, Montana

Soft herbal aromas with hints of cola nuts. Golden color. Creamy, with soft, supple malt flavors and a hint of lemon in the hop character.

Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema
Anderson Valley Brewing Company, California

Light nose of vanilla, dark copper color and a tan head. Strong vanilla cream soda flavors with rich malt character, though light on the palate.

Sun Rye Summer Ale
Redhook Ale Brewery, Washington

Light nose of fruity esters and a touch of anise. Cloudy yellow-gold color and a rich, white head. Big malty flavors with fruity esters, especially berries. Great complexity with a clean finish.

Wit Bier
Otter Creek Brewing, Vermont

Bready nose with lemon citrus aromas. Bright golden-yellow color. Excellent fruit flavors, almost juicy, with nice creaminess and crisp, peppery hop character. Light and clean with a lingering finish.

American Ale
Schooner’s Grille & Brewery, California

Light nose, light golden color and a white head. Creamy, light flavors with bready malt character and a long, soft finish.

Iron Springs Kölsch
Iron Springs Pub and Brewery, California

Strong herbal aromas, clear straw-gold color and a modest head. Thin-bodied but big-flavored, yet remains soft on the palate.

Port’s Pale Ale
Valley Brewing Company, California

Sweet nose with herbal hops and subtle spices. Deep amber color with a light tan head. Light-bodied but tart and clean. Malt-forward with a short, tart finish.


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