While the demand continues to grow for extreme beer that has intense aromas, complex flavours and higher alcohol content, even the most dedicated beer enthusiasts start looking for something a bit lighter once the thermometer rises. That’s why “session beer” is another expanding part of the beer business. With lighter body and lower alcohol content (5% or less), these beers are better for summer sipping than boozy hop bombs.
But that doesn’t mean they are low in aromas and flavours. Many session brews have respectable hop levels, such as European-inspired lagers and the increasingly common ISA (India Session Ale), a lower-alcohol take on IPA (India Pale Ale). Try Halifax-based Garrison Brewery’s In Session for a local ISA (available at Garrison’s brewery retail store on Marginal Road near Pier 21 as well as at liquor stores in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.)
Prince Edward Island Brewing Company (PEIBC), based in Charlottetown but now including two brewpubs in Halifax (Gahan House Waterfront and Rogues Roost), is one to watch. It launched a summer beer/flagship lager called Beach Chair after expanding from its Gahan brewpub in downtown Charlottetown to its larger-sized brewery on Kensington Road. Available at PEIBC retail locations and in liquor stores across the Maritimes, Beach Chair has the crisp hop profile and subtle malt typical of European-style lager. Part of this character originates from using authentic German yeast, according to Bob Lawrence, senior vice-president of operations with PEIBC. “It is cold fermented and condition aged,” he adds.
Halifax’s Propeller Brewing Company has a strong reputation for its pilsner, a mainstay of the company since 2006. “It is modelled after a Czech style with some Canadian influence which makes it unique,” says Josh Adler, brewmaster at Propeller. “It is essentially a Czech recipe with Canadian softened water.” A refreshing brew, it’s clean and aromatic with spicy hops, and crisp but not overly bitter. “I think adding any more bitterness would make this beer too harsh and thus less thirst quenching,” Adler says. “Our pilsner is our most delicate and sensitive brew, and adding more hops at boil would anger her [throw the beer out of balance].”
Due to demand, Propeller has gradually increased production of its pilsner over the years, with production and distribution ramping up in the summer. It’s on tap at Nova Scotia bars, and the Prop Shop (Propeller’s beer stores on Gottingen Street in Halifax and Windmill Road in Dartmouth), private liquor stores, and as single bottles and six packs in select Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) stores. Another style perfect for cooling off in the summer heat is North American Wheat. Liam McKenna brews a great example called Wexford Wheat at YellowBelly Brewery and Public House in St. John’s, N.L. “It was designed as a crossover product to allow neophyte beer drinkers to come into the bar, have an approachable pint that didn’t knock them off their chair or chase them out the door,” McKenna says. “It is balanced, low in maltiness, light in bitterness but cloudy by design. Something very different for your average Coors Light drinker.”
Besides the pub, Wexford and other YellowBelly beers are also available at Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation (NLC) stores in 750-ml bottles, and on tap at O’Reilly’s, Bitter’s and The Fish Bowl in St. John’s. Although available year-round, Wexford is the top seller in the summer. One of New Brunswick’s favourite summer seasonals is Picaroons’ Dooryard Summer Wheat, from Fredericton. It’s an organic wheat that’s a hybrid of sorts: a cross between Belgian wit and North American wheat. Although fermented with Picaroons’ regular Ringwood English ale yeast, it’s 50 per cent wheat and 50 per cent pilsner malt, and uses ingredients typical of witbier.
“We use certified organic dried orange peel and ground coriander sourced through our local organic food store, True Food Organics,” says owner Sean Dunbar. “I remember one batch of beer where the store owner, Debbie, hadn’t received our orange peel order from her supplier, so she grated organic oranges and brought us the grated peel for the beer. It worked.” Wheat malt lends a refreshing character to the beer. “I think the wheat does add some astringency, some crispness to the beer that makes it more appropriate for summer drinking,” Dunbar says.
Picaroons also brews a seasonal watermelon wheat beer called Melonhead, famous for its label that has a cat wearing a watermelon “helmet.” Based on the Dooryard recipe, it uses natural melon extract instead of orange and coriander. Melonhead is distributed throughout the Maritimes, while you can find Dooryard in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia liquor stores during summer. “We’ll be shipping both to Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan this year,” adds Dunbar. There are times when a cold, refreshing brew is just the ticket. “I’d have to say summer is the only time I can drink any fruited beer,” says Dunbar, “and only if the beer is cold and the sun is hot. It’s the only time I like cold beer.”
Quaffing a thirst-quenching beer on a hot day is less about analyzing beer than it is a rite of summer. “The key to a refreshing beer? That’s like asking me what time it is,” says YellowBelly’s McKenna. “Balance and drinkability are the only keys to refreshing that I know.”