Top 5 Summer Beers

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Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but after the first hot bright days of summer earlier this month, I began compiling my list of favorite go-to beers for these hot days. Unfortunately those days have been few and far between, but with a little luck there are a lot more on the horizon. After much consternation I have come up with two different Top 5 lists of my current favorites: one for bottles and cans or supermarket beers, and the other of beers only found on draft around the Portland metro area. These days summer is the time of six packs or four packs for me. Typically my fridge is stocked with a lot of singles of new stuff, but when the hot weather comes I want standbys that will keep me refreshed and that I can drink copious quantities of without getting overly intoxicated. Every year the options are getting slightly better, especially with the canned beer revolution and more breweries putting their beer in 6 packs.

Top 5 Bottled/Canned Summer Beers

1. Fort George 1811 Lager
Newly available in cans is Fort George’s 1811 Lager, the Silver (and blue) Bullet as I like to call it.
I love this beer and believe it to be well overshadowed by the brewery’s other canned offering, Vortex IPA. I love everything about 1811 Lager, from its lightly refreshing, slightly lager-like qualities to its spicy hoppiness and the awesome form factor. I actually prefer to drink this beer out of the can. Craft beer in a can is great, as I am sure you know, but I have always still preferred to pour it out into a glass to get the color and aroma–at least until this badboy came along. Maybe it is just the way the tallboy 16oz can fits into your hand just like a pint glass, or the beautiful simple design of it that I love, with its horizontal writing and use of negative space. The designation of this beer as a lager is also deceiving, as it tastes more like a pilsner malt pale ale with lots of fresh grassy hop character to add a moderate bitterness and lots of hop flavor. It has the benefits of both styles and delivers on the hop craving most of us have.

2. Dogfish Head Festina Peche
For years this has been my go-to beer for summer, and it’s one of the beers that opened my eyes to the obscure Berliner-Weisse style of beer. It’s funny that Dogfish Head is known for their extreme big beers (for which they get a lot of love and flack), for yet this super refreshing, tart, low-alcohol summer beer does not get much love. For those who don’t know, a Berliner-Weisse is a low-alcohol wheat beer that undergoes some lactic fermentation–either from a sour mash or added lactobacillus culture–that gives it a refreshing light sourness. In Germany they would serve it with a sweet syrup that ruins the beer, so Dogfish Head has taken a better approach by fermenting it with a peach concentrate. The peach is subtle, but I think adds to the fruity flavors and gives it a light dry crispness. This beer might be the ultimate palate cleanser as well. Drink it between hoppy or other big beers to totally rejuvenate and refresh your tastebuds or, like me, like water or juice.

3. Sierra Nevada Kellerweis
The most underappreciated beer in Sierra Nevada’s lineup is a refreshing take on a wheat beer. It’s open top fermented like traditional German beers would be. It pours with a huge head and a classic hazy yellow color with lots of lemon and fresh wheat bread flavors. The thing I like most about this beer is the phenolics are very low, there is a little banana that adds some complexity that does not overwhelm, and there is no bubblegum or clove but instead has a bit of tartness that reminds me of Upright Brewing’s Four. Supremely refreshing, and a beer I enjoy all year round but rely on during summers.

4. Boulevard Wheat

I am really divided by the packaging on this beer. Is it a bottle or is it a can? It is reminiscent of Miller’s weird can/bottle hybrid. All the same, it is unique and features some interesting woodcut looking print that hearkens back to old farmers beer. In the end this is a can, it is metal (tin, if I am not mistaken) that is formed like a bottle. It is actually 16oz, though it looks like 12. It’s almost like the brewery wanted to can its beers but was afraid to go all the way. Regardless, it is a great summer beer no matter the packaging, with an aroma not unlike Sierra Nevada’s Kellerweis of sweet lemon and orange with fresh wheat and hay. This hazy, beautiful, unfiltered American wheat beer is just the ticket. While I think the Kellerweiss is a bit more complex, this Boulevard wheat beer is the prototypical American variation of the style, with super clean flavors that don’t try for anything off the wall or bold, but still satisfy instantly. I love the huge foamy head, bubbly effervescence, and beautiful lemon color. Truly one of the best beers to bring camping with you or to a BBQ.

Photo by Matt Wiater – PortlandBeer
5. Oakshire Line Dry Rye
This neo pale ale from Eugene’s Oakshire Brewing was one of our favorites when we reviewed it last year. Compared to the other picks on my list, this one is more malty and more hoppy than most, but is still on the lower end of bitterness in terms of the style. It is also brewed with rye and honey, the latter of which adds both sweet and dryness that is complemented by the spiciness of the rye. A tasty alternative to the rest of the mostly lighter lagers and wheat beers on this list.

Runner’s-Up: Victory Prima Pils, Heater Allen Pils, Full Sail Session

Top 5 Draft Only Beers

1. Burnside Brewing Berliner-Weisse

It is no coincidence this is the 2nd Berliner-Weisse on this list and the 3rd wheat beer. Wheat beer, and especially the low-alcohol and refreshing tartness of a Berliner-Weisse, makes the best kind of summer refreshing quencher. I have been advocating for the return of Berliner-Weisses as a major style for years, and I am starting to get a little bit of what I ask for. Burnside’s true-to-style 3.3%abv take on the style is just what I asked for and is a welcome respite that goes down easy but sacrifices no complexity from the addition of lactobacillus during fermentation. It cuts no corners.

2. Coalition Wheat the People
The most under-the-radar beer this summer may be Coalition’s Wheat the People, a brew that underwent many test batch variations with different yeasts before they settled on this American take on a wheat beer. This unfiltered brew has some great sourdough bready flavors and fruity tartness you might expect more from a Belgian beer, but without any heaviness of sweetness. I would bet that this brew could stand up to any other American unfiltered wheat beer on the market, and it has helped make Coalition’s new patio and a pint of this beer a go-to stop for me anytime we get a nice day.

3. Double Mountain Kolsch
This beer has been a favorite of mine ever since Double Mountain opened. At the time I knew very little about the style, but as a new Belmont Station employee we drove to the brand new tiny Hood River startup to try the beers and bring back a keg for the bier cafe. While we were always planning to get a keg of their flagship IPA, this was the beer that stood out the most for me, and one that many understandably would not expect to succeed. Kolsch is still an obscure style, and Double Mountain’s is hoppier than what is considered traditional. Kolsch is a light beer not unlike a steam beer that has the flavor of an ale but the light crispness of a lager, and to me always has a slight herbal quality perhaps due to traditional noble hops. DM’s has all that but with a decent amount more hops on top of it to make it a NW take on the style. It is far from an IPA, but reminiscent of a hoppier pilsner, but with the complexities of an ale and those grassy notes. Satisfying anytime of year, but especially during the summer.

4. Upright Brewing Engelberg Pils
Yes, I work for Upright Brewing, so fuckin’ sue me. This beer is still one of the best draft summer refreshers you can find in Portland this year. I considered leaving it off the list because of my association, but realized that would not be fair to it when I could really not think of a better option. This pils is a single hop (Tettnanger) and single malt (pilsner malt, of course) beer that is deceptively simply made with a German Munich lager yeast strain. It’s extremely light, dry, and crisp (even more so than the rest of the beers in this list), with a extra hoppy bite. Those Tettnangers provide an authentic spicy hop bite slightly more poignant than what the ever popular Pilsner standard hop Saaz provides.

5. ?
What should #5 be? There are lots of possibilities but one single beer did not leap out at me. I am sure I am missing something. What are your favorite beers for the summer and what am I missing?

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact:


  • PO'R
    Tue Jul 19, 2011 1:48 PM

    Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat is available in 12oz bottles too.

    • Paul
      Tue Jul 19, 2011 2:07 PM

      I’m partial to anderson valley summer solstice (formerly summer cereveza)

      • lowendfrequency
        Tue Jul 19, 2011 2:18 PM

        Even since their recent arrival in canned form, I’ve been purchasing a whole lot of Avery White Rascal. Best of the canned wheats IMO.

        • Ritch
          Tue Jul 19, 2011 2:22 PM

          Good list Ezra. I think you could add Flat Tail Kolsch, Silvermoon Pilsner, Breakside Wit, or the Deschutes PDX pub german pils we had the other day. For bottles/cans, I also like SOB Nazdravi, Widmer Citra Squeeze, and Victory Prima Pils (but my favorite is still 3F Gumball Head). I bet Boulevard uses their regular bottling line for those metal bottles, then they don’t have need a seperate canning line, what do you think?

          • Art
            Tue Jul 19, 2011 3:28 PM

            Great post. I personally like Widmer’s Drifter Pale Ale. Great blend of hops and malt and the citrus notes are quite refreshing on a hot summer day (as few as they are around here).

            • BeerWineGuy
              Tue Jul 19, 2011 5:11 PM

              Some solid choices Ezra. Mine this summer include Fort George 1811, Dogfish Festina Peche, Hopworks Evelyn’s Imperial Sunshine, Upright Gose (just drank my last bottle dammit!), Reissdorf Kolsch.

              • Anonymous
                Tue Jul 19, 2011 5:29 PM

                La Luz by Natian Brewing is a fantastic summer session beer, crisp, refreshing, and complex notes. MMMMMMMMM!!!

                • Aaron
                  Tue Jul 19, 2011 7:02 PM

                  You forgot Caldera IPA hahaha

                  • ElGordo
                    Tue Jul 19, 2011 7:12 PM

                    Hipster’s Sunburn from Laurelwood was a pretty fantastic summer sipper I tried last week. It’s brewed with Upright’s house yeast, and you can definitely smell that as the glass is set on the table. It’s kind of like a cross between Upright’s Four and Pils, but with a bit more of a hop presence to give it a Laurelwood twist.

                    • Beer Retard
                      Beer Retard
                      Tue Jul 19, 2011 7:54 PM

                      Couple good ones from WA: Fremont Solstice Ale and Silver City Ziggy Zoggy lager. Both are easy drinkers, but have a lot of flavor.

                      • Andrew Seger
                        Andrew Seger
                        Tue Jul 19, 2011 8:19 PM

                        Solid suggestions all. This summer my favorite summer beer has been Lompoc’s bourbon barrel aged crazy dave’s stout. Assuming it ever gets sunny again I really dig Cascade’s summer gose, Weihenstephaner’s Hefeweizen, and Widmer’s Himbeer Gose (give it another shot at the Gasthaus, tastes way better/more tart than at the fruit beer fest).

                        • Angelo De Ieso II
                          Angelo De Ieso II
                          Tue Jul 19, 2011 8:53 PM

                          I agree with all of those. Got the 1811 on tap at my house and it is awesome for those days I have seen the sun. Hard to argue with any of those. I’ve really enjoyed Bend Brewing’s Ching Ching Berliner-Weiss brewed with pomegranate and hibiscus. Anderson Valley’s Wee Geech is a nice sessionable brew that I like drinking when at Apex. I can’t get over the orange creamsicle flavor their Solstice has though. When I was a By The Bottle, I had the DuPont Redor Pils. It was excellent. I agree with Chris about the Fremont Summer Solstice – great Amarillo flavor. Upright’s Pils I could drink for days. It’s almost too light. Oh, and let’s not forget Rolling Rock Light.

                          • Sud Savant
                            Sud Savant
                            Tue Jul 19, 2011 9:41 PM

                            How about an honorable mention in the bottle category for Samuel Smith Organic Best Ale? It’s not fruity flavored like a lot of summer beers. Just incredibly balanced, nuanced, and delicious.

                            • Anonymous
                              Tue Jul 19, 2011 11:01 PM

                              Stiegl Radler. Hopworks Radler is also good. I need to try Deschutes’ version as well.

                              • Anonymous
                                Thu Jul 21, 2011 6:11 PM

                                At #5, how about another offering from Double Mountain? Loves me the Vaporizer, and yes, the Kolsch too!

                                • James
                                  Tue Jul 26, 2011 6:02 AM

                                  Collaborator Sharon’s Golden Ale? I may be biased but I really do think it should be considered. Another all Tettnanger beer btw.

                                  • James
                                    Tue Jul 26, 2011 6:05 AM

                                    Also a huge fan of the Dogfish, Ft. George, Double Mountain. I like the SN and never would have tried it without your recomendation.

                                    • Jack R.
                                      Jack R.
                                      Thu Jul 28, 2011 3:23 AM

                                      You will not find this in you neighborhood . . . regardless, Columbus, Ohio’s Columbus Brewing Co. ‘Summer Teeth’ Keller / Zwickel Bier; 18 IBU / 5.0% ABV is crisp, clean, refreshing, thirst-quenching yet flavorful. A very nice summer beer.