Around the Poker Table: Summit Summer Ale and Saga IPA

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

A man cannot live on food and writing alone, which is why I also play a regular game of poker. And thanks to the ancient affinity between cards and booze, our group has turned into an informal beer club. We bring beers from across the state, country, and world to each game in bombers, bottles, cans, and growlers.

Last week we gathered together a group of players (including Heavy Table contributors John Garland and Jason Walker) to put Summit Brewing’s two newest offerings through their paces.

The first was Summer Ale, a summer seasonal with 4.9% ABV and 32 IBU that the brewery described as a “new take on a classic German Kölsch: a crisp, refreshing brew offering elegant fruity and flora aromas and toasted malt qualities.” It replaces Summit’s Hefe Weizen as the brewery’s summer seasonal.

The second was Saga IPA, a year-round release that clocks in at 6.4% ABV with 80 IBU. The brewery calls it “an assertive brew with a pronounced hop flavor and tropical fruit aromas.” [CORRECTION: We erroneously stated that Saga had replaced the Hefe Weizen.]

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

KARSTEN: Let’s start out with Texas Hold ‘Em. Simple.

JAMES: Ante? Blinds?

KARSTEN: We might want to do blinds, with this many people.

JAMES: OK, blinds. Once we get the flop we’ll pour some samples and talk some beer.

DAVE [raising before the flop]: I’m gonna raise.

JAMES: COME ON.

DAVE: Come on what?

JAMES: You’re allowed to raise, I’m allowed to give you [guff]. OK, anyway, let’s pour the Summer Ale.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

[samples go around the table]

JOHN: I’m bored. This beer bores me.

JAMES: What bores you about it?

JOHN: It’s too light — there’s not enough body, it’s not as substantial as the rest of their beers. I know it’s a Summer Ale, but it tastes like carbonation is the main driving flavor component.

KEVIN: It’s pretty weak. I taste carrot undertones from the carrot I ate five minutes ago…

JASON: I’m not hateful. It feels like on a hot day it’d be nice. I like it when breweries do beers like this that aren’t trying to hit you over the head with something. That said, I’m not sure I’d buy this and feel like I’d gotten value.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

JAMES: I would worry about the value prospect, but I like the balance, and I’m tasting a little bit of astringency … I really feel like if I’d just mowed the lawn I could pound one of these and really enjoy it.

I know that sounds like faint praise, but there’s really a place for that kind of beer. This is not my new favorite beer, but also I respect it and I understand it.

KARSTEN: In the context of it being a Summer Ale, it’s OK, but it’s probably not much more than that. I agree that it’d be good to pound after mowing the lawn, but it’s not a craving that a PBR couldn’t satisfy. And the value proposition is probably not there …

DAVE: I’m with all that. The first thing I tasted was that drinkability, but there’s a bitter edge that feels a little out of place if you’re going to be chugging something. Which I love to do.

JOHN: I feel like there are brands I know and look for when I’m looking for a sessionable beer, and Summit’s not one of them.

JAMES: So it’s kind of out of character for the brewery.

JOHN: I’d say so.

KARSTEN: The bitter quality wasn’t really an issue for me, because of the European palate for this kind of beer … it reminds me of a European-style Pilsner. But it doesn’t have the body that a European-style Pilsner would have.

JAMES: Well, let’s try the Saga IPA and see how that goes down.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

[more samples go around]

KARSTEN: I’d call this an easy-drinking IPA. It doesn’t hit you over the head. It is nice and balanced, but I’d also put it into the easy-drinking category.

DAVE: I’d like a little more body in my IPA.

JAMES: I like the balance — I don’t like my IPAs to be palate-destroyingly astringent, and this isn’t.

JOHN: It find it interesting, the hops on this — you smell it, you taste it right away, and then 30 seconds after I taste it, I’m still tasting that exact same hops flavor.

KEVIN: It’s good. But I guess when I go for an IPA, I go for something stronger. I like the [Summit] Horizon Red better than this.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

JAMES: The Horizon Red’s really good.

JASON: I agree with you, Jim, that I don’t always want something strong in an IPA, and given that it’s Summit, I might just by it for that reason. It’s going to be good.

JAMES: I think maybe what’s going on here with these two beers is that Summit is aiming at where the mass market is going. Which is people want to try something a little different, they want to try an IPA, but they don’t actually want what the craft brewers and micro brewers are bringing, so this is a really nice halfway strep between popular macro brew swill and incredibly intense, crush-your-palate specialist beer.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

And maybe if all of us are into the extreme beers, these beers will taste like, “Eh, you’re not really bringing your A-game,” but if you’re coming at it from a Grain Belt Premium perspective, it’s like, “Oh, wow, there’s a lot going on here, but I can handle it.”

JOHN: The taste that I’m picking up is that the hops are a little more piney and resin-y, whereas their normal IPA is just more acidic all around. This is a little more biting — it’s not more hops, but it’s a more biting hops quality to it.

JAMES: Piney and resin-y are two good adjectives for it. One, they’re cool adjectives, and two, I am getting kind of a “northern forest walkabout” feel from it, which I like. And I think also that really suits the branding of it, with that Norse mythology thing going on.

KEVIN: The other thing, too: The package has the hops and malts statistics on it. I’m not an expert on hops and malts and but I feel like they’re setting expectations too high here.

JAMES: You’re not getting a multi-layered symphony of flavor?

JASON: This is not the beer you need those statistics for.

KARSTEN: They’re definitely catering to the craft beer crowd, while the Summer Ale is the easy drinking, very vanilla summer ale.

JAMES: Anything else anyone wants to say before I shut the recorder off and we can actually enjoy ourselves and drink beer and play cards?

[a tumbleweed blows across the table]

JAMES: Boom.

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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6 Comments

  1. BrianJ 05/22/2012

    Fun article though I don’t agree with the opinions.

    I really enjoy the subtlety of the Summer Ale and its predecessor the Unchained Kolsch. I feel like my progression of beer drinking went from mild flavored beers to extreme flavored beers and then back to a place where I can appreciate either.

    I think if you tasted Summer Ale and PBR side by side you’d see that they shouldn’t be compared.

    I really enjoy Saga too, it’s not just about the quantity of the hops it’s about the qualitative aspects. It’s got great hop smell and flavor if not extreme bitterness.

  2. John Garland 05/22/2012

    Haha, I come off like a jerk in this article (though those were my exact words, so I can’t attribute it to a misquote).

    BrianJ – I believe the sentiment of the group was the PBR and the Summer Ale would be only be comparable in their ability to be pounded after heavy yardwork. I think the group would agree that in every other aspect, they aren’t comparable beers.

    And I loved the Unchained Kolsch – but I seem to recall it being much more expressive in both aroma and flavor than the Summer Ale.

  3. Interesting I’ll have to pick up a sixxer and see what this is all about.

    It is nice to see some divergence from the overhopped beer a lot of local craft brewers push.