The Toast: Summer Beer Taste-off 2015

Banner for the Toast: Drinking Well in the Upper Midwest

In This Toast: We sip 32 beers from 21 Minnesota breweries to determine the best local summer seasonal.

Which local beers are in season? Well, heat equals wheat, so we’re into hefeweizens right now. But we also love those thin summer session ales for pounding after a bike ride. Oh, and saisons, and pale lagers, and weird fruit beers, and firkins infused with stuff like tea and lemongrass and mint.

To help us separate the wheat from the chaff, once every few months, our friends at the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild harangue their member breweries to send us beer. This time, they delivered the biggest bounty to date: 32 local summer seasonals.

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Helping us sort through them, was our expert tasting panel: Sean Cooke, Certified Cicerone with the Better Beer Society; Paige Latham, Heavy Table’s beer correspondent; Andrew Schmitt, director of MN Beer Activists; and Frank Haataja, host of The Minnesota Skinny.

All beers were tasted blind in flights of more or less similar styles. The judges were presented with a final flight of consensus favorites for more in-depth tasting. Here are the best beers for summer.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Gold Medal and Best In Show: Schell’s Hefeweizen

Heavy Table’s official summer beer is the ideal hefeweizen. Everything about Schell’s Hefe feels balanced — just enough malt sweetness, just enough fruitiness from the yeast, and it finishes clean. Our panel compared it to the Franziskaner, one of the style’s gold standards. Pair it with the warm sun shining on your face and the contented feeling that you’re drinking the best summer beer in Minnesota.

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

First Runner-Up: Schell’s Starkeller Peach

Schell’s grabs the top two spots in the tasting thanks to its latest entry in the Noble Star series of Berliner weisse interpretations. The peaches add a fleshiness to the Starkeller that helps round out some of the more acerbic tartness. The result is a cloudy, smooth sour with a true depth of flavor.

Second Runner-Up: Mankato Brewing Kato Beer

Mankato has delivered our preferred patio pounder. Their Munich-style helles lager is reminiscent of a fine cream ale — a subtle, corny sweetness balanced by a crisp lager finish. It’s light and bright and clean, and it was our consensus favorite pairing with food from El Taco Riendo, our judging fuel for the evening.

spring.beer.taste.off.2015Third Runner-Up: Bauhaus Brew Labs Hairbanger

The hop-head’s beer of summer is this new Belgian-style pale ale from Bauhaus. It sports a somewhat herbal aroma before bashing in with piney hops in a rounded Belgian-tasting body. The bitterness comes on late, and the dry finish begs a return sip. A proud, enlivening beer.

Honorable Mention:

Blacklist Brewing Imperial Hefeweizen

All kinds of hot, fusel alcohols on the nose, but it then mellows into a burly, aggressive, caramel, honey-tinged, complex monster. A lot to wrestle with, and we’ll happily do so.

Fulton Beer The Randonneur

Fulton’s summer saison has a great banana-coriander thing going on, with great color and clarity. And the hop balance is spot-on. A crowd pleaser, a laid-back winner.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Tin Whiskers Watts Wheat Wine

An impressive pineapple-and-banana Runts candy aroma leads to a full-bodied, sweet, and boozy monolith of a brew. Would make for a terrific nightcap after a Saints game.

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Tin Whiskers Wheatstone Bridge

Tin Whiskers’ more approachable wheat beer is a stunner: balanced and smooth, with lovely notes of jasmine and citrus. Alongside Schell’s Hefe, this is our everyday wheat beer of the year.

Town Hall Brewery Apricot Summer

Our favorite flavored beer of summer comes from Town Hall. It was called “mellifluous” by one tipsy taster, but we understand the sentiment: light, fruity, and pleasant.

Notes from the Rest of the Tasting (by style):

Lagers:

56 Brewing NE Nectar Honey Kolsch

Kind of awkward. Honey on the nose, but also paint thinner. Good pale malt flavor, but the method doesn’t taste dialed-in.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Town Hall Brewery Wedding Kolsch

Fine enough malt character, but we couldn’t get past a whiff of intense Styrofoam staleness on the nose.

Sidhe Brewing Señor Sol Victorious

Faint caramel, some sweet malt, very little on the finish, and not much carbonation. This Mexican lager could have used a squeeze of lime.

Tin Whiskers Parity Pilsner

A gorgeous pilsner. Clean, pleasant, and straightforward. Proudly boring, perfectly beige.

Sessions / Summer Ales:

Beaver Island Brewing One Speed Belgian Single

Nice grainy, malty finish, a little tennis shoe rubber flavor. A light, uncomplicated sip. 4.7 percent ABV.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Beaver Island Brewing Fabulous Armadillo Summer Ale

Some smoky phenols, along with apple and citrus aromas, some malt complexity, assertive hops. Light and easy. 4.7 percent ABV.

Brau Brothers Hopsession Super IPA

Smells like those speckled white Easter egg candies, tons of grapefruit, not much body or carbonation. Nothing much but hops. 4.2 percent ABV.

Summit founder Mark Stutrud

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Summit Summer Ale

Cidery aroma, nice mineral finish, pure and light. 4.4 percent ABV.

Flavored:

612Brew Mary Ann

A consistent punch of ginger. Long lasting and memorable.

612Brew Radler

Menthol aroma. Juicy, though incohesive. Flightworthy more than pintworthy.

The Freehouse No. 24 Earl-Grey-Tea-Infused Honey Wheat

Mulled potpourri spice on the nose. Earthy, peppery body. Black tea flavor shines.

Excelsior Brewing Sunburn Cherry Wheat

Interesting tea flavor, not much fruit flavor. Wheat-forward, though not memorable.

Indeed Mojito Shenanigans

Not sure what shenanigans were up when this one was brewed. Tastes the way a mint Mr. Sketch marker smells. Stick with their far superior original version.

Other Light Ales:

Bent Paddle Paddle Break Blonde

Light and grassy, squeaky clean. A hammock pounder.

Mankato Brewery Duly Noted Pale Ale

Too bitter, too simple, lacking aroma. A pronounced plastic flavor wouldn’t quit.

Waconia Brewing Pontoon Pale Ale

We picked up acetone on this one. A bone-dry finish leaves flavors of pepper and earth. Unbalanced.

Wheat Beers:

Blacklist Brewing Makrut Wit

Big, bold, and sweet. Warming. Sweet honey and orange blossom. Hot and full bodied. This is your summer evening nightcap by the pool.

Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

The Freehouse No. 11 Belgian-Style Witbier

Really nice. Light bodied, flavorful and bright. It tastes as if it should be enjoyed on a beach with grilled fish.

Mankato Brewery Ceres Summer Ale

No flavor up front. Alkaline-tasting. Hints of apple. Awkward, bitter finish.

Third Street Hunny Do Wheat Beer

Smells and tastes like cider. Fruity-sweet, easygoing, apricot, pear, ginger, and lemon. Convert your favorite Angry Orchard drinker with this one.

Tart / Sour:

Day Block Brewing Berliner Weisse

Pleasant, cloudy, and wheaty. Great on its own (without the accompanying raspberry syrup). Effervescent, and just tart enough. Balanced. Drinkable.

Excelsior Brewing MinneGose Gose Style Ale

A pungent, saline tang in a durable, wheat-filled body. Simple, a little funky, but palate-cleansing. This is your raw oyster beer of the summer.

Urban Growler Berliner Weisse

The woodruff syrup was a very nice addition to what was a mediocre Berliner Weisse. The beer had a strange Red Hots aroma and a chemical-tinged finish, and it really needed a viscous syrup to cancel the off flavor.

Past Heavy Table Seasonal Tasting Winners:

Spring 2015 – Town Hall Brewery One Simple Pale

Winter 2015 – Lift Bridge Silhouette

Autumn 2014 – Schell’s Black Forest Cherry

Summer 2014 – Badger Hill White IPA

Spring 2014 – Surly BLAKKR

Oktoberfest 2013 – Schell’s Oktoberfest

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About the Author

John Garland

John Garland is a freelance writer living in the East Isles neighborhood of Minneapolis. His area of expertise is wine - thanks to schooling from the International Sommelier Guild and more than a few winery visits during his time at the American University of Rome. He also contributes to Beer Dabbler's Growler Magazine and is always available for writing opportunities and happy hours.

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