When it comes to seasonal beer, spring isn’t the most intriguing time of year. Other seasons have their classics — like the German Oktoberfest beers of fall and the spicy winter warmers of the bitterly cold months — but spring doesn’t possess a signature drink. Even summer has a melange of styles, with citrus-forward radlers and hefeweizens dominating coolers everywhere.
While the saison may stand out to some as a spring classic, these beers were traditionally brewed to be enjoyed in the sweltering heat. Lore differs significantly regarding how the first saisons were made; some stories claim the style was barely alcoholic and given to those working in the fields, while others indicate the beer had to be potent enough to survive hot days without refrigeration. Most modern brewers create them year round, though, using additions ranging from readily available spices and botanicals to wild yeast or fruit.
The question of what to drink in the spring can at times feel quite bipolar. Cooler, wet days beg for more heft and alcohol, while sunny, open-window afternoons are the perfect backdrop for Pilsners. In that sense, consider spring a transition period for beer in which the tail end of winter can sometimes cling tightly, but the summerlike moments gain strength week by week.
The Usual Suspects
Bock, the strong German lager traditionally enjoyed throughout the year, has a popular spring variant called Maibock, made popular locally by Summit and Schell’s. Maibock mimics the alcoholic heat of the darker version while displaying the bright levity and effervescence appropriate to the season. Summit’s Maibock is made with Saaz hops, famous for giving Pilsners their dry bitterness. Fans of lagers like Pilsners take note: 6.7 percent alcohol by volume is masquerading as a refreshing, easy beer.
Damp, cloudy days require the evening pick-me-up that only a coffee beer can bring. Dangerous Man has teamed up with Five Watt Coffee to deliver one of the best coffee beers in recent memory. Far from a traditional spring beer, the American porter gets a jolt of cold press, summer’s unofficial official beverage. While some coffee beers rely on the roasted character of the malt rather than actual beans, the intensity of coffee flavor in this beer is remarkably clear. The finish isn’t overly bitter; it’s nutty and round with a balance of chocolate malt and earthy hops.
How many plums does it take for a beer to actually taste like plums? The folks at Urban Growler know. The 10,000 Plums Barleywine takes the taste of the fruit beyond a faint tartness to the level found in a pie or jam. When combined with the sweet heat of the English barleywine base, a unique beer emerges. Three varieties of the fruit were plucked in Winona, Minn., and the beer was left to condition in chardonnay and Bordeaux barrels. The tannins of the fruit cut through the malty sweetness, resulting a balanced but very potent spring beer.
For some, dark beer is best reserved for the dark days of January. For those who swear by stouts month after month, a session stout works beautifully as the days grow warmer and longer. Bang Brewing offers the Loop, a stout with less alcohol than many in the “easy drinking” category and a surprising amount of flavor. Roasted nuts and cacao are found in the aroma and the taste, but the medium body and creaminess leave the palate with few lingering flavors. Complexity arrives in the form of pleasant coffee and burnt sugar notes as the beer warms slightly.