The 16 Best Summer Beers in America

Drink Lists America
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Every summer activity has one thing in common—it makes you thirsty. And while winter is the season for drinking alone (preferably alone with that special someone), summer is a time for communal gathering. Cookouts. Baseball games. Beach trips. Boat rides. We’ve done the research (seriously, we tasted more than three dozen summer beers over the course of two days) to find the best American summer seasonal beers. Special thanks goes to guest judge and Atlanta celebrity bartender/restauranteur Greg Best who joined in the fun. We only included annual seasonal releases (no one-offs, so sorry Stone Enjoy By 7.04.14) that are at least regionally available in the U.S. Here are the 16 best American summer beers.

16. New Belgium Summer Helles


Brewery: New Belgium Brewing Company
City: Fort Collins, Colo.
Style: Dortmunder/Helles
ABV: 5%
Description: I don’t know much about traditional German culture despite having spent the first two years of my life in Munich, but it seems like lederhosen should be summer attire? They’re basically shorts, right? In any case, New Belgium goes full German for their summer offering with German Pils malts and Hallertau and Tettnang malts. Hallertau. Tettnang. I think they picked them just for the names. This is light, refreshing, just-tied-the-all-time-World Cup-goals-scored-record beer. Looking at you, Klose.

15. Odell St. Lupulin Extra Pale Ale


Brewery: Odell Brewing Company
City: Fort Collins, Colo.
Style: American Pale Ale
ABV: 6.5%
Description: Lupulin is the resin in hop flowers that gives a mild, relaxing high separate from the alcohol. And you’ll be plenty relaxed after drinking a couple bottles of St. Lupulin. This pale ale gets most of its flavor from lemony hops and goes down very easy.

14. 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon


Brewery: 21st Amendment Brewery
City: San Francisco
Style: Fruit/Wheat Beer
ABV: 4.9%
Description: One of the more divisive beers we’ve tasted, Hell or High Watermelon has its passionate fans and vocal detractors. I fell in that latter camp until tasting it for maybe the fourth time. Maybe the strangeness of watermelon in my beer (which I could only think of as “fishy” before) has worn off to let me appreciate its unique pleasures—bright fruitiness, vibrant flavor, soft finish. It’s anything but boring and that can be hard to find in a sub 5% beer.

13. Anderson Valley Summer Solstice


Brewery: Anderson Valley Brewing Company
City: Cream Ale
ABV: 5%
Description: Anderson Valley’s deep copper beer tastes like melted caramel with hints of clove and other spices—not what I think of for summer, but as one of our judges said, “still clean and yummy.”

12. Highland Razor Wit


Brewery: Highland Brewing Company
City: Asheville, N.C.
Style: Witbier
ABV: 4.5%
Description: Highland’s cleverly named Belgian White blends a variety of flavors—citrus, spices and banana notes from the esters in the yeast. It pours a cloudy pale yellow and is made with cumin, coriander, grains of paradise, ginger root and orange peel. To top it all off, the Noble Hops add another kick to this deliciously complex beer.

11. Bell’s Oarsman Ale


Brewery: Bell’s Brewery
City: Galesburg, Mich.
Style: Berliner Weisse
ABV: 4%
Description: The Berliner Weisse has never gained widespread popularity in America, but with more craft beer aficionados chasing the next sour instead of the next big hop bomb, the tart low-gravity German style might see its day in the sun. Bell’s Oarsman is a clean, refreshing example of the style with a nice dry finish.

10. Sweetwater Waterkeeper


Brewery: Sweetwater Brewing Company
City: Atlanta
Style: Hefeweizen
ABV: 5.7%
Description: Along with ubiquitous trees (dogwoods! everywhere!) and maybe Stone Mountain, the Chattahoochee River is Atlanta’s only natural feature worth a damn. And our city’s biggest brewery has donated over $250,000 to protect the river, which helps provide the Sweetwater with the good drinking water we all enjoy. The summer seasonal Waterkeeper is thankfully a beer as good as its cause—a flavorful German-style hefe that’s at once sweet, spicy and floral. Perfect for shooting the Hooch.

9. Green Flash Road Warrior


Brewery: Green Flash Brewing Co.
City: San Diego, Calif.
Style: Imperial Rye IPA
ABV: 9%
Description: Rye IPAs are all the rage, and while I haven’t hopped on that particular bandwagon (pun intended), there’s a lot to love about Green Flash’s imperial rye. Malty on the tongue with a bitter rye bite at the back, this spicy and complex offering stands out among the mild, light summer fare.

8. Southern Tier Compass


Brewery: Southern Tier Brewing Company
City: Lakewood, N.Y.
Style: Belgian Strong
ABV: 9%
Description: Southern Tier combines the sweetness of a Belgian-style strong with a bitter kick stemming from rose hips. It’s a delicious and complex beer with hints of tropical fruit flavors (tangerine, banana, lemon) that give it the slightest summer feel, despite the abundant alcohol.

7. Deschutes Twilight


Brewery: Deschutes Brewery
City: Bend, Ore.
Style: American Pale Ale
ABV: 5%
Description: Dry spice and citrus peel flavors make this well-balanced pale ale as tasty as it is sessionable. Deschutes proves that “American Pale Ale” doesn’t mean boring. What better way to celebrate Independence Day?

6. Dogfish Head Festina Peche


Brewery: Dogfish Head Brewery
City: Milton, Del.
Style: Berliner Weisse
ABV: 4.5%
Description: Dogfish Head offers its own take on the Berliner Weisse with peach twist. I was lukewarm on this beer when I first tasted it years back, but either the recipe or my tastes have changed (I suspect the former). Dry stone fruit flavors and a sour finish make this an unusual and unusually good peach beer.

5. Bell’s Oberon


Brewery: Bell’s Brewery
City: Galesburg, Mich.
Style: Wheat Ale
ABV: 5.8%
Description: At this point, Oberon can be considered an American classic. It has everything you’re looking for in a wheat beer—you can taste the sweet wheat malt, the fruity Bell’s yeast, the biter spice from the hops in perfect balance.

4. Victory Whirlwind Witbier


Brewery: Victory Brewing Company
City: Downington, Penn.
Style: Witbier
ABV: 5%
Description: Victory set the bar for Pilsners with its Prima Pils. And the Whirlwind is one of the best Belgian-style whites in America. A pleasing buttery mouthfeel and bright fresh strawberry and banana notes from the Belgian yeast make this a great summer wheat beer.

3. Bear Republic Café Racer 15


Brewery: Bear Republic Brewing Company
City: Healdsburg, Calif.
Style: Imperial IPA
ABV: 9.75%
Description: Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean there’s no room for a gigantic, flavorful beer, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better big summer seasonal than Bear Republic’s imperial version of the year-round Racer 5. Generously hopped with four different varietals, this is a beer that will stand up to those spiciest smoked chicken wings at your next cookout. And a malty sweetness up front will still refresh no matter how hot the temperature rises.

2. Firestone Walker Easy Jack


Brewery: Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
City: Paso Robles, Calif.
Style: Session IPA
ABV: 4.5%
Description: Firestone Walker’s Union Jack won our 64-beer blind IPA tasting last year, so it’s no surprise that their lower-ABV Easy Jack would retain much of its originator’s charm. At 4.5% alcohol by volume, it’s still got more wonderful hoppy character than most 6% IPAs. When you need to operate heavy machinery but you really want a beer, Easy Jack is there for you.

1. Founders Rübæus


Brewery: Founders Brewing Co.
City: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Style: Fruit Beer
ABV: 5.7%
Description: Most fruit beers are either syrupy sweet or so subtly fruity that it almost wasn’t worth the bother. But with Rübæus, Founders hits the er…sweet spot—there’s no missing the raspberry flavor here, but it doesn’t taste sugary. The flavor is a product of malts as much as fruits, and I can’t think of a 5.7% beer that goes down easier. This is a delicious front-porch summer treat.