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Why You Should Be Drinking Your Beer in Season

This summer, put down the hoppy IPAs and the cheap Mexican lager and switch to a saison, originally brewed to quench the thirst of farm workers.

Matthew Osgood

Photo via Flickr user kakissel

Herbal brews notwithstanding, just about every popular style of beer contains some hops. Their inclusion in beer is literally compelled by law in Germany. And in American craft beer, we've taken the hoppiness to an extreme because, well, America.

According to a recent article on The Growler, at this month's Craft Brewer's Conference, it was speculated that by the end of 2016, hop-heavy IPAs will make up one-third of the nation's craft beer. That's a lot of fucking hops. Lately, IPAs are the only thing that some people drink, but the bitterness and high ABV tend to mix poorly with the scorching summer sun.

And if you're a typical adult who chooses alcohol over lemonade during these sun-soaked days, you could drink something that isn't a mass-produced Mexican lager (though it certainly can be).

"I'm looking for a beer with complexity, but also balance," said Jason Perkins, brewmaster at Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine. "It's even more important in hot months. You need to quench thirst, but you want a beer that's not thin—one that has body and complexity."

For Jacob McKean, the owner and CEO at San Diego's Modern Times Beer, drinking should be tied to the seasons, because that's what we've done throughout time—but it's something we've largely forgotten.

"I love seasonal brewing," he told me. "We've become so accustomed to a homogenous, industrial food culture, which allows us to eat bananas in New York in January, that we're largely disconnected from the agricultural roots of eating and drinking."

McKean believes we can get back to our roots this summer by drinking a style of beer that's lesser known than white beers, hefeweizens, and pilsners, all of which are great alternatives. We can top off the experience by pairing the beer with a meal of seasonal produce.

"To me, the quintessential warm weather beer will always be saison," he said. "Brewed originally to quench the thirst of summer farm workers, the best saisons are both refreshing and complex. A great saison pairs marvelously with food, and is particularly complimented by summer flavors like citrus, arugula, and fresh herbs."

Saison is, after all, the French word for "season." The saison was traditionally brewed, starting in the 1700s, in the autumn in the French-speaking Wallonian Countryside in Southern Belgium, and fermented over the winter and spring months, so that the farmhands (les saisonniers) would have a refreshing beverage to consume during the arduous and hot summer farm work.

Of course, beer is not just for consumption after grueling agrarianism. The summer provides a host of opportunities for extended periods of drinking, from backyard barbecues to ballgames to boating. For these recreational activities, you need something that will help sustain a good buzz without putting yourself or others at risk of one of your famous profanity-laden rants or campfire gymnastics routines. And when your second cousin decides to talk about making America great again, getting another beer is a perfect reason to excuse yourself from the group.

"I'm looking for a beer that I am able to have multiples of," added Perkins. "There's a lot to do in the summer, like being outside or by the water. I want a beer that leaves me satisfied but also leaves me wanting to keep drinking."

This summer, drop the hop water, you cretins.

Perkins' Picks:

Allagash White; Witbier; 5.2%: "[White] is at top of the list. It fits the description of a beer with tremendous complexity and flavor. Really drinkable. Full-bodied, lower alcohol. You get orange, esters, spice, silkiness."

Allagash House Beer; Belgian Single; 4.5%: "We only sell at it the brewery. It's a nod to the house beers or table beers that are done at Belgian breweries."

Oxbow Beer (Newcastle, ME) Grizzaca; Saison; 5.2%: "A Grisette-style, which is a lower ABV saison. Great hop character, great esters, really drinkable. The brewery is literally a farmhouse, too."

Rising Tide Brewing Company (Portland, ME) Daymark; Rye Beer; 5.5%: "A year-round beer, but particularly nice in the summer. There is a decent amount of rye and good hop character."

McKean's Picks:

Brasserie Dupont (Tourpes, Belgium); Saison; 6.5%: "The benchmark for all saisons."

Modern Times Fruitlands; Gose with passion fruit and guava: "Kettle souring is enjoying a richly deserved revival, and our summer fruited edition is all kinds of refreshing."

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales (Hood River, OR) Seizoen Bretta; Saison; 8%: "Saisons and funk are perhaps the most natural combination in the world of brewing."

Brouwerij Duvel (Breendonk-Puurs, Belgium) Single; Belgian Pale Ale; 6.8%: "An immaculately brewed Belgian single that is as delicious and crushable as it gets."