Summer beers for 2012

Row of different types of beer in glasses on a wooden countertop. Photo by Ground Picture/Shutterstock

The weather is just starting to warm up, so it’s the perfect time to take a look at some of the brews available for thirsty cottagers.

Hop bombs

The beer trend of the moment is unquestionably the “hop bomb,” a collection of brews that dial up the bitterness to tongue-numbing levels. They’re created by adding more hops to the recipe, and by introducing the hops at more and different stages in the brewing process. There even exists a rating system for bitterness—International Bittering Units, or IBUs. Most domestic macrobrews hover around the low end of the scale at 10 IBUs; pale ales stretch between 22 and 50. Some American craft beers have IBUs north of 100, while one Danish entry from Mikkeller calls itself simply 1000 IBU. (For the record, that number is theoretical, since anything over 200 IBUs wouldn’t be soluble, let alone drinkable.)

Hop bombs are the almost exclusively the province of the craft-brewing industry, and particularly, until recently, the craft brewers of the American West Coast. These brewers were prepared to cast off Old World beliefs that insisted hops were mere preservatives, nowhere near as important as malt and yeast. And they did so with gusto.

Perhaps the most well-known Canadian hop bomb is from Barrie’s Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery, and not just because of the beer itself. The brewery’s Smashbomb Atomic IPA debuted in 2010 with a blast of free publicity from the LCBO, which deemed the beer’s name and packaging too violent and refused to give it shelf space. The situation was resolved by a quick redesign, and Ontario beer drinkers can now enjoy this 6.0% alc./vol. IPA that weighs in at 70 IBU.

At 62 IBU, Muskoka Brewery’s Mad Tom IPA is another Ontario label that’s been getting a lot of attention in the hop bomb arena. “Dry-hopped with Chinook and Centennial hops,” says Muskoka, “this IPA has a vibrant aroma, depth of flavour, and crisp, citrusy undertow…” Amsterdam Brewery’s Boneshaker IPA, a “naturally carbonated, unfiltered IPA loaded with citrus and pine aromas,” heretofore only available occasionally on draught or in 500-ml bottles from the brewery’s store, has now been accepted to the LCBO’s general list. Expect to see it on shelves soon.

The thing about hop bombs, of course, is that while they pair up perfectly with whatever spicy creation is sizzling on your grill, they don’t lend themselves to quick refreshment; you’re not going to pound ’em back while sunning yourself on the dock. That function is better served by a nice cold light lager.

Light beers

New entries in the light beer segment have been rare since the low-carb craze of the early aughts saw many short-lived labels come and go (Moosehead’s Cracked Canoe is a notable exception). One instant hit south of the border, Michelob Ultra, held its own and remains a top seller there. This summer Labatt introduces it to Canada, giving calorie-counting beer lovers another option. With its 2.6 g of carbohydrates and 95 calories per bottle, Ultra is clearly positioned to go up against Molson’s successful Canadian 67 and Sleeman Clear.

Not to be left out is the 2012 edition of The Beer Trend That Just Won’t Die: the addition of lime juice to any given brand. This year’s entry comes with a twist (ar-ar): Bud Light Lime Mojito. So that’s lime and mint. Plus beer.

Seasonal beers

Finally, summer’s return brings with it the summer seasonals—beers that are available only while there are leaves on the trees. Two prominent examples are from Toronto breweries, and both feature orange as the key flavour. Black Oak Brewing has announced the return of its Summer Saison wheat beer (“Brewed with wheat, orange zest, coriander and special yeast… Unfiltered with an orange hue, pleasant citrus aroma [and] slightly higher carbonation”) and Amsterdam is bringing back its Oranje Weisse, a premium unfiltered white beer (“brewed with un-malted wheat, which gives it a hazy appearance, Amsterdam has also added two types of orange peel and some coriander resulting in a unique flavour combination of citrus and light spice”).