Dark beers—porters, stouts and the blackest of black IPAs—often have an image problem during the summer months. Once the weather gets warmer, beer drinkers tend to shun these mahogany-colored beers and reach for an pilsner, blonde ale or wheat beer instead. Yet, just because a beer is dark in color, don’t assume it’s too heavy to drink during summer.
“I think there is a misconception that dark means heavy, filling or warming,” says Mark Theisen, head brewer at Coronado Brewing Company in California. Some dark beers are a good choice for summer sipping. For instance, he says, Coronado’s Early Bird milk stout is modeled after a cup of cold brew coffee with a dash of cream and sugar. “That’s usually how I take my coffee when it’s 90 degrees outside.”
In the summer, Theisen will also reach for Uinta Brewing’s Baba Black Lager. “I typically drink lagers in the hotter months,” Theisen says. “This beer is dark in color, but doesn’t sacrifice drinkability.” The beer’s lightly smoky qualities pair well with a summer barbeque, he says.
I honestly love an oatmeal stout during the summer.”
A darker beer can be a great contrast to light summer meals, says Ben Clark, brewmaster at Flying Dog Brewery in Chesapeake, Maryland. When choosing a beer, he says, “You need to consider who you’re with, what you’re listening to, what you’re eating and so on.” Flying Dog’s rich and roasty Pearl Necklace Chesapeake Stout goes perfectly with raw oysters on the half shell. He also likes to drink Union’s Blackwing Lager, a traditional German-style Schwarzbier, in the summer. “It’s a great beer to drink while grilling—I never open my grill without a beer in hand—and while you’re eating what you just grilled.”
Dave Engbers, co-founder and president of Founders Brewing Co., in Grand Rapids, Michigan, doesn’t allow the outside temperature to dictate what he drinks. Beers are always situational, he says. “I honestly love an oatmeal stout during the summer.” Left Hand Brewing Co.’s Milk Stout Nitro, with its creamy thick foam head and hints of brown sugar and vanilla cream with roasted coffee, is one of his favorites, even in summer.
Imbibing an occasional stout or porter in July and August is getting more popular, Engbers says, adding that Founders Porter is one of the brewery’s fastest growing brands. Eight years ago, it was only sold six months out of the year. Now, it’s available year-round.
For beer drinkers who still aren’t convinced that dark stouts belong at a summer picnic, breweries are offering lighter colored blonde, white or “albino” stouts. Dark stouts get their color from the roasted malt. Blonde stouts have all the characteristics of a stout except the roasted malt. They use coffee or chocolate to give the beer a roasted quality without the dark color. Illuminated Brew Works in Chicago has put its own spin on the white stout with its If You’re Not Into Yoga white stout, by brewing it with pineapple and coconut. And, yes, the beer takes its name from a recognizable lyric in the 80s pop song “Escape (The Piña Colada song)” by Rupert Holmes.
“We decided to make a blonde stout because we enjoy pushing the boundaries of a style into new places,” says Brian Buckman, founder and head brewer at Illuminated. “I like poking a style beyond where folks are comfortable. I think it helps remind them that a style is just an agreement between the drinker and the brewer, and not something cast in stone.”
Buckman admits that the beer tastes more like a Piña Colada than stout. “We set out to hit that flavor profile, both because we loved it and, at least we believe, there are a lot of emotions, memories and otherwise great associations locked up inside that drink,” he says. “We wanted to tap into those and play with them, and see what would happen.”
Our goal with the blonde stout is, if someone closed their eyes and tried it, they’d never know it was blonde.”
Coronado makes a Switch Stance Blonde Stout, which is has the same flavor profile as a typical stout but without the dark color. Oats and non-fermentable grains give the beer the same creamy, full mouth-feel of a dark stout, he says. “Our goal with the blonde stout is, if someone closed their eyes and tried it, they’d never know it was blonde,” he says. “It’s a fun mind game.”
Coronado’s blonde stout is only available on draft in a nitro and standard pour at the brewery, and only during summer months. “People aren’t intimidated by a dark color,” he says. “The flavors are like a refreshing cold brew.”
October’s Dark Beers of Summer
Coronado Brewing Company’s Early Bird milk stout
Uinta Brewing’s Baba Black Lager
Flying Dog Brewery’s Pearl Necklace Chesapeake Stout
Illuminated Brew Works’ If You’re Not Into Yoga white stout
Coronado Brewing Co.’s Switch Stance Blonde Stout