A love of summer and the freedom it provides is deeply rooted in all of us from childhood. So, a beer called Summer Love invokes feelings of nostalgia. Nostalgia for staying outside all day, old friends, and nights when the evening light hangs around just long enough to get yourself in trouble. Maybe that’s the problem with Victory’s summer seasonal—it sets up unfair expectations for itself. Nothing can live up to summers past.
My mind was imagining a beer that could just as easily be enjoyed at night as it could in the morning hours of a day off; a beer that could hang out at a concert or on the back porch; one that would pair just as well with a book on the beach or park. Unfortunately, this is a summer love I won’t be missing once September rolls around.
Upon first pour, the beer is inviting. A refreshing clear golden beer that I can actually see through is a welcome break from the haze craze that has filled New Jersey (and all other) breweries of late. On the nose the beer isn’t anything memorable. A very light pine scent overcome immediately with the classic “light beer” malt and bready yeast tones that we all remember from another life. The bottle encourages drinkers to “enjoy the easy days of summer with this refreshing and aromatic golden ale. Enticing earthy and citrusy hop aromas give way to flavors of lemon and pine.”
It just feels like a beer that would stand on its own in November with a little more ABV and a couple of tweaks to embolden the flavor.”
I certainly get the floral, lemony notes on the palate for a second that seems as fleeting as summer itself. This is a beer brewed with whole flower hops—not the pellets that are more widely available and more frequently used. “Whole hop” means the entire dried hop cone is used as opposed to pellets. When a beer uses pellet hops, the hop cones are ground up and then pressed into the pellet shape that you’ve probably seen passed around for sniff tests during brewery tours. The reason these pellet hops exist is that their extraction efficiency is higher than that of a whole hop—meaning higher IBUs for less money and less risk. Whole hops are subjected to more oxidizing, as well as other factors, that can diminish the flavor more rapidly than the pellet. The use of these whole hops, though, as present in this beer, provide a fresh, albeit subtle, resinous hop flavor.
The first sip is a malt bomb that reminds me more of an autumn beer than something labelled “Summer Love”. Once the malt subsides, it has a classic light beer backbone that’s followed up by a mild lemon rind flavor. It’s a beer that, while light and crisp, doesn’t portray summer—or love—as I had hoped it would. The pine notes of the cascade and simcoe hops fade away into a rich sweetness that I wasn’t expecting (it wasn’t necessarily the best type of surprise). For me, a golden summer ale should be light, crisp and do one thing really well, such as highlight a fruit or one hop varietal. This way it’s easy drinking while still being complex enough to pair well with classic summer foods. Instead, Victory’s Summer Love left me pining. It just feels like a beer that would stand on its own in November with a little more ABV and a couple of tweaks to embolden the flavor. It’s worth a try, but I would temper expectations for a true summer love.