Beer Run

When the heat is on, which craft brews are best?

Jack Rabbit Brewing Company’s Saison, right, shown with an India pale ale from Portland’s Breakside Brewery, is an enticing option during hot-weather months.
Jack Rabbit Brewing Company’s Saison, right, shown with an India pale ale from Portland’s Breakside Brewery, is an enticing option during hot-weather months. brobertson@sacbee.com

I think I just found my new favorite beer.

It was hot. I was thirsty. So I stopped by Curtis Park Market to peruse its excellent craft beer selection.

I wanted something thirst-quenching, so I steered clear of the dark, malty stuff I tend to like on chilly winter nights. The beer I had in mind would hit the palate, give me a nice punch of flavor and then vanish in an instant.

I wanted a beer that was clean, crisp, maybe a little tart, maybe with a touch of fruit, not overtly hoppy and not something cloying.

So I took a shot and pulled a 22-ounce bottle of Jack Rabbit saison off the shelf. What a beautiful beer – a bit tart, a touch dry and all kinds of delicious. There was nuance, complexity, balance. Am I supposed to sip and savor? Or chug this thing and satisfy my thirst?

Yes, this is a beer where you can have it both ways. I had this saison side by side with a very good IPA from Modern Times, and the contrasts were jarring, given my search for a heat wave-friendly beer. The finish was much cleaner and the body far more thirst-quenching than the hoppy and bitter IPA.

Indeed, the saison is a great style to pursue during this spell of triple-digit nonsense. One of my favorites is the session saison at Berryessa Brewing. In fact, owner/brewmaster Chris Miller has developed a reputation for his mastery of the session beer in multiple styles. These low-alcohol marvels are a good bet when the mercury is inching into the triple digits.

So are pilsners. Miller brews a great unfiltered Pilsner that’s incredibly smooth without being simple.

Pilsners are great with food, good in the heat and, with the American versions, at least, they tend to have a pleasing hop character that will appeal to those who love IPAs but want to dial it back now and then.

Another favorite heat-wave beer is the Alkali Wit from Track 7. This is a light-bodied and gently spicy Belgian-style witbier. Very smooth, very tasty with just enough of a citrus note.

A regular check of the draft beer selection at Capitol Beer & Taproom will give you an idea of what’s going on with the weather. Owner Ken Hotchkiss often has four porters or stouts on the list in cooler months, and he trims that to two about now through September. Pilsners and lagers in general are good in hot weather, he says.

He noted that Sactown Union has a well-received Kolsch that pleases in the heat, and Berryessa’s Mexican-style lager, La Fuerza Borracho, is a great warm weather beer. Give Track 7’s Slow Roll session IPA a try, too, Hotchkiss advises.

Anders Kindall, who oversees the beer list at Pangaea, says he’s all about Pilsners lately, now that summer heat is upon us. His favorite of the moment?

“On a hot summer day, nothing sounds better than a cold Pivo Pils (from Firestone Walker),” he said.

If you’re looking for a local Pilsner that stacks up to that level of quality, try one from Auburn Alehouse.

As for saisons, Kindall agrees they’re coming into their own locally for those looking for a hot-weather alternative. If you want to learn about saisons and the wide range of style interpretations, start with the benchmark, Saison Dupont, Kindall says.

Two recommendations from Kindall: Bike Dog’s Mosaic pale ale and New Glory’s Key Lime Gose.

I checked in with beer rater extraordinaire Dave Prillwitz to see what he likes during the hell-fire days of Central Valley summers. He has assessed close to 9,000 beers at RateBeer.

His general style picks for hot weather include Berliner Weisse, California Common, IPA, Kolsch, Pilsner, session beers, witbier (wheat beer) and, perhaps surprising to some, sour beers (the ones that are more fruit forward).

He recommends the Berliner Weisse from Claimstake, American Country Farmhouse saison from New Glory, Oak Park’s Citra IPA, Rubicon’s venerable Monkey Knife Fight pale ale and the Slow Roll session IPA as well as Panic IPA from Track 7.

From his bottled beer suggestions, here are just a few: Anchor Steam Beer, Russian River’s STS Pils, and Anchorage Brewing’s Love Buzz saison.

If you’re going beer drinking in this heat, I highly recommend you take it seriously. Yes, you should be prepping like an athlete. No, you don’t have to do 15 minutes on the foam roller, but downing a 16-ounce glass of water ahead of time will pay dividends.

It’s going to be a long, hot summer. Pace yourself, try some of these suggestions and let me know some of your own finds for surviving Sacramento for the next few months.

Blair Anthony Robertson: 916-321-1099, brobertson@sacbee.com, @Blarob

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