Summer is the thirsty season. The temperature’s up, the weather draws us to outdoor pursuits and many of us are fortunate enough to have some extra leisure time. By the pool, on the golf course, at a barbecue, at a ball game—wherever we find ourselves, we all seem to turn to beer.
Brewers understand that, and feature more refreshing beer styles for the summer season. And retailers prepare for faster turnover of a growing range of choices. But although the volume may be higher in the summer, many trends echo patterns seen all year long: consumers are embracing more flavorful beverages, convenient packaging and novelty.
At Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Annapolis, MD, beer department manager James Campbell expects the uptick in sales to begin before the official start of summer.
“Pretty much starting in April, the floodgates open for all the summer beers,” he says. The reason, though, may be surprising. “The boost has been in a lot of the craft seasonals. We do get our big parties where they buy 10 thirty-packs of Miller Lite, but they are few and far between, versus the amount of people flooding in for craft.”
Chris Cambareri, co-owner with Jay Polke of Willowbrook Spirit Shoppe, has also noticed that although beer sales are up through the year, craft beers lead the summer sales spike. At his second-generation Cromwell, CT store, Cambareri finds that “the volume now is not any particular brand, it’s not on the mainstream brands; it’s on craft brands. We are a huge craft store, and I now see my orders coming in from the mainstream brands—the Coors Lights and the Bud Lights—and my orders for craft are just as big. Craft beer is exciting, and it has some consumers crossing over from wine or spirits.”
Styles and Seasonals
The dominant summer beer styles are, predictably, lighter bodied and lower in alcohol. But they are no longer limited to traditional mainstream pale lagers. Cambareri notes that “consumers are looking for session beers and lighter-style ales that they can drink, but they’re still going craft.”
“Blond ales, wheat beers, the saisons start picking up,” says Campbell. “Actually, one really cool one I’ve noticed an increase in over the years is the gose–the slightly tart and salty style. It’s surprisingly popular.” Gose (pronounced “GO-zuh”) is the latest obscure European style to be embraced by American craft brewers. The slightly sour wheat ale, flavored with salt and spiced with coriander, is still very much a niche brew, but a couple dozen craft companies—including the two largest—have produced examples.
“Samuel Adams Got to Gose is a brand new brew and a lighthearted twist on the brisk yet flavorful gose,” reports Boston Beer’s communications specialist Ashley Leduc. “In addition to the traditional salt and coriander that are hallmarks of the gose style, we brewed our version with a hint of cucumber.” The gose, together with a new helles, are part of the Beers of Summer variety 12-pack.
Sierra Nevada’s version breaks with tradition and includes fruit. “Earlier this year, we released Otra Vez, a German gose-style beer brewed with grapefruit and prickly pear cactus,” according to Bill Manley, the company’s small-batch product manager. “This light, tart, wheat ale has a very complex and layered flavor profile, but the mild tartness and the zing from the grapefruit and the cactus keeps this beer interesting sip-after-sip and it really hits the spot from a refreshment standpoint.”
Sierra Nevada also includes two all new beers in the 12-beer Summer Pack: 11.5 Plato (a session IPA) and Hoppy Lager, an American-hopped India pale lager, a hybrid style that plays off the huge popularity of IPAs.
Oregon brewer Deschutes has combined two recent trends—session-strength beer and fruited India pale ale—in their new summer seasonal, which shipped in mid-April. Jason Randles, digital marketing manager, explains that “hop Slice Session IPA will be replacing Twilight Summer Ale and will be our first bottled session IPA. Brewed with Meyer lemon, Hop Slice balances floral hop notes and a subtle citrus kick.” The beer is hopped with Azacca, Galaxy and Amarillo and, at 4.5% ABV, presents summer-appropriate strength.
Other breweries are adding fruit to various beer bases for summer refreshers. Radler, the traditional German style blending lemonade with lager, was an emerging favorite last summer. This year, United States Beverage will introduce Moosehead Radler, a less conventional blend of three juices—grapefruit, grape and lemon—with beer. United States Beverage brand director Georgia Homsany notes that “the great thing about Radler is that we’ve seen all kinds of people drawn to it, from beer drinkers looking for something refreshing and easy to drink, to women who don’t typically like beer that have fallen in love with it.” In-store sampling will be a key component to the launch.
Leinenkugel has a portfolio of shandies—shandy being the radler style’s British cousin. Marty Maloney, manager of media relations for parent company MillerCoors, calls Leinenkugel Grapefruit Shandy “the No. 1 new craft offering of 2015.” Initially sold only in six-packs, this brew returns this year in a wider range of formats.
Maloney adds, “then there is the beer that’s become a staple of the season, Leinie’s Summer Shandy. The traditional weiss beer with refreshing natural lemonade flavor continues to grow year-after-year and is the highest-velocity national craft in America.” The weiss beer, being German, breaks with shandy’s UK pedigree, but that scarcely matters to its fans.
Also joining the Shandy Sampler pack is a new Watermelon Shandy, a mix of traditional weiss beer balanced with a hint of watermelon flavor for a taste made for summer.
Echoing the theme of beers dosed with fruit, Blue Moon’s new summer seasonal is Belgian Table Pils, which is a “balanced, easy-drinking pilsner with hints of citrus.” In addition, the look of the Blue Moon line has been redesigned.
Heineken USA is bringing back a limited edition offering, Dos Equis Azul, in the Beers of Mexico Variety Pack. Jonathan Simpson, director, Shopper Marketing, notes that “Dos Equis Azul, a blend of signature golden wheat lager and blue agave, is the perfect summer addition, joining favorites Dos Equis Lager, Tecate and Sol, all in one convenient Fiesta Pack.”
Heineken USA is also debuting a new limited-release ale from Newcastle. Caley Amber Ale is a collaborative effort with the company’s Caledonian Brewery in Scotland. “Caley Amber Ale is made with a blend of whole flower hops to create a full bodied brew with a slight, pleasant bitterness that is brought to life by the open-fired solid copper kettles,” Simpson says. “A bountiful cream-colored foam head finishes off this incredibly balanced and smooth ale.” Newcastle Caley Amber Ale joins Newcastle Brown Ale and Newcastle British Pale Ale in a limited edition ‘Best of Britain’ variety pack.