May is a great month for craft beer releases. Spring is in full swing, sure. But right now is actually when all the summer beers start to drop. That means craft breweries are launching their refreshing, light beers for a long season of sipping and crushing.
The best thing about summer brews is the variety. As mentioned, there are plenty of light, almost seltzer-like session beers available. But you also get the huge fruit-bomb IPAs with enough zest and sweet tropical fruits to almost transport you to a sunny beach under a palm tree. Summer beers can be light. They can be heavy (though they’re rarely dense, like a stout). They’re often bold. And they’re always quaffable AF.
Hopefully, the eight beers we’re giving love to this month will pique your interest and inspire you to explore exciting breweries in your neck of the woods. These picks represent regional craft beer releases from breweries that we vouch for (with tasting notes from the brewers themselves if we didn’t get to taste the beer yet, due to the pandemic), along with some seasonally released bottles that we’ve been looking forward to trying again.
PACIFIC NORTHWEST DROP: Elysian Full Contact Hazy IPA
Style: Imperial IPA, 8.8% ABV
Average Price: $13.99, six-pack
This new release from Seattle’s iconic Elysian brewery is part of a bigger story. Their “Contact” beers are all somewhere in the dank West Coast hoppy range, with different releases highlighting different hop levels and characters. In this case, bright fruit is the driving force, hence the pre-summer release.
This beer has a kick. It’s high ABV, sure, but the real kick is in the rush of pine resin dankness that leads towards mango creamsicles, orange flowers, and a touch of savory melon. The dank resin lasts the longest on the tongue with a high-level bitterness tempered by all that creamy fruit and a final hint of vanilla.
This is close to the boldest beer on the list but not quite. The fruit really helps this brew go down easily, especially on a hot day. Though, don’t forget about those high ABVs. This beer will put you on your ass.
SOUTHWEST DROP: Sierra Nevada Hoptimum
Style: Imperial IPA, 11% ABV
Average Price: $9.99, four-pack
This is the boldest beer on this list. The IBUs (bitterness units) and ABV are almost off the charts high and you’ll feel it when you’re sipping this one. The brew has a foundation of Carapils, Two-row Pale, and Pilsner malts that support a tower of Chinook, Magnum, and Idaho 7 hops.
The hops are the star of this show. There’s a touch of that classic Sierra Nevada malt far below the blast of floral hops, sticky pine sap, and almost chewy cannabis flowers. This is all about the floral dank with citrus zest making a bitter-ish appearance while brightening things up a little.
This is an IPA for true believers. If this is your first IPA, it might not only turn you off the style but off beer entirely. It’s a lot. If you think you’re ready for the mountaintop of the dankest of dank West Coast hop monsters, then this is going to be your jam all summer long.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN DROP: New Belgium Dominga Mimosa Sour
Style: Fruited Kettle Sour, 6%
Average Price: $11.74, six-pack
This sour wheat beer spends a good amount of time mellowing in oak that held wine. The brew is then spiked with Calamansi oranges to help edge it towards a classic brunch mimosa.
Tasting Notes (from the brewer):
“Inspired by bottomless sips in the sun, this citrusy-sweet sour ale shines with flavors of Mexican orange, tangerine, preserved calamansi fruit and is blended with wood-aged golden sour. Perfect for any day ending in ‘y’.”
New Belgium’s last Dominga release was a wonderful Sunday brunch sipper. We can’t imagine this new release doesn’t live up to the line’s easy drinkability and light body, making it the perfect brunch pairing beer.
SOUTHERN DROP: Jester King Balcones Bourbon Barrel Aged Montmorency vs. Balaton Batch 2
Style: Wild Ale, 8.4% ABV
Average Price: $40, 750ml bottle
We love Jester King Brewing. We love Balcones Distilling. This is the Texas beer and whisky match that speaks directly to us. Batch 2 is a wild ale that’s been double-aged in Balcones whisky barrels and former wine barrels for 21 months with a lot of Montmorency and Balaton cherries right in the barrel.
Tasting Notes (from the brewer):
“Our brewing team gets flavors and aromas of old fashioned, Red Hots, SOUR PUNCH® Cherry Straws, and graham cracker pie crust.”
We were lucky enough to snag a bottle of Balcones Bourbon Barrel Aged Moderne Dansk from Jester King. And yeah, it was a hell of a beer. There’s no way this isn’t going to be a subtly divine sip of beer from a big bottle that’s worth sharing with any close friend or lover who really cares about beer.
MIDWEST DROP: Great Lakes Lemon Hefeweizen
Style: Wheat Beer, 5.1% ABV
Average Price: $12.49, six-pack
This May release from Great Lakes is a consistent winner. It helps that hefeweizen is pretty much the perfect summer beer, to begin with. This American crafty version takes the soft fruitiness of a good German wheat beer and layers in lemon via a lemon puree and oil-filled lemon peels.
When you crack this open, especially a can, you’re greeted with a spritz of light and bright lemon oils. The body of the beer is light and not overly-fizzed. Think of something more akin to a homemade lemonade with fizzy water that’s been amped up with almost spicy maltiness and bright citrus.
This beer is f*cking crushable, especially when the weather gets too hot. The lemonade aspect really shines as the maltier side of the wheat beer reminds you that you are indeed enjoying a nice, cold glass of the sudsy stuff.
NORTHEAST DROP: Allagash Fine Acre
Style: Belgian Blonde Ale, 5.5% ABV
Average Price: $13.59, six-pack
It seems like every five to seven years, “Organic” beers make the rounds with craft brewers. This time around, Allagash has crafted a subtle Belgian blonde ale with local and organic ingredients that highlight the agriculture of Maine.
Subtlety is what really drives the beauty of this beer. There’s a nice hint of peppery spice next to fresh bushes of mint with hints of funky yeasts, dry straw, and sweetened malts. There’s a bit of an oatmeal cake vibe with orange icing that kind of brings the whole sip together with a malty, fruity, peppery throughline.
This is just a solid beer all around. While this beer is organic to its core, the taste of this beer is the reason you should buy it because it’s just … damn tasty.
WILD CARD DROP: Upslope German Style Pilsner
Style: German Pilsner, 4.9% ABV
Average Price: $8.49, six-pack
A perennial favorite, Upslope’s German Style Pilsner has become the ultimate marker that summer is indeed here. This seasonal May release is all about balance. The malts and hops find a certain harmony in this beer that is rarely seen outside of Bohemia and Bavaria.
This beer is light, in the sense that there’s nothing weighing it down. It’s still bursting with bready maltiness, floral hoppiness, and light notes of straw. The body of the beer is all about freshly cut grass, orange marmalade on hefty bread, and a bouquet of wildflowers.
This is the most crushable beer on the list. The ABVs are below five percent, which means you can enjoy a few of these refreshers as the days get longer and the backyard fills with barbecue smoke.
INTERNATIONAL PICK OF THE MONTH: Helles Schlenkerla Lagerbier
Style: Helles Lager, 4.3% ABV
Average Price: $5, 500ml bottle
Speaking of smoke-filled backyards and long summer nights, Bamberg’s Schlenkerla has just the beer for backyard sipping this year. Their Helles Lagerbier is a full-bodied lager that is smoked-beer adjacent. This brew is a lager that uses Bavarian malts which are fermented in the same tanks they make their smoked beers in. So the beer picks up a very faint hint of smoke without using smoked malts. The brew is then barreled in wood and lagered in the old Schlenkerla cellars until it’s ready.
Heavy-seeded bread with a hint of sour butter mingles with floral hops and a twinge of fatty bacon smoke. Hints of orange zest, old cellar beams, minerality, and more of that heavy bread with butter dominate the palate as the smoke lingers very far in the background and almost completely disappears.
This is another crushable brew. The lower ABVs make is the perfect session beer for an all-day smoke session in the backyard. As far as smoked beers go, this is 100 percent a lager first and foremost with a nod towards the world of smoked beers, making it very accessible even to the average beer drinker.