The sun is brutal and the air is thick and humid, and there's only one way to combat the Houston summer slump: Cold beer.
Fortunately, there are a number of breweries in our fair city, each of which has devised a special summer beer for the season. Some of them are released every year as soon as the days start getting longer. Others are small batch, limited edition brews intended to be as fleeting and lovely as a summer romance.
We tasted beers from each of Houston's six breweries and determined which libations are best to carry you through the summer and into fall. There are lots of hops, a little malt and more citrus than Carmen Miranda's headwear. Oh yeah, and there's also mint, hibiscus and Sour Patch Kids.
What can we say? Houston is full of creative brewers.
8th Wonder Dome Faux'm Throwback Cream Ale Ah, the Dome. Many local businesses have paid tribute in one way or another, and this beer is a collaborative ode between 8th Wonder Brewery and Moon Tower Inn. The brewers at 8th Wonder call this a "pre-Prohibition-style cream ale, similar to a pale lager. The idea was to create a mild, easy drinking beer reminiscent of what used to be sold at the Astrodome (you know, the mainstream light crap) only way better. The hops are understated for a crisp brew that you can drink all day long. It's available now at Moon Tower Inn and at 8th Wonder Brewery, where you can also try the summer beer that I find most intriguing: H8erade, the Intellectuale Witty Blonde brewed with Sour Patch Kids.
Buffalo Bayou Summer's Wit The tagline for this beer is "Real men drink pink." While you can see by the photo that it isn't exactly pink, it is brewed with pink hibiscus flowers. The folks over at Buffalo Bayou decided to riff on a classic Belgian Witbier for their summer Secessionist brew with the addition of the hibiscus as well as coriander, ginger and orange peel. The result is a fruity beer with mild hops and a very dry finish. This year's is lacking the heat that last year's Summer's Wit had (thanks to pink peppercorns), but the orange peel keeps it bitter and citrusy, perfect for chillin' by the pool when you want something a little more dynamic than the average Witbier.
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Karbach Hop Delusion The nose on this brew is unmistakably malty with some pine and bitter hops. Like a lot of hops. Like more than 100 IBUs (International Bittering Units) of hops. That's hoppy, and that's the point of this beer, which Karbach says will put you in a state of "hop delusion," wherein "everything you touch leaves your fingers sticky, and now even the people around you look like hop cones." There are notes of grapefruit and bitter citrus rind, but mostly--not sure if I mentioned this yet--hops. I want to drink this while sprawled out on a freshly cut lawn during a picnic. For what that's worth.
No Label Brewing Mint IPA Initially I was torn between thinking this tastes like Christmas beer and thinking it tastes like summer. But I kept going back for more, and I found there was something refreshing and summery about the strong mint scent. It's a pale ale, but it's very herbal thanks to the addition of five different hops and both a minty nose and finish. In the middle, all you get are bitter hops, but the minty-ness lingers, somewhat like toothpaste. If that sounds unappetizing, that's because this beer definitely isn't for everyone. It's best served super cold and with an adventuresome attitude.
Saint Arnold Icon - Texas Common While I was instantly smitten with Saint Arnold's 20th Anniversary Ale, a barleywine with a spicy honey and caramel flavor, a different Saint Arnold beer seems more appropriate for summer. The newly released Icon Series Texas Common is a red amber lager with a bit of hops and lots of tropical fruit combined with malt. The style is similar to San Francisco "Steam Beers," often referred to as California Common Beers because the "Steam" designation has been trademarked. But, this being Texas, Saint Arnold's unique summer brew is a Texas Common with a complex flavor that will whisk you away to a tropical island.
Southern Star Valkyrie IPA While many turn to Southern Star's light Bombshell Blonde for a summer libation, the Valkyrie is something that will take you from warm summer nights into fall. Initially it has the bitter hops that make me think of green summers, but that fades into a malty, bready flavor that I associate more will heavier fall beers. It's sold June through December, so it certainly straddles seasons, and I wouldn't call it an easy day drinking beer. This is for brooding summer nights hunched over the bar and the first cold front of the fall season...whenever that may be.