In the summer, not just any beer will do.
Chewy IPAs? Fudgy imperial stouts? Sure, they taste great — but in 90-degree heat, they don't drink great. Their booze and viscous texture make them as refreshing as motor oil.
That's why we look to other beers in the summer. We look to lighter, crisper, more refreshing beers that you can savor in the sun. We look to beers that not only taste great, but drink great.
Thankfully, Cayuga County's breweries make a lot of those beers. Here are some of my favorites:
Prison City Pub & Brewery
The downtown Auburn brewpub's flagship Mass Riot India pale ale is juicy enough to do the trick in the summer. It's pretty much tropical fruit punch. But at an ABV that ranges batch-to-batch as high as 7.2 percent, it's not necessarily a beer you can put away all day on the porch or at a music festival. (Not that anyone will face that hypothetical in the near future: Almost a year after its No. 1 ranking by Paste Magazine, Mass Riot is still in such high demand that folks are lucky to snag just one Crowler of the stuff.) Thankfully, though, Prison City's Ben Maeso brewed a solution to this #FirstWorldProblem: Quiet Riot, a lighter cousin to Mass that comes in at 3.4 percent. But this triple dry-hopped session IPA is still every bit as hop-forward and flavorful as the more famous Riots. Quiet Riot is still on tap at Prison City along with a new edition of its 4 Piece Pale Ale series featuring the grassy, lemony Jarrylo hop (5.4 ABV).
Lunkenheimer Craft Brewing Co.
Most of Derric and Kristen Slocum's beers fall below 6 percent ABV anyway, but the best ones for warmer temperatures may be their kölsches. The Weedsport brewery produces a few, namely Buster (5.0 ABV), a straightforward version of the German style that carries the subtle fruit character of a light ale and the crispness of a lager. As Lunkenheimer's house beer, it's always on tap there. Also common is the Slocums' Hoppy Little Kölsch series. Each batch spotlights a different hop, which not only makes the style more appealing to pale ale fans but showcases the varietal's distinguishing qualities. Past batches have featured Equinox, Zythos and Loral hops, and one currently on tap cycles in Michigan copper with 100-percent New York state ingredients. But the experiments don't end there: Lunkenheimer has also poured through its nitro line kölsches made with cold brew coffee, blood orange and mango, the last of which is still on tap.
One bitterly cold January afternoon, Joe Shelton and Mark Grimaldi walked into Prison City Pub & Brewery with some concerns.
Aurora Ale & Lager Co.
When the Ledyard brewery poured at downtown Auburn's Memorial Day beer garden, I was able to put its Mango Goseface Killah to the test of summer drinkability. It passed, supremely. Like Mark Grimaldi and Joe Shelton's base gose, the mango variant's moderate tartness is balanced out on the palate by an equally moderate helping of sea salt. Add that splash of mango, and at 3-percent ABV, it's all you could want in a summer beer. It's currently on tap at the brewery along with a new Mexican lager, Don't You Know I'm Loco, which also packs coriander and sea salt into a light body.
The Good Shepherds Brewing Co.
Amid Garrett Shepherd's walloping porters and Scotch ales, he has another specialty ready to supplant your go-to fruit-infused Big Beer this summer: blueberry pilsner. Crisp, and with a perfectly present amount of fruit, the beer has also made its way to taps at Prison City and Finger Lakes on Tap in Skaneateles. And if it's not available, Sheps Vienna Lager (5.0 ABV) certainly suffices, too.
What's on tap
• Lunkenheimer recently added another summer sipper option in the form of a Berliner-style weisse, a 3.1-ABV sour beer with blueberries. It also has on tap a German-style hefeweizen, traditional pale ale Bier 190, oatmeal stout, Route 34 IPA dry-hopped with citra and mosaic, and the aforementioned Buster, Hoppy Little Kölsch with Michigan copper and nitro mango kölsch. On deck are a strawberry hefeweizen, an English stout, a brown ale and Park and Ride IPA, as well as a tasting at del Lago Resort & Casino July 25 and a Pouring for a Cure event at the brewery July 29. The Slocums are also planning a collaboration with Seneca Lake Brewing Co., whose first anniversary party Lunkenheimer poured at July 8.
• Prison City recently announced it will join more than 60 of America's most elite craft breweries to pour at the ninth annual Denver Rare Beer Tasting Oct. 6. The Auburn brewpub will take part in the event, which supports prostate cancer awareness efforts, with Vermont's The Alchemist, Portland's Cascade and other national names. It takes place the same weekend as the Great American Beer Festival. For more information, visit pintsforprostates.org.
• Aurora Ale & Lager has on deck a 4.5-ABV IPA made from a new recipe to be hazy and juicy in the New England style. A Berliner weisse with raspberries is also being made at the brewery this weekend, and plans are taking shape to bring back its Skinny Pete smoked porter with plums harvested from the Ledyard property.