For this month's column, we searched for domestic spring ales that were light and drinkable but also full of flavor. The six pack we assembled would suit a lazy ball game, a sunny beach trip, or a spicy barbecue outing. Some beers are specifically associated with springtime while others nicely fit the bill by coincidence.
Spring weather in Charleston compares well to biergarten weather in Germany and Europe. Bavarians stay loyal to their hefeweizens and pilsners in the spring and summer months, but in the Rhineland city of Cologne (Köln), locals quaff copious amounts of the pale-golden Kölschbier. One American microbrewery that nails the delicate style perfectly is Stoudts Brewing Co., based in Adamstown, Penn. Their impressive spring seasonal Karnival Kölsch (4.8 percent a.b.v.) is a straw-colored, crystal-clear ale with a pleasantly grainy aroma. Well-conditioned, light-bodied, and crisp, it starts with a pale malt flavor and finishes smoothly with a balance of noble-hop and cracker-crumb notes and a very slight metallic ping. Pair it with a loaded hoagie, cheeseburger, or chili dog.
Victory Brewing Company's Headwaters Pale Ale (5.1 percent a.b.v.) is another nicely balanced beer based on a very traditional style. The Pennsylvania-based micro is best known for its authentic Prima Pils and hoppy ales Hop Wallop and Hop Devil, among various seasonal hits. Headwaters Pale Ale aims for the more rounded traditional English style. Released in February as a 15th-anniversary ale, Headwaters delights the taste buds with an elegant balance of light and toasted malts and subtle hop flavors and an aroma that is more flowery than spicy. Medium-bodied and not too sweet, it's a versatile golden ale ready for any beef, pork, or spicy seafood dish.
Colorado's New Belgium Brewing Co. loves to play around with classic and obscure Belgian styles, accenting their ales with hops or fermentation flavors derived from unusual yeasts. The amber-colored Mighty Arrow Pale Ale (6 percent a.b.v.) is less experimental and more clean-cut. Brisk and bubbly, it starts with a huge, piney hop aroma (thanks to a large dose of Target, Goldings, Cascade, and Amarillo varieties) and follows through with mild caramel sweetness, replete with hints of dark honey, rye toast, and pancakes. Robust but not too heavy or bitter, it's everything you'd want from a medium-bodied pale ale. Right on target with Tex-Mex, steamed shellfish, or Cajun fare.
The brewers at Magic Hat Brewing Co., based in South Burlington, Vt., regularly release zesty seasonal ales. In recent years, one of their most popular pale ales has been the Blind Faith IPA. The latest version is a malty amber ale accented with a laid-back hop flavor and bitterness. Less assertive than many traditional India Pale Ales, the basic characteristics are appropriate for the style. It's a darker, maltier spring beer that could easily suit summertime events and cooler fall weather.
Left Hand's Good Juju (4.5 percent a.b.v.) — an herb-spiced ale from Left Hand Brewing in Longmont, Colo. — is a nontraditional spring-friendly beer to seek out. The micro recently celebrated a launch in South Carolina with a half-dozen styles of ales, ranging from milk stouts and wheats to barrel-aged specialties. As the name implies, Good Juju draws inspiration from the Caribbean by way of fresh ginger. Very pale and fizzy, it smells of raspberry and gingerbread and starts with a burst of fiery ginger flavor. It finishes quick and dry. This one would make a great mixer with fresh lemonade. Try it with a few dashes of bitters and a lemon wedge.
The standout ale of the spring sixer is the Bruery's remarkable Saison De Lente (6.5 percent a.b.v.), a hazy-blond, gently herbal variation of the traditional Belgian style of Saison. Bottle-conditioned, unfiltered, and unpasteurized, it's a complex beer with more hoppiness than one might expect, which complements the wild, earthy Brettanomyces (yeast) character typical of the style. Effervescent and lacy, it's a beautiful, vibrant, surprisingly refreshing beer to share with close friends. The pastel Easter bunnies and Easter eggs on the label are a lovely touch as well.