As hard as it might be to believe, another Arkansas spring is already upon us once again. I was finishing off one of the heavier winter beers in the fridge the other day and commented out loud to my wife that I needed to stock up on some springtime brews, prompting my young daughter to say, “Beer is beer, isn’t it? What does the season have to do with it?” Now, my children are all well underage so it is a relief that she didn’t start singing the praises of enjoying a good maibock with a Sunday afternoon NBA game. But it did strike me that there are probably some adults with at least a rudimentary appreciation of beer who don’t fully realize that – while of COURSE you can enjoy a shandy in January or a marzen style in June – different beer styles are differently suited for the foods, activities, and weather of different times of year.
“Chris,” you might be saying to yourself right now, “I am somewhat intrigued by your premise and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.” Well, you can subscribe to Colonial’s weekly newsletter here! Meanwhile, I’ll be happy to take you through a brief 101 on pairing beer with the four seasons.
The stresses of the holidays are finally behind us, our heavy coats make their way to the back of the closet in favor of lighter jackets, and we go outdoors as the sun gradually begins to reclaim the evening sky. After months of drinking darker, heavier beers, bocks are a good transition to slowly wean off of malty winter beers. Bocks are lighter than stouts and porters but still dark, a bit more dry than most winter styles but still sweet. If you’re looking for something different, saisons are generally full of sour notes and usually have a low enough ABV for a sunny afternoon session. Spring marks the beginning of the new hop season, so many breweries experiment with fresh hops, leading to lighter, crisper flavors than the hops used in autumn and winter beers.
Anybody who’s lived here for more than ten minutes knows that summer in Arkansas is a hot, humid, sticky five or six months. We make the best of it with swimming, grilling, and praying to the Greek god Boreas for sweet relief (maybe that’s just me), but summer beer can help. Lighter bodied beers are a natural for summer, so a hefeweizen, my personal favorite summer style, is perfect; full of flavor but also light in constitution. Fruit beers, particularly the shandy, are an excellent choice to refresh yourself when you have to mow your lawn on an unbearably hot evening. And while a lot of beer snobs associate pilsners with mass-produced mainstream beers; while not the best, these beers are popular for a reason. Your great Uncle Dale is 85 years old, guys, you’re not getting him into barrel aged IPAs, so steer into the skid and bring a craft pilsner to his pool party. Tell him it’s like “Bud Light, but better”, he might actually like it!
Fall, my favorite season. The thermometer begins to drop back into the double digits, the excitement for football season is in the air, the gusts of cooler wind in the lengthening evenings tell us that we’re about to scare ourselves silly for Halloween. I love it, and I especially love the beer styles that fit the Friday night anticipation for Saturday trips to the pumpkin patch or the neighborhood chili cookoffs. While some scoff at our society’s overenthusiastic infatuation with pumpkin, it dominates the autumn beer scene for a good reason. For those who prefer their brew to be less dessert-like, autumn goes hand in hand with the heavier maltiness of the infinitely sessionable ambers. And don’t you dare sleep on the ultimate autumn beer, Germany’s world-renowned Oktoberfest (a.k.a. marzen) style, with its copper color, medium body, and smooth, toasty, malty richness.
Although we’re spared the bitter cold and inclement weather our friends and neighbors up north endure, winter in Arkansas can still be chilly and demands beer best suited for time spent indoors visiting friends and catching up with family. Stouts and porters are not the same thing, but they’re close enough that they don’t get offended if you mistake them for a couple (they’re totally not dating, though). Both are dark, both are heavy bodied, and both will leave you feeling warm on those brisk nights that begin at 5:00 p.m. Winter is also a time for chocolate and coffee to have heavy influences on the beers we drink. And for those of us with extra demanding in-laws, imperial and barrel-aged beers carry a much higher ABV, which increases your chances of not remembering those awkward, uncomfortable politically charged diatribes you bite your tongue to sit through after holiday dinner.
So there you go! Remember, this is a gross oversimplification of a fairly complex topic, and it’s all a matter of opinion! If you want to crack open a porter on the hottest, sunniest August day, I want you to follow your heart. The best beer is always the one you’re drinking right now. Cheers!