At last, the long winter is a memory. Tree leaves are popping out, birds are singing, long-sleeved shirts are tucked away in the bottom of my dresser drawers, and a new batch of beer is bubbling away in a fermentation bucket.
The signs of the approaching summer have me thinking ahead to days of sitting in the backyard with friends and family — a plate of grilled goodies in one hand and a cold beer in the other. In order to celebrate summer appropriately, one needs to have the right kind of brew — something light, crisp and refreshing. I thought a citrusy summer ale would fit the bill nicely.
One of my favorite beers around this time of year is Samuel Adams Summer Ale, a lighter beer with distinctive lemon undertones that’s hoppy enough for avid beer drinkers and gentle enough on the palate for more casual, fruit-loving beer drinkers.
I decided to build my own ale, modeled after Samuel Adams’.
I started out with light grains and malt extract to give the brew a rich golden color. The first major difference between this beer and previous batches is the hops.
Sorachi Ace hops were recommended to me for their citrus aroma — based solely on smell, they’re easily one of my favorites. Adding this one type of hop three times during the one-hour brewing process (1 ounce at the beginning of the boil, 1 ounce about halfway through and the last at the very end, just before turning off the burner) allowed the Sorachi to contribute to the aroma, bitterness and flavor of the final product.
As great as these hops are, they probably would fall short of the high-citrus character I was aiming for, so I headed to the grocery store. I snatched up a pair of oranges and a lemon. As I turned to leave, I spotted a pile of limes. Lime hadn’t even crossed my mind until that point, but I grabbed one anyway. Lemon and lime have always gone well together, so I’m not worried about the choice.
There are several ways to incorporate fruit into brews. Some brewers use dried fruit or dried peels, while others drop whole fruits into the pot during the boil or before closing the lid on the primary fermentation bucket. If you decide to throw anything into your beer after the boil is over, be sure it’s free of impurities. In the case of fruit, it needs to be pasteurized in order to kill off any foreign yeasts that might mess with the character of the beer during fermentation. Adding the fruit during the boil, however, decreases any risk for contamination because the heat will kill off any yeast on the fruit. Rather than use whole fruits, I opted for a slightly different approach.
Taking a cheese grater to the orange, lemon and lime peels, I collected the shavings and dumped them into the pot in the last 10 minutes of the boil. For good measure, I squeezed the juice from the four citrus fruits into the brew.
I decided against adding the whole fruits because I didn’t want to overpower the beer with citrus. I’m hoping the peel shavings and juice won’t be too much — just enough to give the beer some zest and a smooth crispness that will suit a hot day (when one finally shows up, that is).
I’m not sure if shavings from two oranges, one lemon and one lime are the perfect calibration for this brew, so I would encourage others attempting this sort of beer to try different amounts or types of fruit. That’s what makes the home-brewing process so much fun. Sure, you can go from written, tried-and-tested recipes, but you also can design your own wing-and-a-prayer concoction. Chances are, one home-brew will turn out better than the other, but both are likely to be better than most of what you could buy at the grocery store at a much greater cost.
In a week, the citrusy summer ale will be ready for secondary fermentation, and three weeks from then, it should be ready to drink, I hope, just in time for hotter summer days.
Citrus summer ale ingredients
Specialty grains: ¼ pound honey malt
½ pound Caramel 15 malt
3 ounces Sorachi Ace hops
2 3.3-pound jars Briess CBW Pilsen Light
I’d like to leave you with a few of my favorite beer-related quotes from some of the more famous beer enthusiasts out there. Many of them were or are home-brewers themselves. A family friend from Massachusetts who has been keeping up with The Hopeful Hopster gave me a magazine clipping that included some great quotes, and I was inspired to look up others. More quotes will come in future columns.
“There cannot be good living where there is not good drinking.” — Benjamin Franklin
“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.” — Dean Martin
“All other nations are drinking Ray Charles beer, and we are drinking Barry Manilow.” — Dave Barry
“I decided to stop drinking with creeps. I decided to drink only with friends. I’ve lost 30 pounds.” — Ernest Hemingway
“If my mother was tied up and held ransom, I might think about making a light beer.” — Greg Koch, CEO and co-founder of California’s Stone Brewing
Finally, my usual ending and a submission for the beer quote chronicles: Bring it on. Brew on.
Nick McCrea is a Bangor Daily News copy editor. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maine and a master’s degree in magazine, newspaper and online journalism from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. This occasional column will chronicle his first endeavor at beer brewing.