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  • Writer's picturePaige Latham Didora

Germans drink in the summer. #drinkthestory

What is the antidote to seasonal creep? Buying pool floaties when everyone else at Target is getting a head start on backpacks? (Guilty.) Putting up your Christmas tree on Christmas Eve? (Tried it once.) I’m calling it Seasonal Crawl. And you can, too.

Today is August 3rd and Oktoberfests are hitting shelves as we speak. I’ve gotten some affirmation-seeking questions along the lines of, “is it #toosoon?” Today it doesn’t feel too soon. We are basking in the gift of early September weather — sunny, modestly warm days and blessed cool nights — knowing that August can be a complete sweat fest and probably will return to melt us back into reality shortly.

When it comes to Oktoberfests, I would argue that there isn’t really such a thing as Too Soon. These malty, balanced beers are cousins of Vienna lagers and often appeal to porter lovers and Red IPA fans alike. Oktoberfests are endlessly pairable, poundable, and lovable. They’re typically cheap and they won’t lose any luster from now to the end of September.

But if you’d like to pump the breaks on fall, I understand. For all of you extroverts, event planners, and weekend travelers, I’m sure you’re feeling a sense of grief, given the empty void of summer in COVID isolation. There are still many weeks of warmth to come, and a bright, sunny beer is just the ticket if you’re in that camp.

If you’ve got Germany on the brain, but fall is a four-letter word, fear not. It turns out that the Germans have a whole host of non-amber beer for your enjoyment! Who knew? Today I’m here to tell you that German beer from Germany is the gold standard. But one excellent local stand-in is not to be overlooked this month, especially if you’re jonesing for a safe, socially distanced brewery patio or a backyard get-together with Minnesota beer. So pump the breaks on Oktoberfest and join me in enjoying Utepils Summer Sampler Pack. Trust me, the Germans drink year-round.

The Utepils Savor the Summer Pack is a quizzical two-by-four situation, making for 8 tall cans total. I wish I would have bought two. The Ewald the Golden and Skolsch may look familiar to my Minnesotan readers, but to my knowledge, the Tall Tails IPA and Plaid Bikini are newbies.

While I am not classically a beer “reviewer” per se, I recently cracked into this set of four beers with a few of the most knowledgeable beer people this side of a Zoom meeting – two BJCP beer judges and some guy named Dan. We were uncharacteristically impressed (#snobs), and here is what you need to know about this lineup — they go from good to great, and they’ll bring some German flair to your August.

Be a late bloomer this summer, and drink this summer sampler between now and Germany’s tragically canceled Oktoberfest weekend. Let’s call it Seasonal Crawl.

The Good: Tall Tails American IPA – 6.8%, 76 IBU.

Let’s get this one over with. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s not German and here I am telling you to drink Germany. It’s tasty, and it thankfully skips over the typical every-sampler-pack-has-a-dud phenomenon that our little beer club has grown accustomed to of late. It’s a clear West-Coast style IPA with a restrained hop bitterness for the style. We were in agreement that, were we to be quite nitpicky, which comes easily to our crew, it was lacking in intrigue and hop variety. Possibly a lower mash pH or some water tweaking would go a long way, and later addition hops would take this to eleven — it contains Zeus, Cascade, and Centennial. But it was very enjoyable in the American brewery who makes European beers and then makes an American IPA should be. Makes you wonder – what would a German IPA taste like?

Pairings: Frisbee, dry-rubbed jerk wings, your dad’s Gordon Lightfoot album

The Great: Skolsch Kolsch-Style beer – 4.9%, 25 IBU.

Skolsch is a “special addition” of the Utepils Kolsch, and what that means, I have no idea. This is a Kolsch-style beer that hit all those classic boxes, some of which are difficult to define. What is it that gives Kolsch its personality? The aroma is part mineral, part fruit. Grains dominate the initial taste, while a moderate hoppiness clears the palate for more. A classic crispness is required, making Kolsch the most appropriate warm-weather beer of this pack.

Skolsch hits each of those properties perfectly, and if it had a downfall, it would likely be that final crispness. A higher carbonation level might go a long way, since carbon dioxide adds not just bubbles, but also acid. That said, Skolsch is a near-perfect specimen of a tricky style that combines properties of ales and lagers.

Pairing: paddling, bratwurst, Kyle Kinane’s new comedy special – Trampoline in a Ditch

The Contested: Plaid Bikini Summer Wheat Ale – 5.2%, 16 IBU.

Plaid Bikini is a Kristallweizen, which is essentially a filtered hefeweizen. Filtration has removed much of the protein and yeast from suspension, leaving more subtle yeast-derived flavors. They are generally more delicate, but the family of flavors is much like a hefe. This take uses Callista hops, which are on the new side here in the Midwest.

Callista hops give notes of stone fruit and berry, which compliment the restrained clove phenols and create a wonderful bouquet of flavor and aroma in Plaid Bikini. Our group’s more seasoned judges were thrown off by the hops, which were derived at the Hull research facility in Germany and are gaining steam among craft brewers. While enjoyable to the average palate, they took the underlying classic flavor in a wildly different direction. Not a BJCP-certified beer judge? You’ll love this beer. And even if you are, it will grow on you as an exception to the German wheat style, with properties of both American and Noble ales.

Pairing: pruning the garden, arugula salad, Taylor Swift’s new Folklore.

The Indisputable Masterpiece: Ewald the Golden Bavarian-Style Hefeweizen – 5.2% ABV, 14 IBU.

Some reserve the Hefeweizen hype for the spring, in their own version of seasonal creep. But crawl with me, if you will. Think of the possibilities with phenolic flavors of banana, clove, black pepper. This bouquet plays up any number of grilled foods, adds body to an acidic tomato salad, and cuts through heavy fall stews on nights when the temps turn.

What improvements could be made to this beer? We discussed ridiculous demands like bubble gum flavors and slightly more carbonation, but in the end, Ewald the Golden is perfection in a glass. Enjoy the contradictions of fresh lemon flavors with the frothy, medium body, the yeasty clove without any sweetness that warm spices promise. Take it all in.

Pairings: a Connecticut-wrapped cigar, grilled bruschetta, watching someone else learn to roller skate.

#drinkthestory is a media collection conceived by writer and craft beer expert Allo Gilinsky, based in Sonoma County, California. We want to hear about the stories your drinking. Please use the hashtag and share.

#SummerBeer #classicstyles #Germaninspiredbeer #oktoberfests #MNbeer

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