Clichés are a cliche for good reason, right?
Someone, a long time ago, wrote a song about a man or a woman who spurned them, and I think that’s pretty much 70% of all country music.
Steve McQueen raced a cool car through the streets of San Francisco in “Bullitt,” and 50 years later there have been, I think, nine Fast & Furious films.
Every good idea is probably one someone’s had before. I was thinking about this while sitting in an Adirondack chair by the side of Laurel Lake in Massachusetts, with the cool, wet grass between my toes and a cold beer in my hand.
The summer, for me, officially begins when I can put a few miles between my butt and home and park said butt near a warm body of water and a cold beer.
So while John, 6 and a born adventurer, was out paddling a kayak and exploring the margins of the placid lake with Christina on a warm morning, I passed the time with our younger son, Ben, and a taste or two of Berkshire Brewing Company’s Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale.
Ben is 4 and a bit more wary of the water. He wanted absolutely nothing to do with the lake, relegating me, clearly the B team to Christina’s varsity when it comes to kayaking, to shore. But Steel Rail (5.3% ABV, 20 IBU) out of Deerfield, Mass., certainly stifled any disappointment I was feeling.
We set up shop ashore, Ben armed with half a dozen small toys he called his Pokémon (most of which were, curiously, cars) and me armed with a paperback and a couple of cold ones.
Slightly hazy and the color of golden straw, the Steel Rail is Berkshire’s flagship — a light, medium-bodied ale that’s about as easy as easy drinking gets. It’s lightly floral and a little malty and semisweet. And as cliche as it is, it’s exactly the kind of beer you want when the air gets a little heavier and the sun a little brighter. And it served as a pretty good first impression for Berkshire, a small, regional brewery that does not, that I’m aware of, distribute to this part of New York.
Christina and John, who was having the time of his life paddling through lilly pads and exploring felled tree trunks and patches of moss, were out on the water for a good hour or more. So after a while I was reading a bit of Raymond Carver to Ben (I don’t think he was quite old enough to grasp how depressing Carver is, thankfully) and enjoying a second Steel Rail. I hadn’t been out on a kayak in a good 10 years, so I think morbid short fiction, Pokémon and the Rail were a bit more my speed anyway.
And that heralded a couple more pretty good brews that weekend.
The Lost Sailor IPA (5.8% ABV, 40 IBU) has a rich amber color and that dry-hopped, citrus aroma that you want in an English Style IPA, but it’s a little sweeter than I’d expected. That kind of balances out the bitter hop flavors and makes it play a little lighter — not a bad quality on a summer day.
I would not say the same thing about my final taste of Berkshire Brewing, which came later that night in the cooler comforts of the hotel room … and I’m thankful for that. Because The Russian (8.7% ABV, 30 IBU), while a gorgeous, gorgeous beer, is not the kind of can you want to pop to cool off on a summer day.
The Imperial Stout was a deep, murky black with dark, fruity notes accented with toffee and even licorice was more of an end of the day beer. It kept me company while the kids slept, Christina lost herself in an audio book and the Yankees disappointed me with another in a series of bizarre losses. It’s probably better suited for a gluttonous holiday meal or a warming, boozy escape from shoveling snow. But even a bit out of season, it was as tasty an imperial as I’ve had in a while.
A mixed six pack of some other tastes of the early summer that have perked up my taste buds and cooled my sweaty brow over the past month and change:
Raspberry Lime Tart Ale (Tröegs, Hershey, Pa.) — I lived in Pennsylvania for more than 10 years and still have a lot of friends in the Pocono Mountains area. So I’m plenty familiar with one of the state’s best breweries. But when I picked up a mixed 15-pack, I was prepared for the bitter hops of the Perpetual IPA and the smooth drinkability of the Sunshine Pils. But I had never had nor heard of the Raspberry Lime Tart Ale. A twist on what was already a pretty great sour Raspberry, the Lime adds a burst of citrus that increases the pucker and, if you’re a fan of sours, the enjoyment.
Nu Haze (Southern Tier Brewing Company, Lakewood) — A burst of melon makes Nu Haze (6% ABV, 19 IBU) a juicy change of pace for an IPA. It really tones down some of the bitterness that might turn some people away. What’s left is the richness of the simcoe, Idaho 7 and mosaic hops and a dangerous drinkability.
Big Swell IPA (Maui Brewing Co., Kihei, Hawaii) — This one’s a heavy hitter at 6.8% ABV and 70 IBU. With two young kids, it’s not often these days that I get a little too carried away with drink. Probably the closest I’ve come of late was an afternoon sitting out on the back patio with a few of these bad boys.
Paradox Pilsner (Paradox Brewery, North Hudson) — I have mostly known Paradox for its Beaver Bite and Beaver Overbite IPAs, so this cross between a German and Czech style pilsner was a nice change of pace from those guys at 5% ABV.
Das Bier (Garland City Beer Works, Watertown) — Clean, crisp german-style pilsner that sneaks in there with a 6% ABV. It’s bright, crisp and a little sweet. Perfect summer beer.
Huntsman (Czieg Meister, Hacketstown, N.J.) — I have a buddy who lives in Hackettstown, and every time I visit, I can dig through his beer fridge and find a can of this dry, crisp, clean Kölsch. At 4.8% ABV and just 21 IBU, this is about as breezy a summer beer as you’re going to find. If you happen to find yourself in Jersey — at a lake, by the shore or even on my buddy Rob’s back porch, you could do a lot worse than to cool down with this one.
Follow Dennis O’Brien on Instagram @beernerddennis.