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A Brewmaster’s Guide to Summer Beer: How it’s Made, Where to Find It, and How to Enjoy It in Boston

It’s nearly summer in Boston. The phrase itself, ‘summer in Boston,’ excites and energizes us, and may even prompt some planning and daydreaming about the activities the season will bring: where we’ll be going; what we’ll be doing; what we’ll be sipping on the beach or in the backyard.

While we’ve been daydreaming about those idyllic days of summer sipping, East Coast brewers like Adrian Hot of Cisco Brewers have been hard at work honing flavor profiles, optimizing ABV percentages, and even identifying ideal beer temperatures. As Master Brewer, Hot knows—nearly scientifically—what makes the perfect summer beer.

That’s why we sat down with him to go behind the scenes and learn all about it. He even has a first-hand account of the making of Boston’s beer of the summer, The Grey Lady, which he says perfectly depicts those perfect summer beer elements. Here’s everything we learned.

Ingredients 101

When producing beers, Hot says every ingredient is especially curated to make it the perfect summer brew. Summer beers, he says, are often light and easy-drinking beers such as American wheat ales. Those are beers with a softer mouthfeel and body. “In this scenario, we like to focus on higher-protein malts and adjuncts to help with the softer mouthfeel,” he says (an adjunct serves as the fermentable sugar element).

Looks matter, too. “We like to use pale wheat and flaked oats to generate the hazy, unfiltered look,” says Hot. They’ll also use a base malt such as a Pilsner to achieve that.

For Grey Lady specifically, which is also an American wheat ale with a pale-golden color and slight haze (symbolizing the characteristic fog of Nantucket), brewers add additional special ingredients to give it its signature flavor. “We will add a touch of lemon puree and a spice blend, including chamomile and coriander, to help complement the softer-bodied mouthfeel that this style typically has,” says Hot.

How The Ingredients Come Together

The American wheat ale ingredients, like the adjuncts, pale wheat, flaked oats, and malts, become a liquid solution called wort. “So after that, during brew day, we’re boiling our wort, we’re adding hops, we’re adding our fruit and spices,” says Hot. Hops are the flowers of a plant called Humulus lupulus that help beer stay fresh, foamy, and—you guessed it— ‘hoppy.’

“That wort then goes into a fermentor— “this is where the magic happens,” says Hot. The fermentor is where yeast is added to the wort. Alcohol formation, ester production, and carbonation are produced during this step in the process. And, to extend your summer beer IQ: Hot explains that esters are auxiliary flavors created during fermentation, which, depending on your yeast strain, may include notes of banana, apple, or pineapple.

Hot says the blend remains in fermentation for five-to-10 days, after which it’s conditioned, and then, the beer is “crashed.” That’s when they cool the tank so the yeast can flocculate out, he says.

Finally: packaging. Packaging is traditionally representative of a beer’s intended seasonality and experience, so Hot says you can use it to guide your beer choices. Grey Lady’s unmistakable seafoam-green can with a depiction of a mermaid comes from Nantucket’s Gray lady statue seen on the ferry from mainland Massachusetts to Nantucket. “Grey Lady is a symbol of a great time, and Nantucket vibes in general,” he says.

Identifying Summer Aromas, Flavors, and Experiences

Each of the brewing steps is closely tied to how a summer beer smells, how it tastes, and the experience of drinking it.

“These beers are highly aromatic so that the esters and other characteristics of the beer can shine,” he explains. Hot says that the level of carbonation becomes an especially significant part of how the beer smells. In a beer with higher carbonation, aromas will pop more when you’re sipping. “[Carbonation] also helps with how crisp the beer will drink and finish, so that it’s easy, light and refreshing.”

When you try Grey Lady, you’ll be able to see what Hot is referring to—it leads with that lemon element from the puree, but he says you’ll also smell those slight floral and lavender notes due to the carbonation. When you taste it, a green tea character will come through along with those predominant citrus and floral flavors.

“That’s probably my favorite part of this beer:” says Hot, “how balanced it is without being too sweet, or too citrus-forward, or too spice-forward. It touches on the best parts of the [wheat ale] style while keeping drinkability on the forefront.”

For summer, that experiential element of drinkability or sessionability was at the forefront of Grey Lady’s production. For long summer days spent at your favorite beach, beer garden, or backyard, a lighter ABV leads to more enjoyable and, ultimately, safer consumption. “I think that four to five-and-a-half percent range is probably the wheelhouse,” says Hot.

Not only can you enjoy beers like Grey Lady for longer stretches of time (its four percent ABV puts it at the sessionability sweet spot), but Hot says that low ABV also mitigates distraction from its pleasant flavors. “When you have a lower ABV beer, those subtle notes can come forward a little more easily and it allows the beer to be a great six-pack beer option.”

How to Serve Summer Beers

In the case of throwing a summer barbecue or dinner party, pairing the perfect beer with your food is the best way to elevate the meal and impress your guests. “If we’re talking about typical barbecue food, burgers, hot dogs, they tend to be heartier meals,” says Hot. “So something crisp and easy to wash down is always nice.”

Hot explains that the high carbonation in a summer beer helps cut some of the fat in those types of meals—”And I think the subtle citrus and spice character you get from Grey Lady also helps lighten the meal,” he says.

When you’re serving seafood, like oysters, crabs, and other shellfish, Hot says that the spices in the Grey Lady blend pair nicely. Plus, the citrus notes make it a great partner for seafood, which is typically served with lemon. 

If you’re really looking to optimize your guests’ experience, Hot has some bonus advice on serving temperature. Just like with wine, the colder the beer is, he says, the less you’re truly tasting the nuanced flavor components. “The intensity of the flavors that the brewer was trying to get across will be more obvious at a warmer temperature.”

Worry not—Hot does not recommend drinking warm beer. “No one wants room-temperature beer, so I wouldn’t suggest that,” he says. “But I really do enjoy that 40-50 degree range. Ideally, 42-45 degrees is my suggested temperature range to optimize your summer drinking experience.”

And, finally, Hot recommends a Belgian-style snifter glass for pouring your Grey Lady. “The focus, really, is on accentuating that aroma,” he says.

Where to Find the Best Summer Beer in Boston

The good news is, anywhere is a good place to grab a cold pint of beer in warmth and sunshine of the summer—especially in Boston, where there are plenty of options on the waterfront and throughout the city. Here are a few popular spots with plenty of tap handles to choose from:

Barking Crab | 88 Sleeper St; Loco Taqueria South Boston | 412 W Broadway; Legal Harborside| 270 Northern Ave; Cisco Seaport | 85 Northern Ave; City Tap Seaport | 10 Boston Wharf Rd; The Sevens | 77 Charles St; The Broadway | 726 E Broadway