In my experience, there are a few kinds of brewers in the world: Those that never brew the same style or recipe twice, those that only brew one to three styles and recipes, and those that have a few key styles or recipes they consistently tweak and try to perfect while throwing in a new style here and there for novelty. There's no good or bad in this list, this is just where I find most brewers operate. I am in this list for sure, and I don't feel it is a detriment to my enjoyment of the hobby.
What does this have to do with seasonal brewing?
If you are trying to grow outside of your comfort zone a little bit and are ok with a little direction and framework - flowing with the seasons in brewing can give you some inspiration and novelty when the grind of the hobby can create some inertia. Patterns form because we are triggered to follow them through cue, stimulus, and action. Habits. We are habitual in everything we do, including our hobbies. The change in seasons gives us a cue - usually the weather - and we respond by getting excited (or dreading) the coming change. The associated feelings it stirs in us can be quite powerful.
Am I getting to the point? Yes. What I'm trying to do here is make the connection between your hobby and your life as it flows through the seasons. By taking into account what activities, social gatherings (once you're safely able to attend, of course), events, competitions, etc that will benefit from a little foresight and make sure you are pairing the right beer with the right season.
I am fully aware that some of you reading this have styles you can brew and drink whenever, wherever and be excited to do it. The key word here is "excited". If you truly can maintain that level of excitement for the beer recipe or style then continue doing that, but maybe for the other brews you are making around those you can put just a little planning into and have the right beer for the right time of year. Consider that while we love to drink our beer, we are often sharing it with others, and may want to consider what they may enjoy as well. The enjoyment of others is part of what fuels us to create.
I'm focusing on summer beers now because at time of publishing (early May) you have enough time to plan out your brew days and allow enough conditioning to enjoy your brews at their peak. Typically, I have my next 4-6 brews planned out ahead of time. I typically brew 2x per month. These are almost always a house recipe or two that I am tweaking, a couple of new recipes or styles, and of course, seasonal styles. Right now, I'm brewing for summer, and for me that is light, crisp, refreshing, and low ABV beers that I can session without hurting myself.
What styles are great for summer beer? Well, if you live somewhere hot it's something that tastes great cold, is refreshing, and designed to consume in quantity. You've got cream and blonde ale, wheat ale, golden and sparkling ale, pale and dark lagers, session IPA, Berliner weisse, gose, bitters, hefeweizens, table saison/grisette, SMaSH beers, and yes, seltzers. Some of those go great with fruit or fruit extract additions and can showcase the wonderful summer fruit coming in season. I take a few moments to visualize what it is I may be doing while enjoying the beers I've made, and that helps. We do a good bit of camping over the summer, so I try to think about what I'll enjoy sitting in the shade after a nice hike or kayak trip. (Hint: it's pale, fizzy, and under 5% ABV 😉)
Here's what I would plan if I were starting today with a goal of having a few beverages ready to enjoy for a family getaway or 4th of July party, starting with the beers that will need the longest time to be ready.:
1) A pale lager - pilsner, Helles, or pale Mexican lager. For and all-malt bier, I would aim for 1.045 OG and an FG around 1.008 - 1.012. If you like them really crisp, make an adjunct lager with an OG starting a little lower and dry it out with corn sugar or rice. Don't be tempted to make a bigger beer here, the key is keeping that OG low. Make sure you have plenty of healthy, viable yeast and pick a high attenuating yeast like Saflager 34/70, Imperial L13 Global, or Omega Mexican Lager. Give it 2 full weeks in the fermenter, package and condition for at least 4 weeks, it'll be ready just in time for the 4th!
If your set-up doesn't have the temperature control you need for lagers you can cheat a bit with 34/70 or Imperial L05 Cablecar and ferment at ale temperatures (60-65F) and get a similar result. You can also brew a cream ale, Kolsch, or blonde if you're more of an ale type, just keep them around 5% ABV.
2) Fruited sour - To keep this easy, we'll skip kettle souring and use the new Philly Sour yeast that will sour as it ferments. What a time to be alive! Keep your grist very simple - 2-row or pilsner and some wheat. Shoot for an OG around 1.042 - 1.045. Ferment with Philly Sour yeast and add your fruit as primary fermentation winds down. Philly Sour is a little slower than most yeasts so plan on giving this one 2 full weeks. Package and condition for 2-3 weeks and enjoy!
3) Seltzer - OK, hate all you want but these are sticking around. Personally, I enjoy them as a change of pace. Super easy, and they come together very quickly. Keep these light, as in 1.040 or lower. These will ferment out completely so an FG of 1.000 or lower is the expectation. You can use any sugar you want, and you won't need much. Dextrose seems to ferment out the fastest. You will absolutely need to use the right yeast nutrients like Propper Seltzer and pair it with a yeast that will do well in an all simple sugar ferment. We've had great success with kveik and it has the added bonus of fermenting cleanly and quickly at hot temps so it is great for those without fermentation temperature control. You can get these in the keg in as little as 4 or 5 days. Flavoring is definitely a must, and high quality extracts like Silver Cloud will bring vibrant and authentic flavors to your hard seltzer without adding haze, pulp, or residual sugar that can ferment and cause problems. I wouldn't recommend using fruit here. Carbonate these more highly - at least 3 volumes of CO2 and ensure your draft setup has enough line or flow restriction to handle the higher pressures you need for seltzer. Crisp, fizzy, and low calorie! Great for long days by the pool, campsite, or on the water.
So if you guessed that these three styles are in my brew plans for this summer, you'd be absolutely right. I have a Helles conditioning now, and a keg of seltzer that we will be flavoring individually at packaging with 3 different flavors. I'll definitely work in a Kolsch or Mexican pale lager, and probably a session pale ale or IPA if time allows. It won't be long until we will need to start planning for the fall so get to work on those cripsy brews!
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