Finding This (Beach) Weekend's Summer Session Beer

Eno Sarris, August 24, 2015

Getting ready for the beach Sunday morning, I realized I didn't have any good pale ales left and we probably wouldn't have time to hit the beer store on the way. I was meeting up with a friend that likes good beer, though, so I brought my Trillium Day & Night and a dark saison and hoped that he would make up the difference. 

It was a good thing he did end up hitting the beer store on the way (he insisted to his wife, and they have one kid to our two) because I was the only one that really liked the blonde coffee barleywine at noon on a hot beach. I mean, I was tired, so the tiny bit of caffeine was great (yes I know it's trace amounts, but I don't do caffeine at all and I'm pretty sure there's some in there), and it had a little bit of a creamy mouthfeel without being as thick as your traditional coffee stout, so man I really liked that beer. Cool looking blonde stout thing, great tasting.

But I had to admit that Day & Night wasn't perfect for the setting. And my friend brought 21st Amendment's session IPA, Down to Earth, which had a bit of a fruity / watermelon taste to go with a refreshing, decent beach pale. It was much more appropriate, even as my personal feelings about the two breweries would fall on the side of Boston's best. 

I did wonder what the rest of the beach was drinking. (Probably not all of them were drinking at all, of course, and even less of them were drinking craft beer, as I heard talk of mimosas and screwdrivers from one tent in our vicinity.) But what craft beers where people drinking this summer weekend? Which beers are the king of the summer session trend? 

Though I'm not smart enough to limit my stats to beaches only -- lakes really screw that up, even if you could do some sort of sea-beach-only thing with the maps and the query voodoo -- I can at least ask the database what people were drinking this weekend.

Maybe we'll find some good session beers floating to the top. 

Brewery Beer Ave Score
Heineken Heineken 3.09
Coors Brewing Company Coors Light 2.78
Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits Grapefruit Sculpin 3.78
Anheuser-Busch (ABInBev) Bud Light 2.26
Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) Samuel Adams Octoberfest 3.63
Stone Brewing Co. Thunderstruck 3.77
Small Town Brewery Not Your Father's Root Beer (5.9%) 3.97
Guinness Guinness Draught 3.57
Goose Island Beer Co. India Pale Ale (IPA) 3.36
Founders Brewing Company All Day IPA (Session Ale) 3.59
Grupo Modelo S.A. de C.V. Corona Extra 2.92
Miller Brewing Company Miller Lite 2.45
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Pale Ale 3.46
Yuengling Brewery Traditional Lager 3.37
Anheuser-Busch (ABInBev) Budweiser 2.65

That's your top 15 by count. Heineken, Coors, Bud products, Guinness, Miller, Corona, Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams -- those beers are always on these sort of lists. People drinking lots of those beers is not news. Goose Island isn't always at the top, but it's in every ballpark right now and the distribution boost has to have helped it. 

There are only three beers that are not usually on this list that have zoomed to the top of our summer sippers. Grapefruit Sculpin has rocketed to the top of summer beer buys, and it basically replaced Sculpin in the rankings and improved on Sculpin's position by a few rungs. At 7% ABV with a nearly shandy-like grapefruit sweetness to it, you can see how it could become the IPA drinker's summer IPA. 

Even with all of Thunderstruck's fruit notes, it's not anywhere near as sweet as the Grapefruit Sculpin. And at 8.7% ABV, it's less summery, too. Since Stone IPA is always a top beer by quantity, you could say that Thunderstruck is doing the same thing Grapefruit Sculpin is doing: riding a distribution wave the top of the lists. Except that Grapefruit Sculpin has been around forever, and Thunderstruck came out in late July. I'd be more likely to label this the "seasonal Stone IPA boost" if anything. 

Founders' All Day session IPA is the beer here that got the biggest summer boost. Founders finds itself in and out of the top 20 by count, so it has decent distro. But It's not usually this far up on the list, and the beer is just too perfect a fit to ignore that it's a summer beer doing well on a summer weekend. A 4.7% ABV pale ale is tough to call and IPA at all, but slap that session tag on there it makes sense. In the first 25 Beer Advocate reviews, summer is mentioned eight times on All Day's page. That ties Grapefruit sculpin (Thunderstruck has zero so far.) 

If you sort the weekend's beers by checkins and take the top 1% of beers and then sort them again for average score, you get a familiar list. 

Brewery Beer Ave Score
The Alchemist Pub & Brewery Heady Topper 4.74
Tree House Brewing Company Julius 4.66
Russian River Brewing Company Pliny the Elder 4.64
Lawson's Finest Liquids Sip Of Sunshine (Collaboration With Two Roads Brewing) 4.41
Stone Brewing Co. Stone RuinTen IPA 4.27
Three Floyds Brewing Company Zombie Dust 4.21
Victory Brewing Company DirtWolf 4.10
Stone Brewing Co. Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout (2015) 4.09
Prairie Artisan Ales Prairie Bomb 4.09
Surly Brewing Company Todd the Axe Man 4.08
Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter 4.06
Sixpoint Brewery Resin 4.05
Stone Brewing Co. Go To IPA 4.04
Rogue Ales Hazelnut Brown Nectar 4.04
Stone Brewing Co. Ruination 2.0 4.03
Brouwerij Huyghe Delirium Tremens 3.97
Small Town Brewery Not Your Father's Root Beer (5.9%) 3.97
Green Flash Brewing Co. West Coast IPA (2015) 3.97
Southern Tier Brewing Company Pumking 3.94
Founders Brewing Company Dirty Bastard 3.87

(Stops to do a jig for the Todd the Axe Man coming to his house this week.) But seriously, the Axe Man is at 7.2% ABV, but no mentions of summer in its reviews, and it's probably just your traditional American IPA (except awesomer). 

On the rest of the list you'll find your popular stouts, and Hazelnut Brown for some reason, and your traditional high-scoring beers. Interesting to see Stone get on here with it's session IPA (Go To). When we traded session names on the beach Sunday, Go To and Firestone Walker Easy Jack came up first. On this list, Go To is your summer session winner. 

(No need to talk about the root beer or the pumpkin beer.)

Founder's All Day session IPA, Stone's Go To session IPA, and Ballast Point's Grapefruit Sculpin: at least this weekend, they were your favorite summer session pales.