Warm weather is just around the corner and what better time to think about all the wonderful brews, wines, and other beverages available to satisfy your thirst on a warm afternoon. I’ve taken some of the load off your shoulders by strolling aisles and speaking to a few experts about recommendations for that perfect summer refresher. Tell me what you think of my suggestions, or send me your ideas. And remember, whatever it is you’re consuming, do it in moderation and for sure don’t drive a car or boat while enjoying an alcoholic beverage.
The number of craft beers on the shelves continues to multiply. Recently, I picked up a Sierra Nevada Tropical Torpedo IPA. This is a delightful citrus/pineapple flavored beer with plenty, but not too much hoppiness. I also purchased a bottle of the latest from Kona Brewing, Hanalei Island IPA. The passion fruit, orange, and guava balance the sweet hoppiness of this brew. Most of the seasonal summer brews are small production, so if you see something you like or want to try, buy it as it may not be there on your next visit.
Jeff Jansen at Van’s Liquor suggests Leinenkugel’s Watermelon Shandy ($6.99 for a 6-pack) or the Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse ($8.99 for a 6-pack) and suggests adding a lemon or orange slice to these beers.
For a summer beer that is low in alcohol and quite refreshing, Tim Althaus at Family Beer suggests a German Radler. Also known as a “shandy” in other parts of the world, Radler is basically a beer mixed with sparkling lemonade; however, other fruit juices can be used. One that is a particular favorite is Stiegl Grapefruit Radler (approx. $9 a 4-pack for 16 oz. cans). Tim points out that a lot of craft beer now come in cans. Some of the more popular brews include: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA (approx. $17 for a 12-pack of cans), Toppling Goliath – five varieties, including Pseudo Sue (approx. $10 for a 4-pack of 16 oz. cans) and Revolution Brewing Anti-Hero IPA (approx. $10 for a 6-pack of cans).
On the local scene, Backpocket Brewing Tap Room will have a dry-hopped fruit sour called Pucker Up Meow. It will be available in the Tap Room and also in bottles beginning in May. At Jubeck’s, Jay and Dan will be releasing a new beer every other Saturday, which will be variations on their barrel-aged sour beers. Sours are really gaining popularity and do particularly well in warmer weather. They will only keg 10 gallons of each variation, so it’ll be fairly limited – you’ll want to be there to enjoy it. Variations may include assorted fruits, mainly berries, as well as some dry hopped variations. It sounds like they will be calling it their Summer Sour Series. You may also find other seasonal brews such as a rhubarb wheat, a ginger saison, or a hefeweizen.
One of my favorite summer beer beverages is a Stout Float. Sipping one of these is a delightful way to end an evening. Purchase a bottle of your favorite stout – imperial or milk stouts are good, but I like a thick (almost chewy) chocolate stout. And don’t skimp with the ice cream or even gelato; buy the best you can. I prefer plain, really good vanilla, but I could be talked into a vanilla with dark chocolate chips. Imagine how those bits of chocolate will taste at the end of the drink… Yum! My suggestion is to head to Chocolaterie Stam (either Dubuque or Galena) and purchase a pint of their vanilla gelato. Put the gelato/ice cream into a beer glass or stein and slowly cascades the stout so it flows around the frozen confection and fills the glass. There will be lots of foam, but let it settle and fill the glass to the brim. To prime your pump, drink what’s left in the bottle then grab two straws – you are going to share aren’t you – and enjoy to the max!
Turning our thoughts to wine, there are plenty of options to satisfy your summer thirst and make your summer a bit more enjoyable. Rosés continue to be a hot item and you will find more and more choices this summer through fall. Frequently, the Rosés are blends of up to four or five different grapes which make for deliciously complex wines. Also, most of the Rosés are coming in at a lower alcohol level – around 12.5% to 14% – which allows you to easily enjoy more than one glass. Rosés from Europe (particularly France) can be found in all local stores. Recommendations from Van’s include Apothic Rosé ($8.99), Chateau St. Jean Bijou Rosé ($9.99), or the Milbrandt Rosé ($11.99). A favorite Rosé at Family Beer is the Chateau Miraval Cotes de Provence Rosé (approx. $25). It is described as “alluring, with peach and mango aromas that give way to a stony, racy-edged core of white cherry and strawberry flavors.” I had the pleasure of enjoying a glass of this last summer and I found their wine light and pleasant. Another of Tim’s favorites is Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel Rose (approx. $20). Tim describes it as “pure and focused, with a streamlined core of rose water and strawberry notes that move gracefully though the lacy finish.”
There is a plethora of fresh and crisp whites available for you to enjoy. One to consider is Sauvignon Blanc from Marlboro, New Zealand, which is simply spectacular. I find it bright, clean, and lively – perfect for a hot afternoon. Unoaked Chardonnays can also be quite refreshing on a summer evening. Roussanne, similar to a Riesling, is from the Rhone Valley of France. The grapes produce a dry white wine that is pleasant for experiencing on its own, or with the opening course of a meal. A fun wine I had recently is Furmint from Hungary. It was semi-sweet with hints of peach and melon. It paired well with a white fish. Others include Semillon, Viognier, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc that all pair well with salads and a wide variety of meals.
Some lighter, lesser known red wines include Carménère, Sangiovese, and Bardolino. Carménère is a grape originally planted in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France. These grapes produce a dark garnet-colored, but lighter mouthfeel wine that is ideal for summer drinking. Sangiovese wine can be dry, semi-sweet, or sweet and is one of the principle grapes used in making Chianti. Bardolino is a classic Italian ruby-red wine often used for blending, but, on its own, produces an uncomplicated light red wine that pairs well with fish or pasta.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t promote our local wineries. Barrelhead, Dubuque Heritage, Park Farm, Stone Cliff, Crimson Sunset (Cascade), and Tabor Home (Baldwin) all have fine assortments of lighter, some sweeter, wines that can match up with any summer barbeque picnic, afternoon on the river, or Sunday night at the Arboretum. All, but Dubuque Heritage, have tasting rooms and outdoor areas where you can enjoy wines while appreciating the Iowa country-side.
Where to begin? Jeff Jansen suggests trying any of the Patron Citronage flavored liqueurs (orange, lime, and mango; $19.99) to kick up any summer cocktail (think margaritas!). Jeff suggests using our abundance of watermelon to make a watermelon-tequila Cocktail. Bobby Flay purees seedless watermelon, then strains the juice through a sieve and mixes it with silver tequila, sugar syrup, blueberries, mint, and fresh lime juice. Now that should quench your thirst!
One of the popular and unique summer beverages at Family Beer are the four varieties of SQZ Lemon Wines from Mt Carroll, IL. Customers refer to these as “summer in a glass.” These naturally flavored wines are not too sweet, not too dry, but just right and are available in four varieties: Original Lemon, Cranberry, Lemongrass, and Lime. They are packaged in 12 oz. jars and sold as single jars ($4) or 4-packs. (approx. $15).
On the local front, L. May Eatery has Sangria on the bar menu again and EJ and the folks behind the bar are working on a couple of special summer drinks that may involve cucumbers. Pepper Sprout’s master bartender Russel is working on their summer specialties, but I spoke with him before he had details. Susan and Scott down at the Smokestack have a great crew who make fantastic craft cocktails! Do not let the summer go by without kickin’ back and sipping an artisan drink while enjoying live music on their newly opened deck. This is Dubuque vogue at its best.
Whether you enjoy beer, wine, spirits, or a bit of all, there is much to enjoy this summer.
Space Dust IPA – Elysian Brewing Company – Seattle, WA
This is an American IPA with an IBU rating of 62. I enjoyed this beer as the hops were up front yet sweetness came through on the finish. There were fruit flavors of orange, grapefruit (well, duh, it’s an IPA), but a hint of ginger and papaya came through for me. A good choice for a summer sip. 7.2% ABV
Wolf Among Weeds – Golden Road Brewing – Los Angeles, CA
I loved this IPA… a bit big at 8%, but the flavor is well worth it. This beer has robust citrus with an IBU of 80. This is the Papa IPA to the Wolf Pup (also by Golden Road), a Session IPA at only 4.5% ABV and an IBU of 50. Both are really nice brews. If you are going to consume more than one, go with the Wolf Pup. 8% ABV
ESB (Extra Special/Strong Bitter Beer) – Fuller, Smith & Turner – London, England
Fuller, Smith & Turner is a micro-brewery in London, England. This beer was first made in 1971 to replace a beer named Old Burton Extra. In the glass, the color is that of mahogany with a very mellow bitterness. A beer to savor, not simply drink. The ESB has won the World Championship Beer Award on two occasions. A must have! 5.5% ABV
2014 Mâcon-Villages Chardonnay – Louis Jadot Winery – Beaune, France
This wine had a delightful mouthfeel with notes of pear and a slight essence of lemon. It did not have much of a bouquet, but the finish was refreshing as the lemon became more pronounced. This wine deserves to be enjoyed with food, including hors d’oeuvres, grilled fish, sea food, goat’s milk cheese, or poultry. 13% ABV