Memphis is hot, but you knew that. This may well be the fault of the military/industrial complex or the Republican party or global climate change, but when sweat starts seeping through your shirt, you need to know which beer to order.
Taking measures for drinking in the heat is actually more difficult than cold-weather tippling; you can always throw another log on the fire or put on a sweater. But in the summer, eventually you run out of clothes to take off, unless you want to commit some social gaffe you'd rather not explain to your mother. So I shuffled down to see David Smith at Hammer & Ale in Cooper-Young to talk beer and the hellish ambient temperature.
One great advantage of the craft beer boom is that beers are seasonal, rather than the one-size-fits-all lagers that dominated the U.S. beer scene for 60 years after prohibition. The drawback is that buying a beer now is like getting vegetables at the farmers market: You're surrounded by a variety of fresh options, but sometimes you just want to have what you had last time. Still, if you approach the selection with an open mind, you'll find something that does the trick.
The gleaming taps at Hammer & Ale showcase a few local summer favorites, like Wiseacre's Tiny Bomb lager, High Cotton's Biere de Garde, and the wonderfully named Crystal Method from Ghost River's Brewers' Series (a filtered hefeweizen that loses the cloudiness of traditional wheats). All of these beers are brewed to be light, fresh, and interesting enough to keep your attention. Hammer & Ale has an oatmeal stout on tap — the Poet by New Holland. They're selling some, but not much, in this weather. Smith tells me it goes well with ice cream as an R-rated root beer float.
Then I sampled a Grapefruit Shandy by the Traveler Beer Co. Shandies are often approached with a degree of apprehension by the male of the species. I've had a few in my day, but usually it's been when a female, at least slightly out of my league, made the suggestion. This one was like drinking a tall glass of Mama Mia — refreshing as hell — and didn't threaten my man card too much.
I think the Brits hit the hot weather beer target spot-on with their hallowed India pale ale — brewed for Saxon boys who were shipped off to wilt on the Indian subcontinent. It's been the best-selling craft-beer style in this country since craft beer was a thing. IPAs are generally light and spicy, and you never have to construct a back story to order one. Beware, though, IPAs are hoppy and can get bitter when your glass loses its chill. Perhaps because it was originally brewed for soldiers, the style tends to be higher ABV (alcohol by volume), which is fine when you're sipping but dangerous when you want to knock them back. To this end, the good people at Founders Brewing have put out an aptly named All Day IPA. It's a little lighter on the hops and the alcohol at a 4.2 ABV.
Smith said that his current best seller wasn't a local beer, or even a domestic. It was Einstök White Ale, made in Iceland, which isn't particularly known for sweltering summers. But Iceland isn't as random in the history of American beer as it sounds. With all due respect to Christopher Columbus, the Norse were the first Europeans to spend much time in North America. In 1002 or thereabouts, Leif Ericson bought a second-hand boat from a man named Bjarni Herjólfsson. Bjarni was out of the sailing business because, as he related to Leif, a few years back he'd got drunk on his way from Iceland to Greenland and run into Canada by mistake. Leif took the hint.
As far as Einstök goes, it is clear, crisp, and light — like the umlaut over the O. It's different without trying too hard. Worth checking out and adding to your summer beer arsenal.
At this point, I feel compelled to mention that having a tall glass of water along with whatever brew you choose is always a good idea. Or in the words of the British SAS (who've thrown back plenty of IPA in their day): "Hydrate or die."
It is Memphis, after all. And it is hot.