Suffering from writer's block, I went over to see David Smith at Hammer & Ale in Cooper-Young, because the guy knows an awful lot about local beer. Standing before the constellation of 24 revolving local and regional (if you include Iceland) beers, he pointed out the very popular Yazoo Summer Seasonal Gose. "It's a light ale, citrusy sour with coriander and sea salt."
He wasn't talking about a new salad on the menu, but one of those continental sour beers that started showing up about two summers ago, claiming to be the next IPA.
"That sounds dreadful," I said.
David has spent a lot of his adult life in the art world — operating on taste rather than utility — and was kind enough not to call me a Neanderthal. "Well," he said, "we are going through a lot of it." Knowing what I know about the good people at Yazoo Brewing, this was probably one of the better examples of a traditional Gose. It may not be to your tastes, but they don't get it wrong very often.
I'm a professional, so I ordered a flight of four, including the offending sour. It wasn't as powerful as those Lambics that make you want to suck your tongue, but four ounces was enough for me to know I'd had enough. It was very tart. In Yazoo's defense, these sour beers are not for me. A couple of people in this city have tried to change my mind about them but, evidently, I just don't like the style. To be fair, it wasn't dreadful, and if a lot of people are drinking it, there's got to be a reason.
- Richard Murff
Next on the flight was a limited Lagunator Lager — a bock-style lager by Lagunitas, another brewery not known for getting it wrong. It had that heavier bock finish, but it wasn't anything you'd call a heavy. It was light enough and very good. It is the sort of beer someone who spends the depths of winter plowing through Scottish ales would love to hoist in the summer.
My next beer was a Longfin Lager by Ballast Point. And this was where I stumbled on a really great summer beer: very light and crisp, without tasting watered down. It's the craft beer that Mrs. M, a Bud Light girl, and I would likely agree on. And that's the sort of compromise that makes for a happy marriage.
Where Ballast Point lost me was on the final stop: Mango Even Keel IPA. I like IPA, and I like Mangos. But similarly, I like chocolate, and I like olives, but not chocolate-covered olives. If I were inclined to throw some mango into something I was drinking, that something would be rum.
My dominant thought while drinking it was, "Can't we just leave IPAs alone?" These waves of innovation are teetering on the edge of what the Brits would call "Too clever by half," and they invented the stuff. It's like trying to put a modern spin on your grandmother's fried chicken when you ought to just admit the old gal got it right the first time. And I say your grandmother because neither of mine could boil an egg.
The great thing about Hammer & Ale, though, is its mix of new and traditional beers. Experiments, even failed ones, can be fun. So even if I was offended by mango in my IPA (this is a pretty popular selection, so try it yourself), I could contemplate the ordeal with a pint of one of my go-tos, like Founders All Day IPA — which lives up to its name with enough hops to know it's there, but not so overpowering to get bitter in the heat.
It's the sort of beer your grandfather might have had. Again, not my grandfathers, they were from Clarksdale. Mrs. M's grandfather, on the other hand, was a Brit. I don't think he could boil an egg either.