Four styles of craft brews to liven up your Fourth

Tried smoked beer? Might be just the thing for your Fourth of July BBQ

Shopping for the Fourth of July BBQ used to be so easy, just grab a few pounds of ground beef, some frankfurters, and a couple cases of brewskis. Now, you’ve got to find the artisan butcher selling sustainable tomahawk-chops, grind up your own bratwurst, and spend a half hour in the beer aisle trying to decide what craft brews go best with freedom and fireworks (pro tip - they all do).

Since there are so many different styles of craft beer to choose from, why not branch out and try something different on Independence Day? Here are four suggestions for lesser-known international beer styles to pair with summer’s biggest party day. From tart and refreshing to smoky, there’s something for every craft beer fan.

Smoked Beer

Pairing smoked beers with BBQ foods and safe-and-sane fireworks might be a bit on-the-nose, but it is sure fun. The German Rauchbiers of Bamberg are the most well-known smoky brews. They use malt that has been smoked over beech wood and can range from slightly smoky in aroma to something more that tastes like the inside of Bludso's smoker. Examples from the Aecht Schlenkerla brewery are easy to find locally. Another smoky style that’s making a comeback among U.S. craft breweries is the Gratzer -- a brew from Poland that’s uses oak-smoked wheat malts. The brews are light in body and more refreshing than you’d imagine, but they are a bit tough to find in bottle shops. Look for bottles of the new Lips of Faith / Three Floyds collaboration, or head to Eagle Rock Brewery’s taproom where you can try their small-batch Lil’ Smokey. 

Tart Wheat Beers

The light and refreshing Berliner Weisse has been making a comeback from obscurity for the past few years, and they are a perfect choice for a long day’s drinking in the sun. Golden Road makes a particularly sour version that’s available for growler fills, and there are packaged versions now available from Black Market Brewing, The Bruery, and Dogfish Head. Gose is another style of tart wheat beer that is gaining popularity among craft brewers and their fans, and this style from Leipzig adds spices and a dash of salt to the Berliner Weisse idea. Try the Golden Gate Gose from Almanac or the imminently refreshing example in cans from Anderson Valley Brewing.

Scotch Ale

Actually a family of styles ranging from the light, low-alcohol “60 Shilling” to the more well-known (among craft aficionados), and much stronger, “Wee Heavy”, Scotch ales are usually low in hop character and very malty with caramel and smoky flavors dominating. They match well to much of the foods in the Independence Day spread, and the heavier examples are especially nice with dessert (pecan pie in particular). It’s a bit tough to find the lighter versions, but try the Bellhaven Scottish Ale or fill a growler up with The Kings Taxes -- a low-alcohol 60 Shilling ale -- at the new MacLeod’s Ale tap room in Van Nuys. If you’re looking for something a wee bit heavier, the Wee Heavy from San Diego's Alesmith is tough to beat, and perennial favorite Old Chub from Oskar Blues is now available in cans that -- like a cans of Guinness -- contain a nitrogenating widget that produces the creamy head and rich mouthfeel of a true nitro tap.

Munich Helles

Not into smokey, tart, or extra-malty brews? Just looking for something easy drinking that you don’t have to think about while enjoying the family BBQ? Look no further than the helles style of lager. These brews were developed in Munich to compete with the meteoric rise of the hoppy Pilsner in the 19th century, but the German brewers put the emphasis slightly on the pale malts instead of the spicy hops of the classic pils. Helles beers are pale and low in alcohol with a slightly sweet finish; they make perfect beers for people who might not yet be into full-flavored craft brews. Hangar 24 makes a fantastic canned version simply called Hangar 24 Helles, and Oregon’s Ninkasi Brewing has released a seasonal helles called Lux that’s a little more hoppy and pairs wonderfully with lighter foods.

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