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The 6 Best California Summer Beers

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Sure, come summer you can drink up beers with blonde or light or even worse lite in their names, or you can pour yourself something with some flavor that still won't weigh you down or heat you up. It really is a blessed time of beer plenty right now, so enjoy, even while sweating in the sun. Here are six California brews that will please in very distinct and delicious ways, from German classic styles to wheat-based beers to saisons - a variation adapted from the farmhouse style of Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium - to, yes, even an IPA that with its higher alcohol level and heady does of hops still seems perfect for the backyard, or even a dark bar watching the Dodgers (as if they were on TV) or Angels.

Almanac Beer Co. Saison Dolores ($7.49 for 22 oz. bottle, 6.8% ABV)

From one of San Francisco's hottest micros, this beer epitomizes their farm-to-barrel approach, made with Mendocino barley, rye, and wheat and their house-created Saison yeast. So yes, it's a little funky as saisons tend to be, a tiny bit sour, but that seems an even better flavor in summer to cut your own funkiness. And there's still plenty of hops bite - this is a California ale, after all - so if you add it up, it's brilliantly refreshing. And a very good pair for food, too, from grilled fish to cheese and charcuterie.

Ballast Point Brewing Co. Grapefruit Sculpin ($14.99 for 6-pack of 12 oz. bottles, 7% ABV)

Sculpin is simply one of the best California-style IPAs period, but somehow playing with perfection made something even better than perfection. San Diego's Ballast Point must brew that grapefruit in - it's integral, and not some perfumy additive - so all the usual citrusy hops get a turbo boost with actual citrus. You have to watch with this one, as its alcohol is well-hidden in a smooth body, but in moderation it's everything a hophead could want in a bottle.

 

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Firestone Walker Brewing Co. Opal ($5.99 for 22 oz. bottle, 7.5% ABV)

As they have just recently been purchased by Belgian brewery Duvel Mortgat, here's hoping Santa Barbara County's Firestone Walker doesn't lose its light and lovely touch on beers like this saison Opal, from its Proprietor's Reserve Series. This is a wine-like beer (think food again, like steamed mollusks) with flavors ranging from lemongrass to coriander. Cool as the other side of your pillow, this ale.

Gordon Biersch Brewing Co. Sommerbrau ($8.99 for 6-pack of 12 oz. bottles, 4.8% ABV)

Joss Whedon fans might want to drink this while calling it Summer Glau, but the rest of us will enjoy it just for what it is - a pleasing take on the classic German kolsch style. Mild hopping, a special yeast strain, and a grain bill that includes 20% wheat makes this the lightest of the beers reviewed, but that's not a derogatory curse in this case, just a description. Think of it as a beer that pleases as much on the third as the first, and better, you can remember drinking all three.

Modern Times Beer Fortunate Islands ($10.99 for 4-pack of 16 oz. cans, 5% ABV)

A mix that shouldn't work but does - wheat and IPA. So no, it's not an out-of-balance wheat or a wimped out IPA but the best of both, happily hoppy yet lithe, and even better, practically sessionable at 5%. The Islands nomenclature comes through in its tropical quality. Even more impressive, this San Diego brewery offers you a homebrew version on its website, so get to work! But make sure you're drinking the real thing as you brew so you can peg your success.

Surf Brewery Wahine Strawberry Wheat Ale ($5.49 for 22 oz. bottle, 5% ABV)

Ventura's Surf likes to celebrate the surf chick or Polynesian princess Wahine with its usual wheat, and then comes up with special twists appropriate for the season. As it's so close to the famed strawberry fields in Oxnard, that berry was an easy choice to brew into this lilting ale. Much of the fruit is on the nose, so there's nothing syrupy to the brew itself, a pleasing quaffer.

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