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Springtime Brews

May is usually the transitional month between spring and summer in CNY. We all have finally emerged from our winter dens and start becoming more social while the weather starts to become increasingly consistent in warm temps as the month progresses. We look forward to Cinco de Mayo, festivals beginning, wedding-season, and Memorial Day weekend at the end of the month that heralds in the unofficial start of summer. We turn our closets over: stowing away sweaters and breaking out the shorts and sandals, we start opening our pools, mowing our lawns, barbequing, and generally we feel lighter and happier this time of year. (Thanks, in no small part, to more sunshine and the days getting longer!) Our beer choices reflect the same – we begin to crave refreshing, light, and easy-drinking beverages. This May, Brew Time is diving head-first into 6 different styles of beer to invigorate your taste-buds and put you in the right “taste-space” for the warmer months ahead.  

Hefeweizen – This German-style unfiltered beer is created with malted wheat. If we break down the word itself – “hefe” is in reference to the yeast which stay suspended in the liquid of the beer (not filtered out) giving it a hazy appearance, while “weizen” refers to the wheat used to create this distinct beverage. Hops are still used, but there is very mild hop bitterness to be had. The color of this beer can range from light straw to light amber. ABVs tend to be on the low side typically ranging from 4-5%. Traditional Hefeweizens have banana and clove characteristics throughout with occasional notes of vanilla and bubblegum. 

Try it: Hex Hefe by Bullfinch Brewing (Syracuse, NY). 5.2% ABV. This traditional brew boasts a 50:50 barley/wheat grain mashed at low temps while the yeast produces big flavors of banana during the fermentation process. 

Bocks – Bock beer is German in origin and there are distinct subcategories that include Maibock, Helles Bock, Heller Bock, Doppelbock, Weizenbock, and Eisbock. This style of beer was first brewed in the northern German town of Einbeck in the 14th century. From there, the brew eventually migrated its way to Munich where it was adapted into the Bock we know today. Some Bock beers are dark, but Maibock, Helles Bock, and Heller Bock tend to be paler in color but are strong in malty character and contain mildly hopped flavors. Traditional Biergartens brewed these lighter Bocks specifically to usher in spring and warmer weather. It is said that Munich’s Hofbräu brewery created the first Maibock brew that was a twist on the original Einbeck brew, and in keeping with the spring brewing tradition, the original Hofbräuhaus in Munich taps its first barrel of Maibock every year during the last week of April to herald in the month of May. 

Try it: Genesee Spring Bock by Genesee Brewing Company (Rochester, NY). 5.2% ABV. Light, yet full-bodied with a slightly sweet, malty finish, Genesee has been brewing this for a spring-release every year since 1951! Basically, it’s a great transitional beer from winter into spring.

Kölsch – Originating in Germany, in the city of Cologne (Köln), this beer has a history of being produced as far back as the early 1600s, but noted in writing as early as 1408. The Cologne Brewery Association (Kolner Brauerei-Verband) has its own set of rules set forth for a beer to be called Kölsch. This document, founded in 1986, is known as the Kölsch Konvention and states that the beer must be brewed within 30 miles (50 kilometers) of the city, the brew must be filtered and never be cloudy, and must be brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, among other requirements. The Reinheitsgebot (“purity order”) is a German set of regulations created in 1516 that limit beer ingredients and state that “the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops, and Water.” Whereas the original document does not mention yeast by name, it was common knowledge that yeast was a given in order to brew beer. Today, Cologne boasts 13 brewhouses that meet the Konvention standards but still maintain their own unique take on Kölsch. Unlike breweries in the United States, where you can select from a variety of different styles of beer to sample, the only beer that is served in a Cologne brewhouse (or Brauhaus) is Kölsch. (I can attest to this, having visited Cologne, not once, but twice!) 

Kölsch is a hybrid beer meaning that it is warm-fermented with ale yeast in the vicinity of 60-68°F and then conditioned at lager temperatures of no more than 40°F, which produces a very light, straw-hued, delicately hopped beer with a very subtle malty sweetness, well-rounded body, and a mild to moderate bitterness. It is clean, crisp, extremely refreshing, and should be consumed at about 41°F – if consumed too cold, (ie. directly out of the fridge), it loses some of its gently intricate flavors. The ABV is also usually less than 5%. In the United States, craft-brewers have also caught on to this incredibly light and flavorful beer, however, being that our brewers are not brewing in Cologne, they ought not to call their beer “Kölsch,” but should refer to their versions as “Kölsch-style.” 

Try it: This happens to be one of my favorite styles of beer, therefore, I have SEVERAL varieties to recommend. 

German Kölsch by Eastwood Brewing Company (Syracuse, NY). 5% ABV – Clean, crisp and is overall fantastically on-point. 

Yard Boss Kölsch by Freight Yard Brewing (Clay, NY). 5% ABV – Lovely subtle sweetness, very reminiscent of Cologne Kölsch. 

Mo’ Honey Mo’ Kölsch by Meier’s Creek Brewing Company (Cazenovia, NY). 5% ABV – Light, slightly sweet, crisp and smooth; hitting all the right notes. 

Ruby Red Kölsch by Genesee Brewing Company (Rochester, NY). 4.5% ABV – a classic Kölsch-style, but with an added kick of tart and refreshing grapefruit. While it is not exactly traditional, it is an excellent variation and perfect as a warm weather staple! 

Reissdorf Kölsch by Privat-Brauerei Heinrich Reissdorf (Cologne, Germany). 4.8% ABV – If you’ve ever wanted to try a legitimate, brewed-in-Cologne, Kölsch, guess what? You don’t have to travel overseas! Wolff’s Biergarten in Syracuse, NY has Reissdorf currently on tap! I highly suggest trying it out; this particular variety is my favorite! 

Pilsner – A pale lager, created using soft water and bottom-fermented at cold temperatures using lager yeast, this beer is named after the Czech city of Plzeň and was first brewed in 1842 by Bavarian brewer Josef Groll. There are different types of Pilsners – Czech-style or Bohemian (Pilsner Urquell – this is the Pilsner aforementioned and still exists today!), German-style (St. Pauli Girl), European-style (Heineken or Stella Artois), and American-style (Miller Lite) – but generally, a Pilsner will have a low ABV of between 4-5%, is always filtered (no haze), is light straw-colored to golden, and has low-medium malt notes and a mild floral hop aroma. Basically, it is a very easy-to-drink, crisp, light beer.  

Try it: Pompey Born by Heritage Hill Brewery (Pompey, NY). 5.7% ABV – This is a very tasty, locally-produced, pale lager. It’s crisp, clean, with a tad-bit of sweetness. The sweetness comes from the corn that the beer is brewed with. Many American-style pilsners are brewed with corn, this is what makes them different from the other Pilsner styles. 

Crispy Girls by Talking Cursive Brewing Company (Syracuse, NY). 5% ABV – This Silver Medal winner at the 2022 New York State Brewers Association’s annual competition is a Bohemian Pilsner brewed by an all-women team! Created with Pilsner malt, acidulated malt, NYS SugarPils, and 100% NYS-grown Saaz hops, it’s altogether crisp, clean, and crushable. 

Berliner Weisse – “When the weather is nice, grab yourself a Berliner Weisse!” (This should totally be your new springtime mantra.) When you see or hear the word “Berliner,” I’m pretty sure most folks think of the German city of Berlin, and that would be the correct place to start. While the word “Weisse” is a German surname meaning “white.” The Berliner Weisse dates back to the 16th century and originated in Northern Germany. It is a variation of a wheat beer with a low ABV of approximately 3-5% and normally appears slightly cloudy due to being unfiltered. Fermentation consists of a mixture of yeast and lactic acid bacteria, which gives this beer it’s distinct flavor and thirst-quenching tartness. If you enjoy sours, you’ll love a Berliner Weisse. 

Modern brewing methods typically use a lower percentage of wheat, ranging from 25-50% and the distinct tart or sour flavor produced by either second fermentation or the addition of Lactobacillus (Yes, the same probiotic bacteria used to produce yogurt!) or sometimes Brettanomyces (a form of yeast). In addition, today you will also find many different variations that include fruits and other elements added in the brewing process to make for some completely unique and exciting Berliner Weisse brews!

Try it: The Slightly Fuzzy series by Beer Tree Brewing (Port Crane, NY). 4.5% ABV – There are a million and a half variations that Beer Tree has continually dreamt up and created for our drinking pleasure! All fruited Berliner Weisse brews, these can be found on tap or in cans around the greater-Syracuse area, without having to make the trip down to Binghamton. Blueberry Lime can be found at The Craftsman in Fayetteville, NY, – I’ve had this version and it’s great! Blood Orange Lime is available at Toss & Fire in North Syracuse, and should soon be available on tap at Branching Out Bottle Shop in Camillus, NY. 

Gose – Pronounced “Goes-AH,” the origins of this beer date back to over a thousand years ago! The name is derived from the Gose River, located in the town of Goslar, Germany where this beer was first brewed. Traditional-style Gose beers are noted to have a tinge of salinity on the palate when consumed. Today, the salt is typically added in the brewing process, but the waters in Goslar have a natural saltiness to them, and thus, is where this truly distinct beer’s flavoring was born. In addition to salt, the beer is brewed with malted wheat, barley, hops, and fermented with Lactobacillus, which, just like the Berliner Weisse, gives the beer it’s tartness. (Yes, this is another sour-style for all you pucker-heads out there!) Coriander is also sometimes used in the more traditional versions, giving the beverage a bit of a spicy or herbed flavor. However, in many instances, fruit is added instead of coriander, with sweetness balancing out the salinity. You’ll never really detect any hop notes in this beer, and ABVs run in the 4-5% range. 

Try it: For a more traditional Gose, Solar Salt by Buried Acorn Brewing Company (Syracuse, NY), 5% ABV, is a good choice. This beer is brewed with lemon peel, coriander and salt and is totally refreshing on a warm day!

For a fruited Gose, Green Zebra by Founders Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, MI), 4.6% ABV, is a readily available and tasty pick. Slightly tart, the addition of watermelon lends a fruity mellow sweetness to balance out the sea salt added to the beer. Find it at The Evergreen in downtown Syracuse, and most any Wegmans in the area should also have it available this spring and summer. It’s a truly great hammock/boating/patio/picnic/cornhole/*insert any warm weather activity here* brew! 

Fingers-crossed for more consistent warm and sunny days ahead as we progress through spring into summer, and cheers to all the warm-weather beers! 

Kristin Merritt
Just your average craft-brew loving gal slinging your monthly pour of beer education and the low-down on all things beer related in the immediate CNY area and beyond. Along the way I hope to give a few recommendations for your grocery list, events to attend, and local hotspots to hit-up for shenanigans with friends, ideas for date night, or at the very least enlighten you with a bit of random knowledge to use towards trivia night or simply give you and your teammates a suggestion on what to drink at the bar! Cheers!