Some places have seasons. Central Texas has a phenomenon: a relentless, stultifying six month slog that someone named “summer” in a cruel act of understatement.
The heat’s oppressiveness is matched only by it’s trollish cousin humidity and the two combine to create something a clever friend once described as “stepping outside into a mouth.” Another calls it “Mississippi shit hot.” Personally, I’d say it’s like snuggling a taint after someone ran a marathon. The morning heat comes on like a gross lick from a thick alcoholic tongue in the wee hours of daylight, but perhaps the most vexing thing about the summer temperatures is that they just never go away. By the time August rolls around, if it’s 107 at noon it will cool down to a brisk 99 by 3am. If it’s jowl meltingly hot in May, it will probably still be that way in October.
Moreover Texas summers are transformative. They wield a strange power over many things, not the least of which is language, at times reducing it to a series of brusque grunts and in turn creating a series of new words altogether. Case in point, cold beer. An adjective and a noun, two separate entities right? But the hotter the weather gets, the more stifling the humidity, the more licks you receive from summer’s bloated maw, the shorter the gap between the words becomes. Until at some point around 105 degrees Fahrenheit, or June whichever comes first, cold is no longer an adjective. It’s just part of the beer. And the word has become coldbeer.
Coldbeer is a beverage, a preferred summer activity and realistically the only proper way to fritter away several hours in whatever bit of shade you’ve found. There’s a reason Larry McMurty started Lonesome Dove with irritable men sipping jugs and debating quality of shade—that’s really all you can do in this kind of heat.
Moreover, while all coldbeer is beer, not all beer is coldbeer. Coldbeer tends to be bottled, arranged in a bucket or horse trough, completely covered in ice, placed somewhere in the shade and then ferried immediately to a cozy. Because a man tends to want to enjoy several coldbeers over a few sweat-soaked afternoon hours, they’re almost always light in both flavor and boozy aggressiveness. If you’re looking for a commercial example, Lone Star comes to mind. And while I do enjoy a good Lone Star, anybody who’s had it would be quick to note that it’s status as a regional delicacy exists more because of it’s noble history than anything relating to flavor. And for local beer nerds, Real Ale’s Full Moon Pale Rye hits the mark extremely well. But for all that heat, for all that humidity, for all those hours spent in a bit of shade grunting back and forth, I think more than two options is necessary.
Thus, a summer spent looking to brew the finest possible coldbeer seems like a good idea.
This first attempt is a blonde ale, the recipe coming from page 81 in Radical Brewing. My cousin and I brewed it with light DME and a mash of German Pilsner, Munich and some light crystal malts along with some wheat that we added for better head retention. The hopping was pretty light with a mix of Crystal and Saaz, added throughout the boil. I also pitched a clarifier in there to help it settle out a little better, as the temperatures were feeling hot and we were feeling thirsty, impatient and not like waiting through a secondary fermentation. We fermented using a Kolsch yeast and the final ABV ended up being somewhere south of 5%.
The result was well rounded, really subtle on the hops and well, just not for me. As a brew it feels like it’s everything it should be: a decent grain bill, well pedigreed hops and a noble line of quality commercial blondes to live up to. But to my palette all that good stuff just misses the mark and adds up to less than its parts: Too much malt in the balance. Too many soft and rounded yeasty flavors. Too little hops. Too little booze. For me all those soft and fruity notes just get in the way of the crisp bitterness I’m craving. The wheat we added for the head was to little effect. Getting a decent photo of the beer required constant refreshing with a stir stick—and while I brew beers to drink and not to photograph, I prefer to drink them with a decent bit of tasty foam at the top. Because we didn’t rack to secondary it’s not quite as clear as I’d like, even with the Irish Moss we pitched. Admittedly those last two considerations probably wouldn’t even get mentioned if I just liked the beer a little bit more. I think it could be a little better brewed with Cascade or other more assertive American style hops. Or it could be better if we had just made an IPA from the get-go. But with all that nitpicking it’s easy to overlook that this brew really is a fine, drinkable blonde ale. I’ve just always had a hunch I was more of a pale ale guy and this cements it.
That said, the temperatures have been over 100 for 10 days in a row now and coldbeer is coldbeer. So this too shall be consumed. Most likely by my friends, or myself after stashing it in the freezer while finishing up mowing the lawn.
I guess I’ll just have to dedicate myself to the continued brewing, searching out and sampling of coldbeer throughout the summer. Damn.
Anybody have any suggestions?