Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Today's column

Pitcher This: Lawnmower beer — Brews to cool you


The dust is still settling. The sun will blaze for a few hours more.

You've just pushed your 80-pound Craftsman over every square inch of your half-acre lawn and your arms are pink from the exposure. Your head aches from the heat and two-cycle exhaust.

Your body somehow still is squeezing out sweat, which in turn runs right out of your already-soaked T-shirt.

The only part of your body not dripping is your cracked, dust-caked throat. You must have something to cool and moisten your pounding head. Just one elixir will do.

You need a beer.

(To be clear, what you really need is a big glass of ice water. But let's assume since you're reading this you're more interested in beer. Besides, a regular column about water would get old fast.)

For beer geeks, the term "lawnmower beer" usually is pejorative. It's applied to the light, mass-produced lagers that have long dominated the American market. Craft beer lovers tend to look down their noses at these brands because they lack the more potent malt and hops flavors smaller brewers are known for.

The mass-produced lagers picked up the landscaping-related nickname because they're supposedly best suited for the situation described above: a quick, cool thirst-quenching on a hot day. After all, if water's what you really need, why not have a beer that's more like water?

But with grass now growing fast again, it's worth asking: Is there such a thing as a good lawnmower beer?

Of course, the answer is yes. There's any number of finely crafted brews that can leave beer lovers feeling relaxed and refreshed, while not pummeling their yardwork-stressed senses with dark-roast malts or super-bitter hops.

Wheat-based ales are designed for the same thirst-quenching purpose as big-name lagers, and small and big brewers alike are cashing in on a surge of interest in wheat styles. Many take advantage of wheat's delicate body to add flavors like blueberry or raspberry.

American golden or blonde ales are also light on the palate, and share with their lager cousins a pale-straw color, crisp mouth-feel and frothy effervescence.

And of course, there are better examples of the style to which so many American lagers only aspire. Pilsner-style lagers are supposed to be lighter-bodied, but the best ones have a refreshing hop bite that stings the tongue.

Here's some to try the next time you're thirsty after a hard day's mow (assuming there's no water handy):

Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat: This light wheat ale smells like blueberries but citrus dominates the flavor.

Atlanta Brewing Co. Red Brick Blonde: A crisp quaff that won a gold medal in its category at the Great American Beer Festival last October.

Pilsner Urquell: Billed as "the original" Pilsner lager, it's brewed in the town the style's named for, Pilsen in the Czech Republic. More malt than American versions, with a spicy hop finish.