With summer upon us, it’s time once again to talk about the kinds of beers that can refresh and get your mind off of the heat. While June was somewhat merciful, July has been rather toasty—and all of us locals know what’s coming in August. I’d like to help in my very limited capacity as a Certified Cicerone, so let’s jump straight in.

I sometimes fear that most older Americans hear the word “beer” and think of pale, yellow, fizzy stuff. The American lager and the American light lager were once the de facto beers of choice—more because of marketing and tribalism than anything else. But we, thankfully, live in a different time, with breweries that care about beer as a beverage and an experience rather than just an engineering problem.

The last five years or so has seen a rise in breweries making rice lagers and Mexican pale lagers. As a result, people can enjoy lighter beers that have more flavor than the ones the big boys make—and people can avoid giving money to huge conglomerations that would rather see the beer aisle revert back to the 1970s. Beachwood and Bottle Logic both offer rice lagers (Hayabusa and Hanamachi, respectively), while Belching Beaver, AleSmith and San Fernando Brewing all have Mexican lagers on offer. All of these beers can be found locally, so consider those instead if you were thinking of reaching for a Budweiser or Pacifico.

As for other styles I tend to reach for when the heat comes calling: Let’s begin with the style so many brewers love and respect, the pilsner. The reason for the love is the extreme drinkability of the style. What better to reach for after a long day in the brewhouse than something light, crisp and refreshing? One other reason for the respect: These beers are made via a very simple base recipe—namely, pilsner malt (the most lightly kilned of malts), Noble hops, lager yeast and water. It’s “naked” beer, so to speak, so it reflects well on the brewer if one can make a great beer out of this—there is nowhere for flaws to hide.

American brewers have taken to the style in a few ways. There are hoppy pilsners that are often referred to as India pale lagers. Modern Times has one on the shelves currently called Star Jungle that utilizes Nelson and Mosaic hops well (though the Nelson hops don’t shine through as much as they did in the original release a couple of years back). There are also a plethora of great American versions of German and Czech pilsners—like North Coast’s Scrimshaw, and Firestone Walker’s Pivo Pils—to be found nearby.

Other German styles are amazing this time of year. I love finding good versions from American breweries of Munich-born helles beers. The Bruery has their Ruekeller series that houses faithful and delicious versions of styles like the helles. (Their Pilsener is also extremely good if you can find it.) Cans of their helles and dunkel can be found in the desert.

Kölsch is another style that lends itself well to summer drinking—an ale that drinks like a lager—and a good example is a pleasure to behold. My go-to version is available at Trader Joe’s, made by Gordon Biersch and simply called “Summer Brew”—with an amazing price tag of $5.99 for a six-pack, last I checked. It offers delicious floral hops, grain and straw from the malt, and a light fruity character from the yeast. If you want to go to the original source, Reissdorf kölsch is also locally available, canned to help with the problem of freshness in shipping.

Another couple of German styles also have you covered, although they’re really not that popular in Germany itself: Berliner weisse and gose. Both are light, tart wheat ales (the American versions can vary from tart to enamel-melting acidic) that often have fruit added. The only real difference between the two is that goses have the addition of salt and coriander, though the American version often omits the latter. Bruery Terreux (The Brewery’s sister sour brewery) makes many versions of these; I’ve recently seen on shelves their cucumber, passionfruit and boysenberry varieties, as well as their Goses are Red, which has the addition of syrah grapes. All are worth trying if sour is your thing—and sour is definitely my thing. Honorable mentions go to Anderson Valley’s blood orange and watermelon (which they call Briney Melon) goses, and Victory’s Sour Monkey.

Part of the fun of beer is discovering things for yourself, and to this end, curiosity can get you everywhere.

I’m also duty-bound to mention Belgian sour ales like the classic Flemish red, Duchesse de Bourgogne from Brouwerij Verhaeghe; and light, fruited ales from Lindeman’s, like their Framboise (raspberry) and Pêche (peach). Both of those go incredibly well with many desserts.

There is certainly more to be said, but I have to end this so my editor doesn’t send me an email in a disappointed tone. Part of the fun of beer is discovering things for yourself, and to this end, curiosity can get you everywhere. Yes, branching out to try new styles or versions of styles can lead to disappointment, but so many more times, I have been rewarded. Many of the beers listed above also have the extra benefit of going really well with just about anything you’d care to throw on a grill, too.

Just remember that we are in the desert, which means some beers get stored in warm temperatures for too long, so old beer lies in wait to trap us and take our money at some liquor stores. With lagers, it’s not as noticeable, but it pays to check a beer’s packaging date to stay optimally refreshed the whole summer long.

Brett Newton

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He can be reached at caesarcervisia@gmail.com.