With summer around the corner, we’re already on the hunt for the most refreshing beverages to sip poolside, during the big block party, or alongside some tasty barbecue. And when it comes to quenching thirst, crisp, cool, cucumber-spiked beer is the answer.
"The lack of acidity in the cucumber plays to the nice, soft, acidic character of the base beer; it's refreshing," says Dan Russo, lead brewer at Oakshire Brewing in Eugene, Oregon. "Throw in the light melon flavor of the cucumber and it's great on a hot day, in the morning, and at night."
Clearly, plenty of other brewers agree; as the weather heats up, more cucumber-tinged beers have begun to pop up around the country. "The first batch went over so well that we brewed twice as much later in the summer and it all sold out extremely quickly," says Russo, referring to the brewery's Sun Made Cucumber. "That's when we decided to add it to our seasonal six pack program. It just continues to grow and grow."
This summer, prepare to see gherkin-geared brews based on saison, Berliner weisse, and wheat beer base recipes. Not only because of their natural popularity in the height of the season’s heat, but because such lighter beer styles won’t overpower the delicate aromas and flavors of the vegetable.
With that in mind, Tonya Cornett of 10 Barrel Brewing in Bend, Oregon, works with Berliner weisse and cucumber to create Crush, a cucumber sour that garnered a cult following upon its release in 2013. “I used the tart and sour component of the style to accentuate the cucumber flavor without overwhelming it,” Cornett explains. “If the sourness is pushed too high, it tastes like a pickle. But, when the right balance is struck between the cucumber flavor and the tartness of the base, it results in a bright, thirst quenching, refreshing beer."
Still doubtful? So were brewers at the World Beer Cup, says Cornett. "I realize it does seem absurd -- until you try it." In fact, she adds, "A German brewer started making fun of me using cucumber and called me Cucumber Girl every chance he got." Despite the uncertainty of her peers, the Cucumber Crush went on to win a gold medal in 2014.
After having tried a number of cucumber beers, I can say that “refreshing” is the single adjective that unifies them all. I recommend bringing a six pack to your next outdoor party to give guests something to talk about; if you’re hosting, nothing looks swankier than a tall glass of beer garnished with a slice of bright green cucumber. Look for local versions of this seasonal drink, or try one of these five available now:
As the name suggests, this bright beer has a sunny characteristic and crisp cucumber essence that make it perfect for revitalizing the palate on a hot day. Each batch is made with fresh gherkins, which are skinned, puréed, and frozen by brewmaster Dan Russo to maximize flavor extraction. They are then added to the slightly sour Berliner weisse to give the light beer a pleasant touch of summer garden flavor. At 4% ABV, you can easily refresh with more than one as you toil away in the dirt and sun.
Next time you want a crisp drink, crack a can of cucumber-enhanced, German-style sour beer from Independence Brewing Company. The 4.5% ABV brew is whipped up with the Austin brewery's tart Redbud Berliner weisse, which gets a bit of a lemony essence as the 'cuke cuts through the usual puckering profile. But how did the folks at this small operation come up with the combination? After sucking down barrels of cooling cucumber water in the Texas heat, the brew team felt inclined to include the flavor in their beer, much to the joy of the drinking public.
width:300 align:right credits:"Mother's Brewing Company"
Saisons go famously well with bright, fruity flavors, so it’s no surprise that vegetables have made it into the mix. This cucumber-tinged, Belgian-style saison from Missouri's Mother's Brewing Company is made with fresh cucumber straight from the local garden at Urban Roots Farm. Each can of medium-bodied beer tops at 5.2% ABV, and offers imbibers a mouthful of crispy 'cuke with a slightly creamy mouthfeel. It's bolder than the sour cucumber beers, but just as refreshing.
By enhancing a simple farmhouse ale with the magic powers of the cucumber, the brewmasters at Florida's Cigar City have managed to create a seasonal favorite many people look forward to. This 5% ABV brew offers notes of honey, lemon and hoppy tropical fruits in each 22-ounce bottle. Unfortunately, it's not available until August -- but until then, save a slice of raw cucumber for your pint glass, or try one of the other aforementioned brews.
Though one might expect a pickle flavor from a sour beer featuring cucumber, nothing about this tipple will bring to mind that favorite picnic side. In fact, it tastes just like a fresh cucumber -- but with a slightly salty, thirst-quenching quality. To say the flavor proves addictive is an understatement: upon taking your first sip, you simply won't want to stop drinking (even if just to figure out what the heck is going on with your palate). Luckily, at 5% ABV, you can keep sipping as long as the sun is out.
Note: 10 Barrel Brewing is a member of The High End, owned by Anheuser-Busch.