Rudy Ortega

Being a beer lover in the summertime means drinking as many session beers as humanly possible. Preferably while wearing a sunhat, lying in a hammock, and humming Beach Boys tunes. (Look, when we summer, we summer hard.)

But while easy-drinking, low-alcohol session beers might get a bad rap for coming up short on flavor -- I can easily disprove the stereotype. I personally tried tons of flavor-packed session brews at this year’s Sesh Fest in Denver, Colorado, which featured plenty of fruit-filled selections from Colorado breweries.

Here were some of the best around, and what made them so lip-smackingly good:

Upslope Brewing Co. Belgian Style Blonde

4% ABV, 25 IBU
The Boulder-based brewery that’s long brewed one of my favorite summer beers of all time (the spicy, delicious Thai-Style White IPA) knows how to make a beer that can combat a merciless sun. A Belgian-style ale is a solid summer choice to begin with, as many Belgian beer styles were designed to help quench the thirst of monks working their robed butts off. But throw in a subtle addition of guava, and, well...let’s just say it was like my tastebuds had absconded to an island far from the landlocked state I found myself in. This beer quenched the heck out of my thirst -- even though I didn’t work up much of a sweat handing my 4-ounce sample glass to a brewery rep for another round.

Ratio Beerworks Pineapple Coconut French Saison

This beer had been previously released as a taproom-only beer from a firkin, and according to the brewery, it “goes quick.” I see why. I’ve been consistently impressed with all of the recipes I’ve had from Denver’s Ratio, and this was no different. Easily one of the tastiest beers I had all day, this saison had the juiciest pineapple notes imaginable, and ended on a smooth coconut note that lingered for just the right amount of time. My only complaint is that I didn’t think to go back for seconds.
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Ska Brewing Co. Pink Vapor Stew Sour Ale

5.1% ABV, 20 IBU
I brought my friend Andy to this fest, and because he loves beer, I thought I’d let him fill in for me briefly. So what do you think of this beer, Andy? “It tastes like red fruits.” Well...that was a mistake. I regret a lot of things in my life, and taking Andy to this festival is definitely now in the top three. He was probably referring to the apples he tasted in this sour beer, but Ska didn’t call this a “stew” for nothing -- it was also brewed with beets, carrots, and ginger! It’s like a healthy, fresh a beer! Ska produced Pink Vapor for its 21st anniversary party and liked it so much, now they’re canning it. Good move, Ska.

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project Petite Sour Rosé

5% ABV
My notes for this beer were: “fruit bomb -- fruity and sour, wow wow wow wow.” Apparently Andy’s eloquence is contagious. But if you’ve ever had this wild ale that’s been aged in oak barrels with fruit skins (raspberry notes for days, here!), you know that it’s tough to form sentences when you’re drinking something this refreshing and summery. And yeah, the beer is called “rosé” for a reason -- if you’re looking to convert a pink-wine-guzzling friend to the beer-side, this would be a great place to start.

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Epic Brewing Co. Lemonade Locos

5% ABV, 25 IBU
While the fest was mostly held outside, there were a few stations set up indoors pouring shandies from different breweries. Epic’s version featured its lime juice-tinged Mexican lager Los Locos and a tiny pour of Simply Lemonade. The sea salt / citrus backbone of the Mexican lager offset the sweetness of the lemonade, for a tasty combo of both beverages. Frankly, it offered a nice change of pace from all of the straightforward beer. I can’t believe I just typed that.

Black Sky Brewery Bergamot Orange

5.2% ABV
Remember when people used to ask each other questions instead of defaulting to the internet? As a guy in his 30s, I only barely remember that time -- but it felt good to ask the nice lady pouring my beer what the heck a bergamot was. Turns out, it’s a type of orange that strangely resembles a lime! Wikipedia says that “excessive consumption can be toxic” though, so thanks for leaving out that critical detail, woman I previously thought was nice. It was far less session-y than I expected, but the citrus notes were so pleasant that the beer went down easily. Fun fact: this brew is one of a series of collaborations with the band Pussy Riot!

Odyssey Hyper Lucidity: Vanilla Coffee Cream Ale

5% ABV
Okay, this didn’t have any fruit in it -- but it takes cojones to bring a coffee beer to a summer festival, and I appreciate that! At first glance, the lighter color can be confusing -- aren’t coffee beers supposed to be dark? But that confusion quickly dissipates when you take a sip and taste a beautiful blend of coffee, cream, and vanilla. Who knew sessionability could come in a package of such typically rich flavors?

The Old Mine Cucumber Cantaloupe Cider

5% ABV
And while we're bending rules.... Cider isn’t beer -- but since cideries are represented at pretty much every beer festival these days, this one from the charming tiny town of Erie, Colorado, is worth mentioning. If you’re looking for a dry cider to suck every drop of moisture out of your mouth...this is not that. The slightly tart, cucumber-inflected cider mostly ran wild with cantaloupe notes, making this one of the most refreshing drinks I had all day. Hoping that this sucker gets canned next summer!