We Tasted and Ranked 28 of the Best Beers for Summer

You can't go wrong with these in your cooler

June 5, 2023 6:52 am
Best beers for summer
You can't go wrong with these in your cooler.
Danica Killelea

What, exactly, is a “summer beer”? Is it a specific style, one that’s been packaged and marketed as a “summer ale” in recent years? Is it a special seasonal release that hits shelves between May and September? Or is it something a little more nebulous that can best be defined as “something you’d want to drink four to six of while you get sunburnt on the beach”?

For our money, you can’t go wrong with a wheat beer of some sort this time of year, but we decided to put our theory to the test by rounding up some of the most well-loved examples of the best styles of beer for summer — kölsches, goses, pale ales, pilsners, hefeweizens, Mexican lagers and American wheat beers. We rounded up 13 InsideHook employees — some of whom are craft beer aficionados, some of whom almost never drink beer — and had them taste all 28 beers and rate them on a scale of zero to five in the hopes of getting an unbiased, definitive answer on what exactly the perfect summer beer entails.

Wheat Beer Is Truly the Perfect Summer Beer
There are few drinks more satisfying in the year’s hottest months. Here, a brief history of wheat beer and breakdown of the different styles

Were we successful? Yes, of course, in the sense that we tasted an absurd amount of excellent brews in one sitting. But ultimately, there was no clear winner when it came to which style is the most summery; our Top 10 included at least one example of each of the styles we included in the tasting. That’s an important reminder that there’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to crisp, refreshing beers we want to toss back at a picnic or a barbecue. But if you’re looking for some input on what to load your cooler with next time, check out how the 28 beers we tasted all fared below.

21st Amendment

28. 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon (26 points)

ABV: 4.9%
Style: Wheat beer

People tend to either love or hate this beer, and it was mostly the latter for our tasters. A lot of them had an especially hard time with the unpleasant nose. (One described it as “nasty underwear beer.”) Those who could get past the aroma still found themselves wishing for a bit more flavor. “Fine,” one wrote. “Extremely subtle watermelon.” “Very gross nose, but nice watermelon flavor on the finish,” another allowed.


27. Hofbrau Hefe Weizen (26.5 points)

ABV: 5.4%
Style: Hefeweizen

This German hefeweizen was praised by a few tasters for being “light” and “balanced” — both qualities you’d want in a great summer beer — but ultimately most of them found it to be lacking. One dubbed it “forgettable,” while another noted that it “tastes a bit like sink water,” and another summed it up with “not my favorite hefeweizen and no business being drunk in summer.”


26. Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier (30.6 points)

ABV: 5.4%
Style: Hefeweizen

Weihenstephaner’s Hefeweissbier is a world-renowned hefeweizen, but we quickly learned as our tasting unfolded that some of our tasters don’t find the style totally seasonally appropriate. One taster picked up on a hint of cloves and noted that’s typically more of a wintery flavor, and another agreed, noting that it’s “a classic, but not sure I would drink all day on the beach.” One wrote that it “tastes like a baseball glove smells” (is that…good?) and another admitted that “it would slap with a soft pretzel.”

Pilsner Urquell

25. Pilsner Urquell (34.1 points)

ABV: 4.4%
Style: Pilsner

This Czech pilsner is one of the oldest, best examples of the style. Full disclosure: I suspect that one of the two bottles in our tasting might have been skunked. Those who tried the second bottle praised it with comments like “such a solid, readily available pils,” but those who tasted the first bottle wrote notes like “too thick, not for me” “a bit funky,” “too funky for the beach” and “blech.” Was the funkiness they were reacting to simply the herbaceous hops, or did this green-bottle beer get lightstruck? Either way, it wound up significantly lower on our list than expected.


24. Genessee Ruby Red Kolsch (37 points)

ABV: 4.5%
Style: Kölsch

Grapefruit can be a pretty divisive flavor. Whether our tasters thought this grapefruit kolsch had too much of it or not enough depended entirely on how they felt about the bitter citrus fruit — but, interestingly, almost none of them seemed to think it was the right amount. “Not as grapefruity as I’d like,” one wrote. “More grapefruity than I thought,” another insisted. “Perhaps they could have done a little more?” yet another one asked. Several tasters picked up on the fact that the grapefruit aroma on the nose was much stronger than the actual grapefruit flavor in the beer itself. Still, at least one found it to be sufficiently summery: “Seems like the beer version of a Vampire Weekend song,” he wrote.

Von Trapp

23. von Trapp Kölsch Style Ale (37.5 points)

ABV: 5.0%
Style: Kölsch

Before you ask: yes, this brewery comes from the same family that was depicted in The Sound of Music. As one taster noted, “These hills are indeed alive. I love.” Others weren’t so eager to count this beer among their favorite things, however: other comments included “seems a little heavy and bitter for summer,” “funky aftertaste,” and “a strange floral note.”


22. Allagash White (37.8 points)

ABV: 5.2%
Style: Belgian wheat beer

Most of our tasters enjoyed this classic Belgian-style witbier, but nearly all of them docked points because it just didn’t seem like the kind of beer you’d want to drink during the dog days. “Good beer for winter,” one wrote. “Don’t mind it but not feeling very summery,” another added, while another noted that it’s “always good, but a bit wintery.” “It’s very good, obviously, but I don’t think it’s summer-appropriate,” one summarized. Could that be because, as one taster wrote, the “coriander is coming through loud and clear”?

Half Acre

21. Half Acre Daisy Cutter (37.9 points)

ABV: 5.2%
Style: Pale ale

Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter started out as a special release but eventually found its way into the Chicago brewery’s year-round rotation by popular demand. But this dank pale ale might have a little too much going on flavor-wise for those who aren’t seasoned beer drinkers. While one taster described it as “closer to Sierra Nevada than I thought it’d be” and singled out its “grassy” flavor, others found to be “a little too bitter” and pointed out that it “has a back bite.”

Anderson Valley

19 (tie). Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose (38.5 points)

ABV: 4.2%
Style: Gose

Our tasters found Anderson Valley’s Blood Orange Gose to be “interesting and unique,” but they all agreed it was very difficult to pick up on the blood orange flavor. Some were pleased by that, writing notes like “the blood orange is nice and subtle,” but most would have liked the citrus flavor to come through more boldly. “Tasty but the sour overwhelms the orange flavor,”one wrote, while others simply said “not enough blood orange” or “would like more orange.”

Oskar Blues

19 (tie). Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale (38.5 points)

ABV: 6.5%
Style: Pale ale

This beer is, as one taster noted, “a classic,” but does that mean it’s necessarily ideal for the beach? No, it turns out. One person who sampled it singled out its “sneaky high ABV,” while another wrote that it’s “not what I remembered. Maltier than the others.” It’s a great beer, but it’s a bit of an outlier compared to the other pale ales in the tasting — and admittedly it’s perhaps a little too bold to toss back on a sweaty day under the sun.


18. Reissdorf Kölsch (39 points)

ABV: 4.8%
Style: Kölsch

This excellent kolsch had the misfortune of being the last beer we tasted, and it’s possible it was overshadowed by some of the flashier brews that came before it. (“Not bad, just okay after the goses,” one commenter wrote.) For most, it failed to stand out from the pack, but at least one taster described it as “ending on a high.”

Creature Comforts

17. Creature Comforts Tritonia (39.5 points)

ABV: 4.5%
Style: Gose

This beer was easily the most divisive of the entire tasting. Those who enjoyed it all ranked it as a perfect 5, one of their favorites of the whole bunch, but those who disliked it hated it, giving it zeros and ones. As such, it finds itself just about in the middle of our rankings. The cucumber-haters (read: maniacs) wrote notes like “pickle beer in disguise,” “cucumber does not belong in beer,” “Literally cucumber water, no beer taste” and, most succinctly, “fuck cucumber.” Fans of this cucumber lime gose, on the other hand, wrote comments like “really nice and balanced,” “This is a summer beer. Period. The scent alone sold me,” “Damn. Dark horse award. Big fan,” “love it, gimme 10,” and “Light, crisp, nailed the cucumber. Refreshing, crushable.”


16. Grimm Weisse (40.5 points)

ABV: 5.5%
Style: Hefeweizen

Grimm’s popular hefeweizen fared significantly better than most of the other examples of the style we tasted. “More flavorful than the other wheat beers,” one taster noted, while another pointed out that it’d be “good for a park hang.” There was some disagreement over how seasonally appropriate it is, however. “Tastes like banana bread,” one taster wrote. “I would drink it in summer. Calls to mind a tropical tiki beverage.” Another begged to differ, describing it as a “very fruit-forward weisse, but not summery enough.”


15. Shiner ¡Órale! (41.2 points)

ABV: 4.8%
Style: Mexican lager

This Mexican-style lager earned descriptors like “refreshing,” “light” and “tasty,” but its fairly straightforward flavor profile didn’t really manage to wow anyone. One taster summed it up best by calling it “solid, uninspiring.”


14. Revolution Sun Crusher (41.5 points)

ABV: 5.3%
Style: Wheat beer

Most of our tasters were fans of the hint of citrus — both on the nose and in the flavor profile — this beer offered. (As one wrote, it’s “just enough orange for intrigue.”) A few, on the other hand, picked up on a weird aftertaste; “don’t love the back half of this beer,” one wrote, while another claimed it “tastes like dirty water.” Still, the majority were happy with it: “If someone packed in a beach cooler, I’d be pleased,” one wrote, while another claimed that it “feels summery even if I won’t drink more than two.”

Firestone Walker

13. Firestone Walker 805 Cerveza (43.7 points)

ABV: 4.5%
Style: Mexican lager

The majority of our tasters found this one to be refreshing and sufficiently beachy: “Crisp, light, love it,” one wrote, while another said, “I like the crispness of this one. Would pair perfectly with a lime and some chips.” One dubbed it a “classic,” but it did have one detractor.


12. Sweetwater 420 (44.3 points)

ABV: 5.7%
Style: Pale ale

This pale ale earned relatively high marks overall by being fairly inoffensive. Just about everyone awarded it a three out of five — the epitome of “good not great.” “It’s okay, but it doesn’t thrill me,” one taster wrote. “I’m into it, but not amazingly memorable,” another said. Still, others found it to be “easy to like” and “perfectly acceptable for sipping by a lake.” And ultimately isn’t that all you need out of a summer beer?

Cigar City

10 (tie). Cigar City Margarita Gose (44.7 points)

ABV: 4.2%
Style: Gose

A brief disclaimer: this popular gose is still currently readily available on most shelves, but you may need to act quickly if you want to get your hands on some. A representative from Cigar City tells us that it “will slip out from being a core offering in our portfolio” soon. That didn’t stop it from creeping into the Top 10 in our tasting, however. “Nailed the margarita taste. Salt is very present,” one taster noted. Another claimed they could drink it all day, and one befuddled taster wrote, “I can’t wrap my head around it, but I like it.” Still, it was docked a few points by one vocal nay-sayer, who described its flavor as “if you spill a margarita and then lick the floor.”


10 (tie). Threes Vliet (44.7 points)

ABV: 5.1%
Style: Pilsner

If you live in New York, where Threes Brewing is based, you no doubt see cans of this well-loved pilsner all over the place this time of year. Our tasters called it a “park beer” and praised its “beautiful light straw color and smell.” “A great pilsner,” one wrote. “Give me a cooler filled with these and a lawnchair, stat.” “Always struck by pleasantly creamy mouthfeel,” another added. “Sort of spicy quality to the hop profile.” Finally, one summed it up with three Cs: “Crushable, crisp, classic.”


9. Stone Buenaveza (44.9 points)

ABV: 4.7%
Style: Mexican lager

Stone is best known for their big, hoppy IPAs, but their Mexican-style lager held its own against the competition. One taster picked up on a “black pepper” flavor to it, while others called it “light, easy to drink” and noted that it “tastes festive.” A few people who tried it, however, were left hoping for more. “All the flavors are too subtle,” one wrote. “Tastes watered-down.”

Great Lakes Brewing

8. Great Lakes Brewing Co. Mexican Lager with Lime (45.6 points)

ABV: 5.4%
Style: Mexican lager

Traditionally, most Mexican lagers taste best when you squeeze a lime into them. This beer, however, spares you that step, coming ready-made with lime already in it. (It’s brewed with  real lime peel and purée.) Most of our tasters loved it, making comments like “If this came out of a cooler at the beach, I’d be psyched,’ “This is the Mexican lager I’ve been looking for,” “I love it. Tastes like good times,” and “Could drink six of these on the beach.” Others found the lime flavor to be a little too strong, to the point where it almost tasted artificial. One described it as “if a lime White Claw was a beer,” while another singled out the “fake lime flavor.”


7. UFO Maine Blueberry (46 points)

ABV: 4.8%
Style: Hefeweizen

This beer ranked the highest of all the hefeweizens in our tasting, probably because it doesn’t taste much like a hefeweizen at all. Instead, it tastes like blueberry. How much you like it will depend entirely on how you feel about that particular fruit. One taster called it a “Miami Heat game 7” beer, while another insisted it’s “perfect for summer.” “Smells and tastes amazing,” one fan of the beer wrote. “Beautiful blueberry flavor and enough alcohol to balance.” Others pointed out the nice way the blueberry paired with wheat in the brew, saying it was “like drinking a muffin.” Some were less enthusiastic, however, calling it “kinda medicinal, like children’s cough syrup” and claiming it “tastes like AI blueberry.” “Tastes like blueberries,” one skeptic wrote. “Kinda lose the wheat qualities.”


6. Gaffel Kölsch (46.5 points)

ABV: 4.8%
Style: Kölsch

Gaffel Kölsch is a classic, well-loved example of the style, and it lived up to its reputation by significantly outperforming all the other kölsches in the tasting. “Crisp” is a word that got tossed around by many to describe it, and others noted that it’s “great for a rooftop party,” a “summer sipper” that has “beergarden vibes.” “It’s light but not too light, would be good for a hot day,” one wrote. “Smells and tastes like summer. Love it.”

3 Floyds

5. 3 Floyds Zombie Dust (46.6 points)

ABV: 6.2%
Style: Pale ale

Craft beer fans are no doubt already familiar with this hoppy pale ale, but it lived up to its reputation in our tasting. “A superlative pale ale,” one taster who gave it a perfect score wrote. “I can drink these at a ballgame for sure.” “Still perfect,” another enthused. “So much more hop character than other pales. I even checked the canned date to see if it was fresh.” Even one of our tasters who isn’t a big beer drinker admitted that it’s “a bit bitter, but would be good with fried food.”


4. Westbrook Key Lime Pie Gose (47.3 points)

ABV: 4.0%
Style: Gose

The highest-performing gose in our tasting had a nice creamy mouthfeel meant to evoke the texture of a key lime pie, but it lost a few points due to the fact that it’d be tough to slam several of them in one sitting. “Like this but I think it would be too much after half of one beer,” one wrote. “Delicious, but I don’t think I can pound,” another said. “Really good but docked points because it’s not sessionable.” Still, just about everyone who tried it was able to recognize that it’s an excellent beer. Some were impressed by the restraint used with the lime: “The lime here is a nice subtle touch, surprisingly,” one noted, while another wrote, “The best gose I’ve ever had. The lime is just prominent enough. So creamy.”

Sierra Nevada

3. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (48.3 points)

ABV: 5.6%
Style: Pale ale

It’s one of the oldest, most respected craft beers in America, so it makes sense that the general consensus on this beloved brew is that it’s a crowd-pleaser. It earned descriptors like “a classic,” “accessible,” “sessionable,” “normcore” and “a pale ale you can shotgun.” One diehard fan tried to rate it a six out of five and admitted that “if there could only be one beer,” this would be his pick.

Sierra Nevada

2. Sierra Nevada Summerfest (48.7 points)

ABV: 5.0%
Style: Pilsner

The packaging on Sierra Nevada’s summer seasonal calls it a “summer lager,” which is a fancy way of saying it’s a pilsner. But it’s not just any pilsner. Our tasters all agreed it was excellent — crisp, refreshing, perfect for a hot day. The only criticism it received is that it’s not in stores 365 days a year. “We need this year-round,” one taster wrote. “A very good pilsner,” another added. “Don’t know why they don’t sell it all year.”


1. Bell’s Oberon (49.5 points)

ABV: 5.8%
Style: Wheat beer

If you happened to come of age — er, drinking age, that is — anywhere in the Midwest, you know it’s not summer until you’ve tossed back a few Bell’s Oberons. “This screams summer to me,” one such taster wrote. Another pointed out it’s “nice for beach drinking” and “delicious, balanced and sophisticated.” Several of our tasters picked up on a faint hint of citrus, but it’s subtle enough to not feel gimmicky, and a few called it “crushable” — a must for the ideal summer beer. As one fan put it, it’s “a classic that doesn’t scream ‘wheat beer,’ but that makes it a good choice for summer.”


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.