Well, the summer season is upon us once again. The Summer of Wheats has begun and brewpubs and breweries from around the world are parading out their thirst-quenching saisons, hefeweizens, American wheats, wit beers and fruit beers of all kinds. The name of the game is refreshment, and these session beers will fill the bill. Blue Moon (MillerCoors), Goose Island 312, Yards Saison, Tuckahoe Marshallville Wit and Tun Tavern Hefeweizen are some of the better beers found in the area. Some of the best examples of fruit beers are Ithaca Apricot Wheat, 21st Amendment Watermelon Wheat, Dogfish Festina Peche, Leinenkugel Berry Weiss and countless others.
If the wheat beers are not up your alley, then the many golden ales and lagers are out there for your imbibing pleasure. Sam Adams Summer Ale, Victory Summer Love, Sierra Nevada Summerfest, River Horse Summer Blonde, Harpoon Summer and Brooklyn Summer are all available locally.
The shandies, a beer and lemonade mix, have become popular in the last few years and are now on the shelves from several breweries such as Leinenkugel (SABMiller), AB InBev, and Saranac (FX Matt). It is certainly not my favorite style, but it is refreshing on a hot day.
I took a short trip around the area last week to see what was available in our better package stores. I was ecstatic to see what great beers there were on the shelves. We may not have the most number of beer bars, but our liquor stores make up that deficit and then some.
It had been a while since I was at White Horse Wine and Spirits (WhiteHorseWine.com) and talked to beer guy Adam Sternberger. He has been watching the growth of the local beer market and has expanded his selections accordingly.
"Surprisingly, the IPAs sell well all year long," he says when asked about summer beers. "The hopheads are very loyal to their style. Victory Summer Love and Sly Fox Grisette are also big as well as all the saisons."
White Horse also carries a great selection of wines, spirits and food. Needless to say, I could not leave without purchasing some new beers for my list.
Next up was Roger Wilco in Ventnor Heights. Oddly, it was my first visit here, and I was definitely impressed. The selection of esoteric beers is outstanding and can be bought by the bottle, so variety is encouraged. I also found a nice selection of leftover holiday beers that would be great for a Christmas in July celebration.
Joe Canal's in Egg Harbor Township has an astounding collection of beer and is adding new brands all the time. Beer Manager Wayne Bauer is always willing to accommodate your requests for special beers and keg orders if you require it. I can never leave that place without finding something new to add to my collection.
My local store is Circle Liquor in Somers Point, which keeps a very wide assortment of wines, beers and spirits. Their beer selection is quite eclectic and my friend, manager Bill Lihou, keeps his eye out for those special beers he knows I'll like. He will also help you search out special beers upon request.
Another of my local faves is Passion Vines in Somers Point and Egg Harbor Township. The beer selection is not as large as some others in the area, but they carry a great variety of styles. Of course, the Somers Point store has eight taps of craft beers that can be consumed on premise or taken home in a 32- or 64-ounce growler. I have enjoyed many afternoons sitting on a stool there drinking some of the best beers anywhere. And don't forget Whiskey Wednesdays! Owner Michael Bray and manager Drew Love conduct classes on wine, beer and spirits all of the time. Find them on Facebook for listings.
I also stopped at Vagabond Kitchen and Tap House in Chelsea Heights for a quick lunch. They have a fantastic selection of taps with always something new coming on. One of my favorite beers was next up for tapping: St. Bernardus Abt 12 is a 12 percent Belgian bomb that should be on everyone's beer bucket list. Check it out.
Another of my favorite seasonal beers was recently released. Southern Tier Cr�me Brulee is a dessert beer like no other. Very rich and sweet, it should accompany a vanilla mousse or ice cream. Tasting just like a kicked-up cr�me brulee, this 10 percent brew should be shared by everyone. Being so popular, it sells out quickly, and you may have to ask for it at your local in order to procure a bottle or two.
So visit your local store and see what strikes your fancy. There is a lot of great beer out there waiting for you to taste it. Enjoy the variety!
Mark Haynie is a craft-beer expert who lives in Somers Point and travels extensively to find new beers. He is a contributor to the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and is the co-author of the book New Jersey Breweries with Lew Bryson. His column runs every other week.