School’s out for summer! If only we could say the same about work, are we right? Just kidding. But summer does have us screaming at the top of our lungs as if we’re running off the pool deck, tucking our knees into our chest, and cannonballing into the water. Just think of all the backyard barbecues, pickleball court sessions, beach days, and fireworks shows ahead. Following our wildly successful “The 27 Most Iconic Beers to Drink in Spring 2024,” we’re putting together our own version for June, July, and August.

Welcome to another installment of our series on The Most Iconic Beers to Drink Each Season. For all of this content, we’ll identify what we feel are the top five styles that pair best with the time of year, identifying the most iconic beer to drink in that style, along with a few other recommendations.

Hey, we’re just giving this a shot. Prefer the past format? Want to see more beers in the future? You can always drop us a line in our DMs or shoot us feedback at [email protected].

Our Most Iconic Beers for the Summer of 2024

American / Double IPA

In a season where we celebrate both the Fourth of July and National IPA Day, it is a no-brainer to feature the style that arguably started it all for craft beer. There’s so much we could say here that we’re not even sure where to start.

How about with the facts? For the last fourteen years in a row, this style has scored the most check-ins on Untappd. Since 2021, the “IPA – American” category alone registered a mind-bending thirty-four million check-ins on the world’s largest social networking app for beer.

If you look at our list of the “14 Most Iconic Beers,” five are IPAs, with three registering as American IPAs and two as double/imperial IPAs.

Good ol’ American and imperial IPAs are a beer style that we like to drink fresh from the tap, right after it’s bottled, or right from the source. Known for their beautiful floral, fruity, citrus-like character backed up by a piney or dank hop profile, American IPAs have a special place in the craft beer movement in the States.

We have legends like Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo at Russian River, Fritz Maytag at Anchor, Ken Grossman at Sierra Nevada, Kim Jordan at New Belgium, and Matt Brynildson at Firestone Walker, and many more to thank for perfecting American IPAs and leveraging this style to drive the entire craft beer movement.

With that in mind, here are some of the most iconic ones to enjoy this summer.

Pliny the Elder — Russian River Brewing Company

Windsor, CA

A hand drawn graphic of a Pliny the Elder bottle
Graphic courtesy Derek Campos | Next Glass

Imperial/Double IPA – It’s not surprising we’re naming one of the most iconic American beers, to the top spot here. Untappd check-ins back us up with Pliny the Elder ranked as the beer with the most five-star ratings by a good mile with over 9k five-star check-ins on Untappd in 2023.

It all makes complete sense because this is a legendary beer!

In 1997, Korbel Champagne Cellars established Russian River Brewing Company, handing the keys over six years later to then head brewer and initially sole employee Vinnie Cilurzo. Together with his wife and other co-founder Natalie Cilurzo, the two built Russian River into one of the most influential breweries in the country.

Legend has it that, in the mid-‘90s, while at Blind Pig Brewing, Vinnie created the world’s first commercially available DIPA. When he took over Russian River, he brought the recipe with him.

And, yes, we know that Pliny the Elder’s little cousin Pliny the Younger gets all the attention as one of the rarest beers in the world. But there would be no Younger without the fabled Pliny the Elder.

Pliny the Elder gets its name from Pliny, who lived during the first century, 23 to 79 A.D, and purportedly invented the botanical name Lupus Salictarius, aka hops.

Hops are paramount in Pliny, the beer, where you’ll find a classic double IPA hop bill of Amarillo, Centennial, and CTZ. Pliny the Elder drinks with a beautiful balance of dank, pine, and resin alongside citrus notes like tangerine, orange, and clementine. A lingering, dry finish helps this trendsetting imperial IPA drink slightly bitter with floral hops, citrus, and pine aroma.

Setting the standard for double IPAs, Pliny the Elder is the perfect iconic beer in this category.

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Other Iconic American IPAs to Consider

🍻Bell’s Two Hearted IPAAmerican IPA – One of the most revered beers at one of the most revered breweries in the country, Bell’s Two Hearted IPA has been crowned the “Best Beer in America” in a survey conducted by Zymurgy Magazine for four years in a row. Now running in its twenty-first year, the survey asks members to choose up to five of their favorite commercial beers available in the U.S. For many years, Pliny the Elder actually took top marks. But in 2017, Two Hearted bumped off Pliny the Elder for the title of Best Beer in America. And since then, Bell’s hasn’t looked back.

It’s an incredible achievement for Larry Bell, the now-retired founder of Bell’s, who started the Michigan-based brewery in the early 1980s with only a 15-gallon soup pot.

The story of Bell’s Two Hearted begins with a single hop and a single brewer. In 1992, Bell’s brewer Rob Skalla began experimenting with a single-hop recipe. Three years later, he suggested to Larry Bell that the brewery try making an all-Centennial IPA.

At the time, Centennial hops had started to pick up some steam. Officially recognized as a hop in 1989 and named Centennial after Washington State’s 100th birthday, these Pacific Northwest hops became known for their aromatic pine, citrus, and floral notes.

Bell’s officially brewed the first batch of Two Hearted in 1997, but only as a winter seasonal. It’d take six more years before Two Hearted became a year-round offering.

By 2004, John Mallett had taken over as Bell’s Brewmaster (he officially came to Bell’s in 2001). And during his two-decade tenure, Mallett and his brewing team perfected Two Hearted.

Named after the Two Hearted River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Bell’s Two Hearted has wound its way into the hearts of consumers across the country.

Packed with hop aromas from grapefruit to pine and brewed with one hundred percent Centennial hops originating from the Pacific Northwest, Two Hearted is pure beer gold.

Today, the current version of Two Hearted ranks as Bell’s best-seller, and it’s clear why this all-Centennial America IPA is iconic.

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🍻The Alchemist Heady TopperAmerican IPA – Another all-American classic, Heady Topper checked in second on Untappd’s list of the beers with the most five-star check-ins with 7.5k total in 2023.

John and Jen Kimmich opened The Alchemist Pub and Brewery in Waterbury, VT, with only about four or five rotating beers, including Heady Topper.

John brewed the now-infamous double IPA just two months after opening. But the beer didn’t take off right away. At the time, The Alchemist thrived locally, with little national presence. And most beers, like Heady Topper, were only available on draft at The Alchemists’ 7-bbl brewpub. The limited distribution ensured freshness but helped increase the beer’s rarity and created its “unicorn” status.

Everything changed when Tropical Storm Irene caused a flood that put the pub out of business in August 2011.

That’s when John turned all his attention to Heady Topper, canning the now-iconic double IPA right after the flood in The Alchemist’s production space.

It was one of his smartest moves.

Arguably, this beer catapulted The Alchemist into craft brewing lore. Most likely, if you mention The Alchemist, it’s followed quickly by the words “Heady Topper.” Today, it’s one of the most famous breweries in the world. And Heady Topper is one of the most famous beers.

And for good reason.

Heady Topper is a hoppy, American double IPA clocking in at 8% ABV. If you read the can, it instructs the drinker to consume the dank goodness straight from aluminum to preserve the flavor.

Today, Heady Topper is much more readily available, but it is still one of those life-changing beers, which is why it’s worthy of icon status.

P.S. Don’t sleep on Focal Banger, either!

🍻Firestone Walker Union JackAmerican IPA – When Union Jack came out in 2006, it helped blaze the trail for West Coast IPAs. Named after the co-founding British Lion, a nod to David Walker’s English roots, Union Jack packs a very hoppy punch.

In the beginning, Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson says the main focus was adding a dash of caramel malt to “set Union Jack apart from the rest of the pack’s first-generation old-school [West Coast IPAs].” Over the past eighteen years, Brynildson says the core recipe has changed very little, with just tweaks here and there “to keep it modern and with the times,” says Brynildson. “It’s in a really great place right now.”

For instance, bringing the alcohol content down from 7.5% to 7% ABV and the IBUs from seventy-five to seventy.

But make no mistake, Union Jack loudly and proudly screams West Coast IPA. Thanks to a dose of all the classic C hops, including Chinook, Centennial, Citra, Simcoe, and Amarillo.

Intensely hoppy yet eminently drinkable from start to finish, Union Jack has become what Firestone Walker calls a “fad-proof IPA” best suited for any hophead and a great homage to the style.

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🍻Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPADouble/Imperial IPA – Arguably one of the most influential American craft beers ever made, 90 Minute Imperial IPA was inspired by—of all things—a bowl of soup and a thrift store football game. Picture this (and six more things you didn’t know about this beer): Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Founder Sam Calagione watched a cooking show episode focusing on soup. The video instructed home cooks to continuously season the broth over time as it simmered. Are you getting the gist here? Calagione wanted to see if he could apply that same principle to beer.

90 Minute IPA features a revolutionary continual hopping process. Calagione rigged a thrift store electric football game over the brew kettle and poured hops on top. When the game shook, hops tumbled down into the boiling wort consistently. Calagione literally jerry-rigged this continual hopping technique from scratch (and his mad genius brain).

The proof is in the pudding with 90 Minute Imperial IPA. Ninety minutes of repetitive hopping make this beer beyond bitter, with robust pine and citrus aromas and flavors striking against a deep malt backbone.

Many, including Food & Wine and Esquire, have called 90 Minute Imperial IPA among the best in America. This is genuinely a fantastic beer with the history to back it up.

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🍻Tree House King JJJuliusssDouble IPA – Originally brewed for Tree House’s fourth-anniversary celebration, King JJJuliusss takes the brewery’s OG King Julius (which also warrants significant consideration) and does an extra kettle hop and extra dry hop.

“The result is an incredibly intense citrus hop blast unlike anything we’ve experienced here at Tree House,” the brewery writes. “This beer challenges the sense and rewards the palate as it warms in the glass. Complex, raw, and beautiful, the amplified King is a beer we are excited to share with you.”

Big notes of mango, orange, and grapefruit hold court in this royal beer, challenging any other beer in the kingdom to dethrone it as one of Tree House’s best beers they’ve ever made.

West Coast Pilsner

Earlier this month, Next Glass Content Writer Giovanni Albanese Jr reported that the West Coast pilsner was actually a happy accident, a decision by then Highland Park Co-Founder Tim McDonnell (now at Monday Night Brewing_ and Bob Kunz to combine a keg of the brewery’s pilsner, Refresh, with a West Coast IPA hopped with Mosaic and Citra, Hello, LA. “The pilsner lightened up the body, and the hops shined through in a cool way,” McDonnell told us. “We love drinking IPAs, West Coast IPAs, and pilsner, so we wondered how we could bring the two together.”

The origin story itself is worth your time for a longer read.

Today, Highland Park has made this emerging style a thing with the permanent creation of Timbo Pils (see more below).

Kunz and McDonnell describe this phenomenon as “melding two styles, drawing people in from both sides; it’s structured like a pilsner—malts, yeast, hops—but dry hopped like a West Coast with the hop intensity.”

The pair designed the beer to be super drinkable, aka perfect for summer.

With a West Coast pilsner, “You’re gonna get West Coast IPA hops brewed in a lager,” Jack’s Abby Owner Jack Hendler told us, saying it all traces back to Timbo Pils. “Timbo influenced a wide range of brewers getting into the hoppy lager wave. For people who like hops, they are going to like this beer.”

Editor’s Note: Since this style is still very new and evolving, we can’t say that any of the beers below, except for Timbo Pils, have necessarily attained icon status yet. But we found a few popular ones and award-winners that we think fit the bill here.

Don’t Miss the Entire West Coast Pilsner Story!

Timbo Pils — Highland Park Brewery

Los Angeles, CA

A hand drawn graphic of a Timbo Pils can
Graphic courtesy Derek Campos | Next Glass

The beer that started it all, Timbo Pils has to be the most iconic version of a West Coast pilsner.

According to Kunz, Highland Park’s revolutionary iteration starts with combining the pils base from Refresh with the two-row one from Hello, LA, along with a ten percent Carafoam. On the hot side, Highland Park adds Noble hops. “We ferment a little warmer for a lager—mid-fifties Fahrenheit—and get more esters than you normally would get for a lager,” McDonnell told us. “And then on the cold side, we dry hop like an IPA.”

Originally, Timbo Pils had Mosaic and Nelson but has evolved over the years based on lots, including Simcoe and even Motueka. ​​McDonnell said balance is crucial with the hops.“It’s easy to get excited and start throwing tons of hops in this, but you gotta remember it’s still supposed to be a pilsner at its core.”

In terms of Timbo Pils’ now-celebrity status, McDonnell said, “We didn’t think it would be this big; we were just making something we knew we wanted to drink. It’s crazy; it was almost a happy accident.”

Highland Park’s Timbo Pils is now the beer they brew and sell the most.

“We hit a nerve,” Kunz told us.

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Other Iconic West Coast Pilsners to Consider

🍻North Park Birdie To Bogey – The brewery known for iconic West Coast IPAs makes pretty dang delicious West Coast pilsners, too. Most recently, the Southern California-based brewery built Birdie To Bogey for “ultimate crushability” on the disc golf course. Brewed with Strata, Citra, and Mosaic hops, Birdie To Bogey encapsulates the whole goal of the style—the harmonious balance of drinkability with hop-forward flavor.

🍻Fracture Brewing West Coast Pilsner – Started by husband-and-wife team Ny Lee and Darren Provenzano, Fracture Brewing calls itself “a globally influenced brewery, a locally minded taproom.” Perhaps a reference to Lee’s background and the years Provenzano spent working in breweries around Asia, including 7 Bridges Brewing, which won mid-size brewery of the year at the SEA Brew competition (sort of like the GABF of Vietnam). At Fracture, you’ll find beers like the West Coast Pilsner, which has already made a statement, winning a silver medal at the Oregon Beer Awards last year.

Provenzano uses a fifty-fifty blend of pilsner and two-row malt and Citra, Strata, Sterling, and Mosaic hops to make this West Coast pilsner extra pillowy with soft hues of tropical citrus. “Perfect balance for discerning palates, covers your lager and IPA drinkers,” writes Fracture in the beer’s Untappd description.

🍻DSSOLVR Lord of the Fuzz – For his own riff on a West Coast pilsner, DSSOLVR Co-Founder and Head Brewer Vince Tursi starts with Riverband Malt Chesapeake Pils and Chit Malt before hopping heavily with Cascade in the boil. He adds Michigan Chinook in the whirlpool and Michigan Copper and Mosaic Cryo in the dry hop. After fermentation with a house lager yeast, Lord of the Fuzz lagers in horizontal tanks. “More bitter and fruity than a run-of-the-mill Pils, but with New-School hops and no grassy character, and definitely more aggressive hop character. And just as crushable and crisp as you’ve come to expect from our Chippy Bois™,” writes DSSOLVR in the beer’s Untappd description. “Crank up the dial and get ready to riff your way through a can or twelve!”

🍻Temescal Brewing 49 Mile West Coast Pilsner – Temescal picked up 2022 World Beer Cup bronze in the “Hoppy Lager” category (which includes West Coast pilsners along with Cold IPA and others) for 49 Mile West Coast Pilsner. Temescal writes in the beer’s Untappd description that 49 Mile has “the hop impact of a modern WC IPA meets the crisp, drinkability of a pilsner.” Featuring Mosaic Cryo and Nelson, 49 Mile exudes aromas and flavors of guava, diesel, peach, and poppy.

🍻Alma Mader Shifting Shapes – We named Alma Mader one of our “14 Best Breweries of 2022” thanks in part to its excellent lagers. For example, New World Geography, an Italian pilsner we named one of our “27 Best Beers We Drank in 2022.”. Likewise, Alma Mader’s West Coast pilsner Shifting Shapes has gained high marks, earning an 89 in a Craft Beer & Brewing blind taste test of 278 pilsners. Dry-hopped with Citra and Mosaic, Shifting Shapes drinks with big notes of earthy citrus and a touch of breadiness, finishing clean, crisp, and floral.

Fruited/Smoothie Seltzers

Look, we’re not going to speculate anymore on the fate of hard seltzer. We’ve done that plenty over the past couple of years.

TL;DR – The category isn’t growing anymore. But the brands that have established themselves aren’t necessarily going anywhere either, especially those who have excelled at heavily fruited smoothie seltzers.

Case in point: Smooj, considered more like the OG hard smoothie than anything else. Which is why we’re adding fruited/smoothie seltzers to this list.

Packed with loads of fruit and a dash of carbonation, fruit smoothie-esque seltzers have found a place on the shelf.


Well, they’re refreshing, novel, and, just like the pastry or smoothie sour, they’re fun to drink.

And fun is what summer is all about, right?


Ann Arbor, MI

A hand drawn graphic of a Smooj Pina Colada can
Graphic courtesy Derek Campos | Next Glass

When you think of hard smoothies, one brand rises to the top like cream (of coconut) on a piña colada: Smooj.

Born from the creative team at HOMES Brewery, Smooj set out to break the boring seltzer stereotype with a jam-packed can of fruity goodness.

Considered “legit fruit magic,” Smooj just went farther than any other can of seltzer, exploding into an entirely new category of hard smoothies.

One of the produce prodigy’s original flavors, PIÑA COLADA ranks number one on Untappd with the highest overall rating of 4.4 in the “Hard Seltzer” category.

We think that says it all. But in case you need more, PIÑA COLADA includes all real pineapple, coconut, and key lime for a smoothie-in-a-can that crushes summer on all levels.

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Other Iconic Fruited/Smoothie Seltzers to Consider

🍻Untitled Art Tropical Smoothie Seltzer – A joint venture between Levi Funk, former founder and blender at Funk Factory Geuzeria, and Isaac Showaki, founder of Octopi Brewing, Untitled Art first popped onto our radar with its CBD Sparkling Water. However, they quickly picked up recognition for their equally mind-bending heavily fruited smoothie seltzers. The number two top-rated hard seltzer on Untappd, Tropical Smoothie Seltzer gets hit with vanilla, passionfruit, peach, and pineapple for a creamy, dreamy tropical tango for your tastebuds.

🍻LULZ Hard Seltzer – SMOOTHIE: R & R – A subsidiary of the excellent Phase Three Brewing, LULZ Hard Seltzer puts “more fruit than nectar” into its hard seltzers, according to the brand. SMOOTHIE: R & R holds the top-four spot on Untappd’s top-rated hard seltzer list with 2,829 check-ins and a 4.36 rating. The smoothie-style hard seltzer includes guava, coconut, pineapple, and orange for an almost summer-like ice creamsicle treat.


All hail the helles! Pronounced HELL-us, this German word translates to pale or bright in English, which perfectly describes this style. Pouring a bright, pale yellow, helles is a German lager with a “smooth grainy-sweet malty flavor and a soft, dry finish,” according to the Beer Judge Certification Program. “Subtle spicy, floral, or herbal hops and restrained bitterness help keep the balance malty but not sweet, which helps make this beer a refreshing, everyday drink.”

That last part is critical for a helles. With an ABV that rarely reaches above 5.5% and more likely hits in the high 4s, helles are just incredible summer crushers.

Often featuring pilsner malt, helles start with a light crackery malt backbone that compliments a slight earthiness from German Noble hops and finishes clean thanks to a lager yeast.

Almost like the Goldilocks of beers, helles aren’t too malty or hoppy but rather somewhere right in the middle. You should drink one of these and immediately want another. That’s the sign of a fantastic helles.

Ayinger Lager Hell — Ayinger Privatbrauerei

Aying, Bayern Germany

A hand drawn graphic of a Ayinger Lager Hell bottle
Graphic courtesy Derek Campos | Next Glass

We named Ayinger’s Maibock as one of the most iconic versions of bock to consider in our “27 Most Iconic Beers to Drink in Spring 2024,” so it’s no surprise that their even more well-known Ayinger Lager Hell tops the charts here for helles.

Proudly representing one of the most famous beer styles in South Bavaria, Ayinger Lager Hell pours a very light golden yellow with a lovely soft carbonation.

This beer just nails the style with a light hint of buttery shortbread or fresh hay, bookended by gentle floral hops.

You can’t get more iconic than this helles.

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Other Iconic Helles to Consider

🍻Weihenstephaner Original Premium Lager – Another epochal German helles, Weihenstephaner Original has picked up numerous awards, including a gold at the 2020 European Beer Star in the “European-Style Mild Lager” category and two silvers at the Germany World Beer Awards in both 2022 and 2023. Weihenstepahner calls its helles “quaffable, mild, Bavarian—as a true helles should be.” You can’t say it any better than that, can you?

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🍻Bierstadt Lagerhaus Helles – Bierstadt is regarded as one of the best lager breweries in the country. As such, they have a pretty remarkable helles. Simply titled Helles, this beer is the gold standard of American-made pale lagers.

🍻Fox Farm The Cottage – If you can figure out a brewer’s favorite beer, you’ve likely struck gold. Fox Farm Founder and Brewery Zac Adams once told us jokingly, “The Cottage is the beer we would make if we could only make one!” Bingo. The Cottage is a fantastic, subtle, beautiful representation of the helles lager. And, while we love the diverse offerings at Fox Farm, we’d understand if they became a strictly The Cottage brewery.

🍻Halfway Crooks Metric – Halfway Crooks is easily making some of our favorite lagers in the country. And Metric is a fantastic example of the helles style! In addition to Metric, the Halfway Crooks team has produced Reset and ALL CAPS, which also fit into the helles category.

🍻Wondrous Hell Lagerbier – One of our “12 Best New Breweries of 2021,” Wondrous impressed right out of the gate with its excellent selection of lagers that always leaves us salivating. One beer you must try when you go and will probably always find on—Wondrous Hell Lagerbier, an unfiltered house Lagerbier. It’s just crisp, clean, and what you want to be drinking during a sunny 70-degree summer’s day on the brewery’s patio.

🍻Goldfinger Original LagerAt Goldfinger, lagers are lifeblood, literally. It’s basically all they do and goes back to owner and brewer Tom Beckmann’s Polish roots. His family actually brewed professionally and manufactured brewing equipment in Poland and the Czech Republic during the nineteenth century. A fact he learned after looking into his heritage on and reconnecting with relatives still in Central Europe.

Goldfinger launched in July 2020 with only three beers—all lagers—including the Original Lager, Pils, and Vienna Lager.

For Original Lager, Beckmann and his wife worked on pilot batches of the approachable German pale lager in his parent’s garage.

“Helles lager is one of my favorite styles,” shares Beckmann, who debuted a keg of the beer to rave reviews during his wedding. “That gave us the confidence to think, hey, we’re making pretty decent beer here.”

The recipe hasn’t changed much from the garage.

The Original Lager starts with Pilsner malt and Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops. “It’s a single-malt and single-hop beer that we perform a single decoction on,” explains Beckmann. “That decoction is intended to help create a little more depth and body.”

Beckmann describes the recipe as simple, with most of the focus going towards fermentation and lagering. “[That’s where] we take our time,” he says.

At Goldfinger, the Original Lager spends seven weeks in a horizontal tank after fermentation. Beckmann won’t package the beer until “we feel it looks really nice and tastes really nice,” he says.

This beer is all about good, clean, technical brewing, making it one of Beckmann’s favorites.

“It is extremely difficult to achieve because it doesn’t have any bold flavors on any fronts,” he says. “It’s not overly [malty] or hoppy.”

It all comes down to subtle tweaks here and there.

“People might think it’s boring to brew the same beer over and over,” says Beckmann, who believes the last batch they brewed is his favorite, thanks to minor tweaks in their brewing process. “But not for us because it gives us this unprecedented opportunity to become more intimate with the raw materials, understanding how they behave from the moment we mix water with mash.”

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🍻Enegren The Lightest One – BeerAdvocate Founder Todd Alstrom called Enegren’s The Lightest One one of “The 21 Best Beers We Drank in 2021.” He said, “Despite residing in California since 2017 and being obsessed with lagers, I didn’t visit Enegren until April 3, 2021. I swung by to celebrate my first COVID-19 vaccination shot, had their Edel-Pils on draft, and grabbed a bunch of beers to-go. One was The Lightest One, a 4.8 percent alcohol by volume Munich helles.

“The beer pours a gorgeous, clear, bright, golden with a thick, pure white, foamy head. It has awesome stick and retention. Appearance-wise, it doesn’t get any better. Soft bready malts and lemon zest in the nose. Crisp and dry on the palate, a bit creamy, very light, but not “watery.” Zesty with some lemon-lime that’s a bit bitter, semi-astringent, and adds to the beer’s perceived dryness. There’s a slight oiliness. Hints of herbal/tea-like flavors. And it’s a bit minerally. I also get notes of honey, crackery malts, and a thin bread crust toastiness. The beer has a bone-dry finish.

“Crisp, clean, light, flavorful, and insanely crushable, The Lightest One is a must-try lager and one of the best Munich-style helles brewed in the United States.”

Luckily, you can get this beer along with eleven more in BeerAdvocate’s newest bundle available in the Untappd Shop. Just hit the button below!

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American Lager

While we’ve come a long way from filling our red solo cups with that American light lager, a part of us still yearns for the simpler days of flip cup and pong, where we only needed to buy a thirty-rack of Narragansett or PBR from the local corner store, hauling it back as it skinned our shins. Worth the pain when we walked into the party feeling like champions, cardboard cases of beer raised high above our heads in mock victory. Today, however, we also enjoy craft versions of America’s own interpretation of a bottom-fermenting beer.

We can thank German immigrants for bringing yeast capable of producing this crisp, clean style. Made with ingredients available to them in a new country—corn and barley malt—lager’s popularity grew. During World War II, rationing meant brewers replaced grain with rice, which you’ll find in many macro versions, such as Bud Light, still today.

In fact, 3 Tier Beverages scanned NIQ date through April 20, 2024, reporting that the category “Light Lagers” grew +62 percent to $4.6 million in Q2 this year, making this beer style the third fastest-growing of last quarter behind only hazy imperial IPAs and imperial IPAs. Which makes sense now that we’re in the thick of summer.

According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, American light lagers are “highly carbonated, very light-bodied, nearly flavorless lager designed to be consumed very cold. Very refreshing and thirst-quenching.”

American light lagers, characterized by a lighter body, little to no bitterness, and a low ABV, are perfect for celebrating the Fourth of July and all other seasonal occasions.

Because this beer style just pairs impeccably with summer.

Light, crisp, smashable, crushable, refreshing, effervescent, and sessionable, American light lagers embody whichever word you choose.

PBR — Pabst Brewing Company

San Antonio, TX

A hand drawn graphic of a Pabst Blue Ribbon can
Graphic courtesy Derek Campos | Next Glass

The story of Pabst Brewing Company and PBR is like a piece of Americana. In 1848, Gottlieb and Fredericka Pabst immigrated to Chicago from Germany, bringing their young son, Frederick. After Fredericka died of cholera in 1849, Gottlieb and his son survived by working odd jobs at hotels and restaurants. At fourteen, the young Frederick Pabst took a job on the Great Lakes as a cabin steward; by twenty-one, he was a captain.

One day, a Milwaukee brewer named Phillip Best boarded Captain Pabst’s ship with his eldest daughter, Maria Best. The two courted for two years before being married in Milwaukee on March 25th, 1862. But one day, a particularly harrowing storm forced the young Captain Pabst to ground his ship, the Sea Bird. Although he dramatically saved everyone on board, he abandoned the sea life. Instead, he accepted his father-in-law’s proposition and bought a half-interest in the Phillip Best Brewing Company. Price tag? $21,057.05.

By 1866, production had reached 14,139 barrels. By 1873, it was 100,593 barrels. After Captain Pabst’s brother-in-law and business partner Emil Schandein passed away in 1888, Pabst took complete control of the company, changing the name to Pabst Brewing Company on March 12th, 1889.

In 1892, the Milwaukee-based Pabst Brewery produced over one million barrels of beer annually, making it the largest lager producer in the world. Just as Pittsburgh had steel and Detroit had automobiles, Milwaukee had Schlitz, Blatz, Miller, and Pabst. Prohibition knocked the city’s main export, but not for long. By 1950, Milwaukee-based Schlitz was the largest brewer in the country, while Pabst, Miller, and Blatz were all in the top 10.

From its peak of 15.6 million barrels in 1978, Pabst Brewing Company was purchased in 1985 by beer and real-estate baron Paul Kalmanovitz. When Kalmanovitz died in 1987, the company was left to the Kalmanovitz Charitable Trust. In 1996, the company’s beer production was contracted to Stroh Brewery Company, ending a run of 152 years in which Pabst beer was brewed in Milwaukee.

Phew, that’s a pretty incredible history for a brewery that makes a beer we’ve all whittled down to three little letters: PBR.

We give you that historical timeline because PBR has become firmly ensconced in the clutches of generations, from the aging Baby Boomers to the Millennial hipsters to the up-and-coming Gen Zers.

Somehow, PBR has the power to transcend them all.

What is it about the American lager with the blue ribbon that makes us feel like we just won a prize at the country fair? (Fun fact: In 1892, Pabst hand-tied almost one million feet of blue ribbon around what was then called “Best Select” beer, changing its name to “Blue Ribbon” in 1895.) How has this beer captured our hearts for over a century? We’re going to cover the cult following of this beer in a piece coming out next month, but for now, suffice it to say that, when it comes to American lagers, PBR is one of the GOATs.

Cheers to living that lager life!

Other Iconic American Lagers to Consider

🍻Narragansett Lager – Narragansett Brewing Company – Another American classic, Narragansett Brewing debuted in 1890, surviving Prohibition to become one of the biggest lager brewers in all of New England. Despite a slightly complicated history after selling to Falstaff Brewing Corporation and shutting down in the 1980s, Narragansett emerged from the ashes as a brand in 2005 and later a craft brewery in 2017 that’s now ranked as the twenty-third largest in the country, according to the Brewers Association.

With the motto “Hi, Neighbor! Have a ‘Gansett,” an ad campaign that started after World War II, Narragansett Lager positioned itself as just your cheery all-American beer. Today, the highest-rated American lager on BeerAdvocate still has a cult-like following. IYKYK.

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🍻Night Shift Nite Lite – We can’t prove this, but we feel like Night Shift was one of the first breweries to offer a craft version of an American lager in a tantalizing twelve-ounce twelve-pack format. Nite Lite represented the brewery’s quest to hone in on the light beer segment, crafting flavorful, delicious light lagers that hit on low ABV but capture the crispness and bold notes of a lager.

“Nite Lite pours sunny gold with a soft, white head while aromas of fresh bread lead into refreshing notes of biscuit and citrus,” wrote the brewery in an email to Hop Culture. “It’s simply better tasting than any light beer out there. Night Shift Brewing is on a mission to brew and share better light beer. With zero preservatives, corn syrup, or artificial flavors, and a recipe focused on flavorful ingredients (real corn, German hops, fresh two-row barley), Nite Lite is a better light beer.”

Having taste-tested, we’d have to agree.

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🍻Charles Towne Fermentory Yacht Party – We’re consistently impressed with the crushability of this crisp, clean, American-style craft lager. While you can certainly drink this beer on a yacht, we recommend cracking Yacht Party in a hammock, on the back deck, or around the campfire. It’s just a damn good version of a good ol’ lager for summer.

🍻Oskar Blues Oskar’s Lager – Oskar Blues has never been a brewery to go with the grain. Over twenty years ago, Oskar Blues Brewery Founder Dale Katechis bucked convention by releasing the original craft beer in a can. And over the last two decades, Oskar Blues has continued to innovate. For instance, brewing its own Scotch ale, Old Chub. Or the boundary-breaking Ten FIDY imperial stout (FIDY stands for “Fuck the Industry, Do it Yourself”).

Now, the brewery has struck gold again in the most unassuming way, brewing its revolutionary take on a craft American pale lager called Oskar’s Lager.

A lawnmower beer. An everyday beer. Or a beer after a bike ride or following a long shift. Oskar’s Lager has been described in many ways. But at its core, the American pale lager boils down to one simple solution…

This is the beer Oskar Blues’ brewers always wanted to drink but couldn’t regularly find in cans on shelves or on draft in taprooms.

So, quite simply, they brewed their own, releasing Oskar’s Lager in 2021.

And we’re so happy they did.

Oskar’s Lager is truly a beer for any situation, whether you’re hanging out after work or hitting the trail.

Do we hear echoes of “Fuck the Industry, Do It Yourself” ringing true here too?

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🍻Back Home Beers Persian Lager – Zahra Tabatabai has made serious waves in the beer industry. The founder of Iranian Back Home Beer (and one of our “320+ Women-Led Breweries to Support Right Now”), Tabatabai brings a unique background to craft, focusing on flavors and art from Iran and the Middle East.

Tabatabai, the daughter of Iranian immigrants and whose grandfather homebrewed in Iran in the 1950s and ‘60s, started Back Home Beer to share the rich history of brewing in Iran. From the beginning, Tabatabai started homebrewing her grandfather’s old recipes. He used a lot of ingredients from his garden in Shiraz, Iran: sumac, salt, barberries, and dried limes.

Tabatabai’s Persian Lager has earned her top marks on the list of Untappd’s All-Time Top-Rated American Lagers for its use of blue salt, a Persian ingredient from Semnan, Iran. Currently, the beer lands eighth on the rankings.

Tabatabai calls this beer an ode to her grandpa, who always added a pinch of salt to his beer. The perfect addition of salinity makes this American lager a tad savory yet imminently crushable.

Trust us, just try Persian Lager.