If you go looking among the BJCP styles, you won’t find a “Summer Ale” among them anywhere. Nor will you find a “Summer” style on RateBeer or BeerAdvocate (the more liberal of the two when it comes to guidelines).
Interestingly, though, the Brewers Association style guidelines do have “English-Style Summer Ale,” and these are the guidelines used for big competitions like the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup.
English Summer Ale is light straw to golden colored with medium-low to medium bitterness, light to medium-light body, and ow to medium residual malt sweetness. Torrefied and/or malted wheat are often used in quantities of 25% or less. Malt flavor may be biscuit-like. English, American or Noble-type hop, character, flavor and aroma are evident and may or may not be assertive yet always well balanced with malt character. Mild carbonation traditionally characterizes draft-cask versions. In bottled versions, normal or lively carbon dioxide content is appropriate. The overall impression is refreshing and thirst quenching. Fruity-ester characters are acceptable at low to moderate levels. No butterscotch-like diacetyl or sweet corn-like dimethylsulfide (DMS) should be apparent in aroma or flavor. Chill haze is allowable at cold temperatures.
Original Gravity (ºPlato) 1.036-1.050 (9-12.5 ºPlato) ● Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (ºPlato) 1.006-1.012 (1.5-3 ºPlato) ● Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 2.9-4% (3.6-5%) ● Bitterness (IBU) 20-30 ● Color SRM (EBC) 4-7 (8-14 EBC)
Personally, this is all fine and good, but with summer beers I tend to take the more liberal approach: if the brewery calls it a “summer beer,” then that’s good enough for me—whether it’s Alaskan Brewing’s Summer Ale Kölsch, Full Sail‘s Spotless IPA, or Southern Tier‘s Über Sun Imperial Wheat (or their Farmer’s Tan Imperial Pale Lager).
Sometimes it’s about finding the non-traditional and unusual summer beers, too; two more I’m reviewing this week fit that bill.