Words and photos by Grant Arlington
If you’ve been grasping at the prospect of a normal summer like a conspiracy theorist clings to their faith in shitty YouTube videos, ima burst your bubble now. Chances are you’re still going to need a mask in some environments. You should probably still keep a reasonable distance from people, for the sake of their anxiety at the very least (and please DON’T lick them). And steel yourself for the dullest conversations imaginable about vaccines, variants, sourdough and the fucking Friends reunion as everyone figures out how this social interaction thing works again.
Far be it from me to advocate for alcohol as an escape — but, honestly, you’re going to need alcohol to escape. Or, at least, to tune out the crushing awkwardness. On the positive side, that means you can experience the feels of high school prom all over again, with all the benefit of being older, wiser and vaxxed up good with 5G nanotech (a shitty YouTube video told me so).
So while things continue to grind slowly toward whatever normalcy was pre-COVID, here’s a selection of settings where you might find yourself this summer, the beer you should drink there, the food that’s going to go with that beer, and conversation hints that I one-hundred per cent do not vouch for.
Photo below: The classic pilsner is a lock with chips by the pool.
You might well hate going to the beach or pool. All those screaming children, the scorching sun and uncomfortable semi-nudity just never seem that relaxing somehow. But I don’t know, maybe you really love giving your pandemic-bloated body a UV overdose. I personally don’t care where you lie on the spectrum, because chances are you’re going to find your flesh exposed near a body of water at some point this summer. A pilsner is going to cut through all the crap, and, as Nick Carraway observed after too many mint juleps at Gatsby’s party, it’s going to make everything seem a lot more profound. Go classic German style for a snappy bitterness that’s going to refresh and keep your palate interested. As for food: keep it simple, stupid. Last thing you want is sand in your Caesar salad or some 12-year-old punk splashing pool water in your bouillabaisse. In short, a bumper bag of chips is always going to satisfy. But please, no sharing at this stage of the pandemic. I don’t care how many COVAX doses you sourced on the dark web, nobody wants your spittle-soaked fingers groping around their snack bag in this enlightened age of hygiene. To marry the noble hop notes of the pilsner, I’d go for either a herbal flavour like dill pickle or straight up sea salt. Don’t ask me to name a brand. You know what you like. Do say: “I can really taste the pickle!” Don’t say: “I’m taking a 12-pack out on the flamingo floatie, if I’m not back by tomorrow call the coast guard.”
Photo below: An unfussy pale ale's malt will marry beautifully with pizza's bready crust, and tomato sauce.
You know the deal. You agree to meet some friends at the park, and the plans stop there. Yet sometimes those turn into the most memorable times of our lives: long afternoons shooting the breeze, reminiscing, ribbing each other. Hell, maybe you end up throwing some sort of sports device around as the day melts into a pleasant haze before you hug your buds goodbye and are tucked up in bed at a reasonable hour. Other times, these casual get-togethers can descend into barely in-control ragers that end with you wearing a leather vest in a sweaty techno club at 6 a.m. hugging some guy with an elaborately styled moustache called Günther. For ultimate buddy time, you need the ultimate buddy beer, and that, my friends, is the classic American pale ale. They’re generally unfussy, clean and have a pleasing and interesting hop profile that, unlike some modern IPAs, won’t strip the lining of your esophagus. Despite pale ale’s pleasantly filling malt profile, you’re going to need some additional ballast at some point, and there’s nothing else to do but get on the blower for some local pizza. Pale ale’s malt is going to lock right into the toasted breadiness of any crust and also that tomato sauce, and the style is assertive enough to stand up to pretty much any pizza topping – unless you’re one of those psychopaths who insists on putting ghost pepper hot sauce on everything. Do say: “You guuuuuuuyyyyys, I totally love you guuuuuyyys.” Don’t say: “Scoville units are the new IBUs, man.”
Photo below: A dark lager will surprise and impress friends over for a BBQ.
The amp is warmed up with lazy jazz, you’ve got the choicest cuts from the butcher easing up to room temperature (or a slab of tofu or uberbeef or whatever it is you vegetarians carbonize) and the grill is hissing in impatient anticipation. This is no time for White Claw. This is, instead, time to astonish any dinner guests with a radical beer choice. They’ll gasp! They’ll swoon! And that’s just at the first sight of your godforsaken pandemic beard! When you think summer beers on the patio or deck, the brain defaults to pale lager. But if the food is seared to caramelized, slightly charcoaled perfection, you’re going to have to go dark. Trust me. Dark lager is the absolute bomb with food from the grill, especially red meat. (With chicken or veggies you could scale it back to an amber lager.) As well as locking into those caramelized flavours, there’s ample carbonation to scour away the fat and a sweetness that offers a lovely foil to a well seasoned slab of cow, cooked juicy rare or medium rare. Do say: “You can really taste the cow!” Don’t say: “Can you put that porterhouse back on the grill for like another 20 minutes?”
Photo below: Nothing beats a strong stout around a campfire after sweating the forest trail all day.
Let’s face it, camping can be a royal pain in the ass. All that prep. All that setting up. Stumbling out of the tent at 2 a.m. for the obligatory pee. Getting woken up at 6 a.m. by a deranged raven shrieking outside your tent. Then feeling your soul slowly dying as the soft patter of raindrops on the canvas steadily turns into a torrential tattoo. Why do we do it again? I figure it’s mostly the campfires. There’s something almost religious about gathering around an enclosed circle of flame, feeding the ravenous god of heat sacrifices of dead tree and occasionally poking it to see what it’ll do. (Don’t tell me you’ve never provoked a deity just for poops and giggles.) What’s more, there’s something miraculous about how it can turn a lump of edible white sponge into a delicious, crunchy, caramelized case of hot goo. Of course, some brewers have taken the marshmallow and added it directly to their recipes for smores stouts and other hideous concoctions. While there is nothing remotely fun or palatable about these beers, they’re on to something with stout. After a busy day of trying to have fun in the outdoors while feeling nothing but slightly damp and very unclean, a strong stout by the campfire is an invigorating, warming treat to recover with. And with a certainty of chocolate notes to some degree or other – with a good chance of coffee and maybe even a subtle whiff of smoke – it’s a lock with smores or just a straightforward marshmallow off a stick. (Pro tip: stop faffing around with crackers and chocolate. Just sandwich that hot mallow between two milk chocolate digestives and thank me later.) I might even let you off with some lactose in that stout for an even cosier, creamier feel. Depends how damp I am. Do say: “We thank you oh flamey one for what we are about to receive.” Don’t say: “Ohhhh riiiight *this* is the campground they built on the ancient graveyard beside the maximum-security prison.”
Photo below: Follow these easy suggestions for a fool-proof success story of beer pairings.
Day off alone, mid-afternoon, lying on your sofa in your underwear as the temperature climbs past 35 C/95 F
Look, there are some things I can’t help you out with, and two of those things are your life choices and your level of self-respect. But if you’re struggling with either, I’m going to say the best thing for you in this case is a refreshing pint of water and a nice long nap. Do say: Nothing. Best not to talk to yourself out loud. Don’t say: “Yeah, I’m good to go out like this for a jar of pickles.”