The Beers of Summer

Desert Hops. Photo by Joe Fury

Desert Hops. Photo by Joe Fury

Let’s just admit it right here and right now: We’re blessed. While the rest of the world is shoveling snow, we’re still working on our tans. Yes, Las Vegas enjoys a long and luxurious summer that lingers like the finish on a great wine. Or, better yet, a great beer. And there will be lots of that—more than 150 worldly brews!—at Vegas Seven’s Desert Hops International Beer Festival. From when the doors open on VIP hour till the last top is popped, Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada’s director of beer education and quality assurance Sam Merritt will be there. We asked the certified cicerone what’s hot for cooling off at Desert Hops on August 22 ( as well as the rest the summer.

What is different about summer drinking than other times of the year?

The generalization is that we want things lighter. We don’t want a lot of roast usually in the summer, and we don’t want a lot of residual sugar. So quenching is the key. Look for lighter beers—they don’t have to necessarily be lower in alcohol, but lighter in body, lighter in the way they express themselves with a lot more citrus going on than deeper, darker roasts and malts.

What do you look for in the perfect summer beer?

I look for acidity. I look for citrus notes. I look for mixability with beer cocktails. A lot of punches are very agreeable with lighter beers, so [I’m] looking for fun beer cocktails to make for groups of people who are hanging out outside, things that can be garnished with fresh fruits.

What are the go-to beer styles for summer?

Belgian white ales especially, with their coriander and orange peel. Saisons do very well; though they are a little stronger, they have lots of acidity and lots of lemony citrus qualities. We go over to the strong golden Belgian ales, such as the Duvel and the Delirium Red. Usually with the summer seasonal there is going to be some kind of fun ingredient that is going to be appropriate for summer.

What’s new for this year from Southern Wine & Spirits?

We have a lot of new seasonals from our American breweries, including Maui Brewing Company; we just picked them up. They have a nice Coconut Porter and a Mana Wheat beer that has fresh Hawaiian pineapple juice in it. Maui will be new to everyone. Magic Hat’s Electric Peel has red grapefruit juice in it. We have some really interesting things from Brooklyn Brewery coming out, their Black Ops as well as its BQE—Brooklyn Quarterly Experiment. There’ll be some barrel-aged stuff from Firestone Walker.

Among the 30 countries represented in the festival is, of course, the great nation of Las Vegas! Who will be represented locally?

We’ve definitely got our friends from Big Dog’s Brewing Co. Their Craft Lager is our new brand. They also have a beautiful new beer, Tangerine Wit, with that fresh tangerine aroma coming right out in the beer—it’s one of the best summer beers I’ve ever had. And then we’ve got Bad Beat Brewing from Henderson, Brasserie Saint James from upstate in Reno, and then, of course, the first craft brewery in Nevada, Great Basin, also from Reno.

Why has Desert Hops returned to the Boulevard Pool for a third season?

It’s the best venue for a beer festival that I’ve ever been to. It’s so beautiful. You’re up above the Strip, and we just put a lot into this one because it is all our stuff. We’re so proud of these brands, proud that we have this really deep portfolio and that we get to show off almost everything.