Simple pleasures such as hamburgers and unadorned vegetables take center stage in summer. It's not just because they taste good, or because tomatoes and sweet corn are about to hit their peak. It must have to do with the amount of heat in the world, and how it doesn't seem right to add to it. I'll spare you the Al Gore-style lecture, but slaving over a hot stove in summer is a social sin on par with excess greenhouse emissions. To go along with your socially-responsible cold salads and grilled meats this summer, choose simple beer and wine.
With August just around the corner, my general rule is to avoid drinking anything that requires thought or effort. If I can't pretend to be French or a psychiatrist and spend August at the beach, I'm going at least pretend I'm in the helping professions and cut down on any unnecessary activities while continuing to earn my daily bread. When I was full of vigor in early June I would muddle rosemary sprigs with sugar in a highball glass, squeeze in the juice of two lemons and add a slug of gin, ice and soda water. This drink was tart, herbal and bracing, and perfect to sip while sitting in front of a window fan. Now that the temperature has risen and the humidity is nearly tropical, the thought of all that ingredient gathering, plucking, juicing and seed straining simply hurts.
If you can't muster the energy for good summer drinks such as gin and tonics, campari and sodas and Pimm's cups - drinks which require garnishes - I have some suggestions. Complex red wines aren't right for summer, any more than heavy stews or roasts. Wines that have low tannins and high acid provide refreshment of a much-needed sort, as does the low alcohol content. Then again, alcohol provides a different sort of relief when the subway is a sauna, your fellow citizens smell like they've long passed their expiration date and yet you STILL need to wear a cardigan in the office to keep from being frostbitten.
Easy drinking wines with freshness and simple fruit flavors are best. Rosé definitely works, but it isn't the end of the story, as there are plenty of unoaked, dry white wines that fit the bill, such as sauvignon blanc from cool areas like the Loire Valley or the Hawkes Bay region of New Zealand. Basic white Bordeaux and Burgundy can be had for a song, and the Spanish white Albariño, with its acid and marine-like salty notes, is great with grilled seafood and perfect on a sweltering evening.
Lately I've been drinking a white from a winery called Craftsman from the Neszmély region of Hungary. It's made from the zöld veltelini grape - for the German speakers among you, grüner veltliner, the most common variety in Austria. The nose is like a poached pear, or apricot jam with fruity sweetness. It is a dry wine, however, with lively acidity cutting the slightly buttery texture and reinforcing the ripe fruit, which is like green table grapes with notes of orange flower and sweet citrus. At $10 it's a great deal.
Acid makes a wine refreshing, and bitterness does the same thing in beer. I like simple, basic pilsners or pale ales in the summer that have a nice hop bitterness to keep things light. However, some of the American India pale ales, such as Dogfish Head's ultra-hopped varieties, throw balance out the window in favor of full-on, medicinal hops bitterness. It's enough to make your teeth hurt, and pain is just what I'm trying to avoid when I'm drinking a beer. I also think that fruity, high-alcohol Belgian ales and thick malty styles, like stout or porter, should be put away until the leaves on the trees fade to the same color as these ruddy, dark beers.
If the heat has drained away your will to use a corkscrew or even leverage a bottle opener, there's still hope. By far the beer that requires the least effort is Dale's Pale Ale, which is accessed by popping the top of a can. It's got a nice frothy head and citrusy hops on the nose, like candied lemon peel or grapefruit. Unlike many extra-hopped beers it's got a bigger malt body to match its amber color, so it's a balanced brew., Most importantly, its cheap and eminently quaffable; when trying this beer I followed up my decorous tasting sip with a hearty swig, and was immediately chagrined that I hadn't picked up a six-pack. It'll be a long, hot August.