After more than a decade spent in a variety of positions with IBM, Michael Ferguson found his true calling: beer. In 1989 he began working as a brewer, and that move launched a journey that has made him one of the public faces in American craft beer. Craft beer sales are skyrocketing; according to sales figures from the Brewer’s Association, a trade group, sales of craft beer in America have leaped from $8.7 billion in 2011 to $19.6 billion last year.
Ferguson helps spread the gospel, both as director of contract brewing and beer training for BJ’s, the rapidly expanding chain of beer-oriented restaurants, and as host of Beer Geeks, a half-hour TV show on the Ora Network, that travels to different breweries showcasing the wonders of brewing and food.
When first asked about his five favorite summer beers, he hemmed and hawed a little.
“I've been a professional brewer for over 25 years, and I’ve tried somewhere around 7,000 different beers,” he said. “People often think I’m joking when I say my favorite beer is the beer in my hand.”
No, but really?
“It’s not a flippant answer; it’s about as true a statement as I can make. The beer I want has to do with my surrounding environment, my attitude, the time of day, the type of day (holiday), the weather, etc. Am I going to want a barley wine [an especially strong, malty style of ale popular in the dead of winter] on a summer day that’s 100-plus degrees Fahrenheit? Probably not, but I do so love a good barley wine. Will I be pounding ice-cold Pilsners in the dead of winter? Maybe, but it has to do with everything that’s happening around me at that moment.”
Be that as it may, can we assume it’s 100 degrees outside for a moment? Ferguson listed five styles of beer that are perfect for the heat of summer:
2. Schwartz beer: As the name implies, these are beers that are dark in color, unlike some porters and stouts; however, they are smooth drinking and typically fairly low in alcohol. Ferguson likes Kostritzer and Einbecker Schwarzbier.
3. Hefeweizen and wit bier: Better known among American beer drinkers as wheat beers, these notably light beers are known for being refreshing and tart in the finish. Ferguson likes Franziskaner from Germany and Hoegaarden from Belgium.
4. Session India pale ale: In beer-geek-speak, “session” means a beer that is easy to drink in multiples, or in other words, not extreme in bitterness or alcohol content. It is often applied to India pale ales, since many of them, especially Imperial IPAs, are extreme in both characteristics. His faves include Founders All Day IPA, from Grand Rapids, Mich.; Firestone Walker Easy Jack IPA, from Paso Robles, Calif.; and Stone’s Go to IPA, from Escondido, Calif.
5. Gueuze and lambic: Dry, cider-ish and often sour, lambics are notably fruity styles of beer from Belgium, and gueuzes are blends of several vintages of lambics. Ferguson particularly likes Lindemans Cuvée and Cantillon Kriek.