Best beers for your Labor Day barbecue

September 5, 2015, 1:45 PM UTC
Photograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images

Labor Day is always a bittersweet holiday, marking the impending end of summer, the start of another school year and, often, the last chance to host a blowout barbecue for friends. And for craft beer drinkers, it’s also the warning sign that your favorite summer seasonal is about to go away for a while.

With pumpkin beers already starting to sneak onto shelves and spicy winter ales just around the corner, Labor Day is the perfect opportunity to take a final sip of summer. But while it’s still among the top five “beer holidays” of the year, it may not rank as high as you may imagine.

In 2014, Labor Day beer sales came in just shy of $709 million – notably better than Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day – but falling behind the 4th of July, Memorial Day and Christmas.

This is also one of the best weekends of the year to hit a craft beer festival. There are at least a dozen festivals planned in the U.S. (and another dozen happening in Europe – 10 of which are in England).

Among the notable domestic events are the Lexington Fest of Ales in Lexington, KY, with over 200 beers from 60 breweries; the Mass Brewers Guild Fest, which will have over 100 beers on tap in Boston; and Bend, Oregon will host the Little Woody Barrel Aged Beer, Cider & Whiskey Fest, which offers more than the usual suspects of a typical beer festival.

All of this, of course, is an industry wind up for the Great American Beer Festival, which takes place Sept. 24-26 in Denver. It’s the biggest event of the year for the beer world – and can be the launching pad for the next great beer. (I’ll be in attendance this year, so if you know of a can’t miss offering to try or event to attend, let me know in the comments or via Twitter.)

If you’re more the stay at home type for Labor Day, though, here are a few seasonals that might have missed your radar this summer. Grab ’em while you’ve got the chance.

NoDa Nodajito – Mint generally isn’t a taste you associate with beer, but this Belgian Wit blends it in well, along with a good dose of lime. Inspired, as you might guess, by the mojito, it has a unique taste that straddles the line between beer and the popular cocktail. The mint and citrus won’t be for everyone – and it’s not a beer I’d crave in the winter – but on a hot day, it goes down easily. (ABV: 4.8%)

Smog City Unity – I’m not going to lie. It’s gonna be pretty hard to find this Los Angeles-brewed beer, which was released during LA Beer Week. But if you do managed to track some down, you’ll be rewarded with a nice tart farmhouse that blends fruity aspects with a slight bitterness. It’s a crisp beer that has a fair level of acidity, but boasts a very dry finish. (ABV: 5.3%)

Brooklyn Summer Ale – Made by Brooklyn Brewer, this English Pale Ale is a malty, light beer that will gladly keep you company as you work the grill, without filling you up. It’s sessionable – and while the malt is the predominant flavor, the hop mix adds a touch of floral, without any hop bitterness. (ABV: 5%)

Cisco Brewers Summer of Lager – A medium-bodied pilsner, this seasonal is strong on the malt, but has a distinctive hoppy bitterness, making it stand out from the lighter summer ales that often dominate the summer selection. There’s a lemon taste that’s mixed with an extremely dry finish. (ABV: 5.5%)

Golden Road Heal the Bay IPA – This summer-only IPA (which benefits a Santa Monica nonprofit of the same name) is dank and full of citrus and pine. You’ll get lots of tropical notes that are supported by a solid malt backbone, but the hops are the star of the show here. It’s a bit more carbonated than you might expect from an IPA, but that works in the beer’s favor, as curious as that might sound. (ABV: 6.8%)

Founders Rübæus – Like raspberries? You’d better if you’re going to crack open a Rübæus. It’s technically an ale, but it’s one where fruit is added at every stage of the brewing process, resulting in an intense flavor that is neither overly sweet nor overly tart. This isn’t a framboise, by any means. It’s closer in style to a sour – though it’s not really that either. While this isn’t a beer you’d want to drink throughout the day, it’s the perfect way to end a day with friends – and say goodbye to summer. (ABV: 5.7%)