10 Best Lawnmower Beers of Spring 2013
We've really never understood the phrase "lawnmower beer" since, quite frankly, a beer is probably the worst thing you can have under the conditions described above. We do understand its origins, though. In early American suburbia, it wasn't uncommon for the newly minted homeowner to take to their tiny plot of earth on a weekend morning with one hand on the mower and the other wrapped around a can of Pabst, Ballantine, Stroh's, Schaefer, Narragansett, Rainier, Olympia or whatever was on hand. They're not thought of as great beers today, but in their original formulations they were light and refreshing without being reduced to yellow rice-fed fizz.
They were the offspring of what the English called "small beers," low-alcohol brews workers could drink to keep refreshed and not have to worry about working while impaired. In Belgium, it was known as saison -- which was drunk by farmhands and was the low-alcohol predecessor to today's far more potent beers of the same name.
In early spring, however, when the temperatures are still fairly mild and the grass and dandelions in more temperate climates are starting to grow with impunity, it's great lawnmower beer weather. With more than 2,400 breweries operating in the U.S. today, there's a much broader selection than there was during America's mid-century mowing heyday and more breweries than there have been in 125 years.
That's a lot for a weekend yard laborer to choose from, which is why we're going to lay down some ground rules for modern lawnmower beer. First off, it should be in a can. It's small, it travels well, it's better at keeping the sun out than glass and enough smaller brewers have embraced it that the site Craft Cans, which documents canned craft beers across the U.S., is up to 956 entries.
That said, there should definitely be an alcohol limit on said beers. As the 10.5% alcohol by volume of Colorado-based Oskar Blues' Ten Fidy imperial stout and the 11.5% ABV of San Francisco-based 21st Amendment's appropriately named Lower De Boom barleywine show, not every canned beer is a great lawnmowing beer -- unless you're mowing the lawn at Antoni Gaudi's place. Since beers such as Budweiser, Miller High Life and Pabst Blue Ribbon draw a direct lineage to those lawnmower beers of yore, let's use their 4.7% to 5% ABV as a base and work down from there.
Finally, the beer should be refreshing. Not too malty, not overly hoppy and not sickeningly fruity. Put all those elements together and you have yourself the ideal beer for mowing a park or a postage stamp. With those criteria in mind, we picked 10 beers that bring back some pride to the "lawnmower beer" label. If your favorite is missing, be a good neighbor and share it with us: