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Sun and suds: Craft brews abound for warmer weather, featuring saisons and 'sessionables'

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RICHMOND, Va. - It's the unofficial rule of summer — when the sun comes out, so do the coolers.

For many, that means stocking up on light beers that are crisp and refreshing, but pack less alcohol. Because when you're hiking, heading to the beach or pitching a tent, you don't want to be weighed down by a beer with too robust a body or whose alcohol content impedes the pleasure of all-day sipping.

If you're looking for options beyond the typical mass-market beers, the booming craft beer industry luckily has plenty of options to quench this thirst. Recently, a number of craft brewers have brought out crisp, refreshing choices like the farmhouse ales known as saisons and sessionable beers, which are perfect for summer sipping.

Added bonus — these beers also pair well with grilling staples such as burgers, chicken and sausage, summer salads and pizza, as well as spicy foods like Mexican, Thai and Indian.

The trouble with craft beers is that by definition they can be hard to find. That's part of the appeal, of course, but also a bummer when a buddy raves about a recent find that you can't find. So to make your summer that much better, we've gathered a list of some favourite summer-friendly craft brews that are more widely available.

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SUMMERFEST (from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, Calif.)

Style: Czech Pilsner

Alcohol: 5 per cent

Notes: This golden lager is, of course, refreshing, but it also has a sweet, malty flavour and subtle spicy character that lets you know you're not drinking just another mainstream beer.

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SAISON DUPONT (from Brasserie Dupont in Belgium)

Style: Saison/Farmhouse Ale

Alcohol: 6.5 per cent

Notes: Saison Dupont is the classic farmhouse ale against which many of today's modern takes on saisons are measured. This style of beer originally was made by farmers in Belgium during the cooler harvest months and stored for drinking during the summer. This unfiltered ale is full-bodied and malty, but has lots of citrus and spice. It finishes dry and has a good amount of carbonation, which heighten its refreshing and complex characteristics.

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ALL DAY IPA (from Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Mich.)

Style: American IPA

Alcohol: 4.7 per cent

Notes: Craft beer drinkers have an affinity for hops, which are known for providing a certain bitterness to beer. For some, the more, the better. For others, that "hoppiness" keeps them away. This beer was brewed with summer — and hop-heads — in mind. The light-bodied ale is crisp and refreshing, but also offers up the citrus and pine tastes and aromas that IPAs are known for. And with an alcohol content below 5 per cent, Founders brewed what it called a session ale to be enjoyed all day — and night.

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SUMMER LOVE ALE (from Victory Brewing Co. in Philadelphia)

Style: Golden Ale

Alcohol: 5.2 per cent

Notes: A few years back, Victory Brewing teamed up with the Philadelphia-area tourism folks to come up with a beer to help promote the City of Brotherly Love — and Summer Love was born. The beer became popular among aficionados for its combination of German hops and pale malt that creates a light-bodied ale with a lemony finish.

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COLETTE (from Great Divide Brewing Co. in Denver)

Style: Saison/Farmhouse Ale

Alcohol: 7.3 per cent

Notes: Colette is an homage to traditional farmhouse ales. It's a complex beer that's crisp, fruity, spicy and fairly tart. Originally a seasonal offering, the demand became so great that Great Divide began brewing it as a year-round offering.

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FLEUR DE HOUBLON (from Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y.)

Style: Belgian-style Summer Ale

Alcohol: 6.8 per cent

Notes: Ommegang's brand new summer ale is named for the hop flowers used to make the beer. This Belgian-style golden ale blends flavours of citrus from the whole Bravo hops with aromas of fresh cut grass and the sweetness of tropical fruit. The beer, which is clean, dry and refreshing, is fermented twice with the brewery's unique house yeast to impart complex and spicy notes.

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TRADE WINDS (from The Bruery in Placentia, Calif.)

Style: Tripel/Belgian-style Golden Ale

Alcohol: 8 per cent

Notes: While a little higher in alcohol content, this Belgian-style ale with sparkling wine-like qualities is definitely a good summer beer, but maybe not all day long. It uses rice in its brewing to give it a lighter body and is spiced with Thai basil. It's dry, fruity and has a good amount of carbonation.

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Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum

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