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Summer means salad time — the vegetable are at their peak, it’s hot out and you don’t want to heat up the kitchen. Salads just honestly hit the spot on a summer day, but we can tend to fall into a salad “rut”. Anyone else out there sick of iceberg, tomato, cheese and croutons? And don’t get me started with bottled dressings….unimaginative, full of corn syrup, and just downright lame.

This salad has several things going for it, including magical roasted beets and a homemade vinaigrette made with my favorite ingredient, BEER. By reducing the beer down to an almost syrupy consistency, you get all that great flavor in a concentrated form. Pick a malt-forward beer for this technique, as any bitter flavor the beer has will just be amplified by reducing it.

We don’t want to overwhelm the salad, we want a great balance of flavors. I picked Arcadia Ales’ Whitsun, which has a bit of orange and coriander in it, ingredients that you can amplify in the dressing, layering flavors.

With the slight bitterness of the beer offset by a bit of honey (for natural sweetness), we can get perfect balance. Add some zing by using frozen orange juice concentrate — its intense flavor won’t water down the salad. I keep a can in my freezer specifically for cooking, and use it in dressings and marinades all the time.

This dressing can be made up ahead of time, and will keep in a mason jar in the fridge for about two weeks.

Chefs talk about balance in a dish all the time, and home cooks should too. The roasted beets will provide sweetness and earthiness, contrasted by the crispness of the lettuce, crunchiness of the nuts, and creaminess of the goat cheese. When you toss the whole thing with a beer dressing, it’s the perfect summer salad.

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Whitsun Beet Salad

For the salad:
4-6 beets, trimmed
6 cups mixed greens
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (optional)
1/4 cup chopped toasted pistachios
1/2 cup crumbled fresh goat cheese

For the dressing:
1 bottle wheat beer (like Arcadia Ales Whitsun)
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon coriander
salt and pepper

For the salad: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash the beets, then wrap them up in foil, and place in a baking pan. Roast the beets until tender. Depending on the size of the beets, this could take up to 1 1/2 hours. When done, let cool, then peel the beets. Slice into wedges.

Meanwhile make the dressing, pour the beer in to a saucepan, and over medium heat, reduce down to 1/4 a cup. Whisk everything else together, except the oil. Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking. The dressing should start to thicken up into an emulsion. Check the seasoning, and add salt and pepper if needed.

Toss the greens with the dressing and layout on a platter. Then toss the beets with some of the dressing and place them on top of the greens. Sprinkle on the mint if you are using it, the pistachios, and crumble the goat cheese all over. Add another couple grinds of pepper. Serve the salad right away, with another cold Whitsun to pair it with.

6.2% ABV

Appearance: Clear burnt orange, with small head that quickly dissipates.
Aroma: Lots of orange comes through, with some floral accents as well.
Taste: Orange and coriander; I also get some honey up front. Wheat is very prevalent on the back of the tongue. Some spice comes through as well.
Mouthfeel: Slightly carbonated, with a slightly medium body. Crisp and very easy to drink.

Arcadia’s Whitsun Ale is what I’d best describe as a beefed-up Bells’ Oberon. The brew features strong orange flavors, with some coriander, honey and some wheat on the backend. There’s also a bit of a spice to it — making it slightly less balanced than most wheat ales — but still very enjoyable.

The brew pours a clear burnt orange, and has a small head that does not linger. It’s a very easy to drink, medium-bodied ale, with a bit of a crispness coming from the slight carbonation of it.

Welcome to another fine Michigan summer! Pack accordingly, meaning on any given weekend you might need: Swimwear, sunscreen, bug spray, flip flops, sweat shirt, sweat pants, insulated rain coat, wool socks, parka.

But we love it, don’t we? The warm days and cool evenings by a fire pit. It’s what makes our Great Beer State so special. Of course, I am the type who will get a little peeved when faced with a Fourth of July weekend of rain and barely 60-degree temps. I feel entitled to a beautiful summer. It is my reward for surviving the winter of snow, ice, cold and grey skies from November through, oh, May.

But enough whining. Let’s talk about using this particular summer as a great excuse to expand your beer palate a bit. It’s a well-known and documented fact that Michigan is home to many quintessential summer beers. Bell’s has done an excellent job crafting an easy drinking summer wheat ale and an even better job positioning themselves all over the place with their stylish blue and orange colors. It belongs on any national top 10 beers of summer list (and has been on several I’ve seen).

Another Michigan-based brew I love in the summer is from Arcadia Ales. Whitsun, an unfiltered wheat from this Battle Creek brewery has just been added to the “Cans are Cool” craft beer trend. I had my first one from a can just yesterday. But pour it into a glass first…Whitsun is a lovely orange-hued brew that is a real thirst quencher.

In the interest of full disclosure let me reveal that I lived overseas for many years, and had friends who lived in Koln, Germany, home of the Kolsch beer. I had my fair share of this style in beer gardens, restaurants and friends’ patios. I’m fairly partial to it, especially on a hot summer day.

Right here in Michigan you can get a darn good version of the style from New Holland Brewing. Full Circle Kolsch is a beautiful bright yellow color, with just enough hops to avoid blandness. It’s a great addition to anyone’s beer fridge, and makes for a nice option for guests who want to drink beer (’cause it’s what we cool kids do’), but prefer something “lite” and you would just as soon toss them out on their ear than serve them anything that has “lite” in the name.

Founders Brewing has a limited release beer called Cerise that I tried last year and am eager to stock in my beer fridge . I love cherries. This beer is crafted by adding fresh cherries at several stages of fermentation, which gives it a perfect balance between pucker-up tart and “just enough fruit that I can still say I don’t drink fruit beer.”

And finally to the IPAs. The India Pale Ale variety of beer, in this gal’s humble opinion, can turn your average Michigan summer day into glowing, hoppy perfection, but I am an avowed hop head so…which one to choose? We all have our favorites.

From my own brewer’s delicious Insolent Mink, out to Marshall for the complex Crooked Tree, over to the Famous One in Kalamzoo (which is a staple I will tell you in my own summer beer cooler), back out to New Holland with the Mad Hatter and around to Founders with Centennial…my absolute favorite this summer is: Huma-Lupa-Licious from Short’s Brewing in Bellaire. The citrus makes me swoon.

And in the interest of further disclosure and absolute shameless promotion I will mention that my own beer: The Wench’s West Side Wheat will be a lovely addition to your Wolverine Tap Room visit. Crafted by myself, guided gently and more or less patiently by my brewer, this is one of our top sellers right now over on West Stadium in Ann Arbor.

So there you have it. Wench’s favorite summer brews.

And remember, it’s one reason we have such amazing, famous and well-known beers in this state: We gotta have them in order to ignore how much the weather is screwing us!

Bring the bug spray! I’ve got the beer cooler.