Wednesday, September 30, 2009

10 Fall Beers

10 Great Fall Beers

Existing somewhere between the light, refreshing offerings of summer and the richness and heavy spice of winter brews, fall beers provide the perfect seasonal transition. Malts take center stage. Hues get darker, matching the season's withering foliage. And overall flavors get heartier, preparing to hold their own against fall's thick stews, slabs of turkey and decadent wedges of pumpkin pie. Plus they offer a more flavorful alternative to throwing back cans of Budweiser and Coors on football Sundays (not that there's anything wrong with that). So with the help of resident beer expert Tim Ensor at the Brooklyn-based craft beer dealer Bierkraft, I've compiled a list of 10 great fall beers -- from both the US and abroad -- to get you through the coming months.

Most can be found at well-stocked grocery and specialty beer stores - and maybe even your neighborhood pub -- but if you're having trouble finding any, many retailers (Bierkraft included) will ship via mail order. And if you happen to be in the area, stop by the breweries for a guided tour or tasting.

Brooklyn Oktoberfest Beer
Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn, N.Y.

I'll kick things off in my home town. Located in a former matzo ball factory in Brooklyn's trendy Williamsburg neighborhood, Brooklyn Brewery has received numerous awards and keg-sized quantities of critical praise. Brewmaster Garrett Oliver consistently concocts some of America's finest beers and his interpretation of the traditional Bavarian Oktoberfest lager is up to his usual standards. With a deep, reddish amber color and plenty of rich malt and caramel flavor, this full-bodied seasonal brew is the perfect way to welcome the cold.

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
Dogfish Head Brewery, Milton, Del.

With pumpkin ales sometimes less is more—because nothing makes my taste buds shudder like an overly pumpkin-y beer with its own well-stocked spice cabinet. But the seasonal flavors in this offering from Delaware's innovative Dogfish Head Brewery are subtle and well-balanced, with its pumpkin, nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice evenly paired against mild hoppy bitterness and head-spinning potency (Punkin Ale weighs in at a whopping 7% alcohol by volume!).

Southern Tier Harvest Ale
Southern Tier Brewing Company, Lakewood, N.Y.

Taking advantage of the fall crop, harvest ales are brewed from freshly picked hops, giving them an intense, grassy character. The style is growing in popularity among American beer makers and this young upstate New York brewery produces one of the best. Inspired by the English-style extra special bitter (ESB), its golden straw-like color and potent hoppy zest will satisfy those craving a bit more bite in their fall beer and certainly pays homage to the season's bounty.

Victory Moonglow Weizenbock
Victory Brewing Company, Downingtown, Penn.

Essentially a heartier wheat beer, weizenbocks tend to have complex malt character, minimal hoppy bitterness and a bright fruity quality. And Pennsylvania’s take on this Bavarian fall classic is dead on, partially thanks to Victory’s brewmasters having trained in Germany. Moonglow is dark amber in color with prominent banana and clove—I know this sounds unappetizing, but trust me, it’s good—balanced with a refreshing citrus crispness common to wheat beers. And at 8.7% alcohol by volume, it’s by far the most potent beer to make the list.

Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen
Paulaner Brewery, Munich, Germany

In 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria threw a party to commemorate his marriage and thus the first Oktoberfest was born. Decades later in 1872 the Spaten brewery adapted the popular Vienna lager and developed the first Oktoberfest beer, deeming the style Märzen (March) after the month in which it was brewed (though it wasn't tapped until fall). But while Spaten may have founded the Märzen, Paulaner has perfected it: Malts and sweet toffee dominate but prominent hops round out the flavor resulting in a complex, satisfying brew with an essence of Heath Bar. Plus, you can't beat the label, depicting a row of burly German women merrily hoisting beer steins in celebration of fall.

Great Divide Ridgeline Amber/Fresh Hop Pale Ale
Great Divide Brewing Company, Denver

This amber ale from one of America's most decorated microbreweries is smooth and easy to drink but rich enough to hang with fall's hearty dishes. Visually, think rich copper; taste-wise a perfect balance of malt and hops with a subtle nuttiness. If you're looking for something with a paler complexion and a lot more earthiness, Great Divide also has a praise-worthy harvest brew called Fresh Hop Pale Ale. Though fresh harvest brewing requires a far greater quantity of hops, nothing says fall like Fresh Hop's powerful grassy aroma—it's like a newly mowed lawn.

Original Flag Porter
Darwin Brewery, Sunderland, United Kingdom

Appearances aside, trust me when I say you’re not about to glug a jar of straight molasses. This near-black elixir is somewhat lighter than expected and manages a smooth drinkability despite its bold malty taste and lots of coffee and chocolate flavor. Plus it has a great back story—OFP is brewed using yeasts salvaged from a ship that sank in the English Channel in 1825. Several intact beer bottles were found in the wreckage and while according to brewer and microbiologist Dr. Keith Thomas the brew itself tasted like “old, wet boots,” enough live yeast was present to cultivate resulting in this complex, fall-friendly porter.

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
Smuttynose Brewing Company, Portsmouth, N.H.

According to brewing lore—and the Smuttynose Web site—early American colonists made beer with local squash in order to “extend their supply of costly imported malt.” This assertively hoppy offering from the Granite State’s premier brewery succeeds in honoring this heritage with a hint of pumpkin layered beneath bold clove and nutmeg. It has a noticeable but appetizing bitterness and stands out as one of the spicier and more natural-tasting pumpkin brews.

Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, Calif.

Creators of America’s first harvest ale back in 1996, Sierra Nevada has dropped another hop bomb on the beer world. The result of two 8,000-pound hop harvests, both brewed immediately, this year's ale is aromatic—think grass and pine trees—and has a manageable, complex and forestial bitterness. A touch of malt and caramel provides a subtle candy-like balance. One of the most vibrant and fresh-tasting beers on the market, Sierra’s Harvest brew tastes as if drawn from some unspoiled spring of pristine ale in the mountains of Northern California.

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen
Ayinger Brewery, Aying, Germany

I know, yet another Oktoberfest—can you tell I’m obsessed? This seasonal brew comes to us from the 1,200-year-old village of Aying in Bavaria. The Ayinger brewery uses mostly local ingredients to produce its 12 beers and has been operated by the same family since 1878. Their unique take on the Märzen style is lighter than many of its heavily malted counterparts and has a pleasing bread-like quality with a crisp, refreshing finish. A beer-loving friend of mine recently described it as "Having a Triscuit vibe…but in a good way."


d said...

I also have 2 tickets to the harpoonfest for Friday night if anyone wants them!


WatchDawg said...

You forgot Shipyard Pumpkin Ale from Portland, ME.