It seems Daniel Fromson is feeling somewhat frustrated with fall beers lately. Pumpkin beer seems to be the cause. I too noticed a significant increase in pumpkin ales in the last few weeks, but came to a different conclusion than Fromson. Whereas he steered away from the season beer landslide, I dove right into it.
Writing in the Washington Post earlier this week, Fromson (along with one of his interviewees) had few kind words to say for the increasingly ubiquitous autumn brews. For Fromson, it’s a matter of taste: “…it is a reminder that coolers will soon contain orange-and-brown Pantone spectrums of sweeter, maltier, spicier beers, which — despite their popularity — I usually don’t like to drink.” For Shane Welch, president of Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery, it’s something a bit more. “I can’t stand these [expletive] beers,” he told Fromson. “What started out as genuinely creative has turned into a total farce.”
Instead of pumpkin beers, Fromson suggests brown ales, which “are diverse in flavor if not appearance: some are nutty and raisiny, others bitter like India pale ales, still others so roasty that they almost taste like stouts. They are generally divided between lighter, sweeter ‘English brown ales’ and bolder, hoppier ‘American brown ales.’”
Fromson provides several solid recommendations in his Post article, a few of which I’ve tried and enjoyed. Yet it didn’t include my favorite brown ale, a nearly black beer from the Czech Republic called Krušovice černé. I first learned of Krušovice (černé meaning “dark” in Czech) back in February from a New York Times article by Rosie Schaap, where she named as it one of her “Best Beers of Winter.” Unfortunately, picking up some was not as easy as a run to the grocery – no one in the DC metro region sold it.
I reached out to Rosie via email for ideas on tracking down a few bottles and she was more than helpful in sharing information. Research proved particularly helpful as I eventually contacted both Krušovice’s importer and Mid-Atlantic region distributor to locate a seller from whom I could order. A specialty liquor store in northwest DC agreed to order a case (the minimum amount) and a few days later I first tasted the malty Czech brew.
I’m still working on the case of Krušovice, which in part has helped me avoid this year’s onslaught of pumpkin ales. Also, pumpkin ales are now mainstream; so this year, what new flavors are at the cutting edge of autumn seasonal brewing? Rather than avoiding the seasonals like Fromson, I decided to completely embrace it.
Brews with nuts, berries, and coffee beans appear on the shelves this year, which I presume fall outside of Fromson’s ordinary enjoyment. And that’s ok – we drink what we like. But I believe they deserve at least some consideration. Experimental brews made with nontraditional elements are oftentimes more successful than not. And innovation and experimentation are factors that have driven the so-called American craft beer renaissance. Pushing the brewing envelope (including re-discovering ancient recipes) encourages innovation, even becoming the stock-and-trade for some microbreweries altogether (Dogfish Head Brewery comes to mind).
Here then, are a few interesting bottles I’ve enjoyed so far this fall:
– Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar Ale
– Anchor Brewing Big Leaf Maple Autumn Ale
– Dark Horse Brewing Perkulator Coffee Dopplebock
– Laughing Dog Brewing Huckleberry Cream Ale
Taken together, Fromson’s brown ales, Rosies Best Brews of last winter, Krušovice černé, and the beers named above (totaling over a dozen) will ensure you’ll be satisfied as autumn and winter arrive. Not to mention all those pumpkin ales, which you shouldn’t dismiss out of hand. As Fromson deftly observes, “Better, I think, for consumers to drink what they like than to always accept what the industry pushes.”
Of further note:
Rosie Schaap’s New York Times article also included a cocktail recipe, the Brown Corduroy, made with Bulleit bourbon, Krušovice černé, orange bitters, and nutmeg. She is also the author of Drinking With Men: A Memoir.
Daniel Fromson is the author of Finding Shakespeare, an e-book recently published by Atavist.