Pumpkin Beer 2012

In recent years September and October signaled the introduction of autumnal beers, most notably Oktoberfest lagers.  Märzen-style brews are my absolute favorite seasonal beer, so I welcome the near-endless variety: from traditional German breweries to mainstream American brewers and smaller domestic craft breweries, you can’t swing a dead cat these days without knocking over a display of Oktoberfest bottles.

Yet this fall feels a bit different. Although the ubiquity of Oktoberfest varieties remains, there’s now a strong rival to contend with:  pumpkin ales.  They’re everywhere this year.

A few years ago you were lucky to find some sort of pumpkin ale in a specialty grocery or on tap at a local microbrewery.  Yet alongside the growth in Oktoberfest sales came the proliferation of pumpkin brews, so much so that the two now introduce the fall season hand in hand.

And it’s not just a couple of new varieties; now any brewery worth discussing at minimum brews an Oktoberfest, a pumpkin beer, and more often than not, some other autumn/Halloween/fruit or nut-inspired beer.

Not that any of this is a bad thing, certainly not.  I write to consider only the mass production American microbrews have created for us, the snooty beer drinkers of the world, as well as the pace with which this explosion in varieties occurred.  So to help you separate what’s good from what’s not, here are some of my favorites this year.

– Boxcar Pumpkin Porter, by Starr Hill Brewing

– Imperial Pumpkin Ale, by Weyerbacher Brewing Company

– Pumpkinhead (Maine-made Ale), by Shipyard Brewing Company

– Post Road Pumpkin Ale, by the Brooklyn Brewery

– Punk’n Harvest Pumpkin Ale, by Uinta Brewing Company

– Pumpkin Ale, by Smuttynose Brewing Company

If none of these ring your bell, don’t fret: there will likely be a few dozen more to choose from next year.

Published in: on October 9, 2012 at 10:43 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

auf Wiedersehe​n Oktoberfes​t

This past Sunday marked the end of the 178th Oktoberfest.  From the opening shout of “it’s tapped!” to the festival’s conclusion on the first Sunday in October, Germans and non-Germans alike gorged themselves on delicious food and drink.  Unfortunately, that didn’t include me.  I missed this year’s festivities, just like last year.

But there’s always next year, right?  So, why not look on the bright side and focus on all the fun and revelry had by our fellow drinkers.  And I’ve found two ways to vicariously enjoy the fun of those fortunate enough to have made it to Munich for this year’s O-Fest.

First, thumb through the fantastic collection of pictures found at The Atlantic’s In-Focus Photo Blog.  Alan Taylor, the blog’s editor, compiled forty pictures from various news sources that place you right in the middle of the Theresienwiese.  From the innumerable steins of beer, to the amusement park rides, and of course, the dirndls, this is the best collection of Oktoberfest photos I’ve found.  I’ve included my favorite at the top of the post.

Second, learn how to play the fine German sport of Masskrugstemmen.  This, according to The Wall Street Journal, “is greatest sport ever invented.”  (Truer words have never been written.)

Masskrugstemmen, which crudely translates to Mass Mug Lifting, is a simple enough game: participants only have to “try to hold onto an enormous beer for as long as they can…Contestants line up, extend one arm parallel to the ground, grip a one-liter beer, and try not to spill. Drop any brew, and you’re eliminated.  ‘It’s pretty much a Bavarian strongman contest,’ said Lars Halter, general chairman of New York City’s German-American Steuben Parade.”  But don’t be fooled, cautions the Journal, “Masskrugstemmen is much tougher than it looks. One liter of beer in a glass stein weighs about five pounds, and most people can’t last longer than a couple minutes.”

Here’s a great Masskrugstemmen video, courtesy of The American German Club of the Palm Beaches.  Masskrugstemmen can be enjoyed by both guys and girls, so call your friends, dust off your stein, and issue your challenge!  Because it sure beats Beer Pong.

Published in: on October 7, 2011 at 10:00 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

A Report from Germany

Here in the U.S. the season of fall beers is getting underway.  Local pubs and microbreweries are only now rolling out their darker, autumnal selections on draft.  Oktoberfest varieties are commonplace this time of year; however, this past weekend marked the conclusion of the traditional German Oktoberfest.

Surprising to most, the majority of the traditional German festival does not begin in October; rather, it begins in mid-September and concludes in early October.  Held annually in Munich’s Theresienwiese “meadow,” this year’s festival ended last Sunday and prompted an interesting article from my favorite weekly newspaper, The Economist.

The article, entitled “Oktobergloom” (October 9th issue), discussed an unfortunate phenomenon: Germans appear to be losing their taste for beer.  According to the article, German beer consumption in 2009 fell below that of neighboring Czech Republic and Austria, as well as Ireland.  Still, the article noted, that year Germans drank almost 110 liters of beer per person – no small amount.

This decline, in Germany of all places, is a discouraging situation.  An aging population with health concerns, wine’s perception as more upscale, and changing tastes of the younger generation are cited as reasons for this decline; apparently even “drinking beer at lunchtime is frowned upon.”  These are disheartening facts indeed.

So what does this mean for beer drinkers here in the states?  Will we be relegated to drink only American domestics, those “mass-produced beers…derided as spülwasser (dishwater)”?  Thankfully, it appears not.  While Germans are in fact drinking less beer, their national production still dwarfs that of the rest of Europe, meaning German beer is here to stay.

I suppose we Americans will have to simply buckle down to help our German friends reverse this decline.  So do your part and drink German beer whenever and wherever possible; next September, I’ll be doing my part in Munich.

Published in: on October 13, 2010 at 10:50 pm  Comments Off on A Report from Germany  
Tags: , , ,

Autumnal Brews

Another Labor Day has passed and another summer has ended.  Days begin growing shorter and the weather cools.  Sweltering afternoons slowly transform into brisk evening breezes.  Leaves crackle under foot.  And when the weather changes so does one’s beer selection.  Bright floral summer flavors are traded for thicker, darker, and autumnal flavors.  Chief among these is the Märzen-style of beer more commonly referred to as Oktoberfest.

The popular rise of seasonal beers generally corresponded with the rise of the craft beer movement in the states.  Small, niche market brewers began creating limited-availability flavors particular to the season.  Following the Boston Brewery’s mainstream success (the folks responsible for Samuel Adams), more and more small and mid-sized breweries have created their own autumn-inspired beer, using harvest-inspired flavors such as pecans and pumpkin.

Along with Oktoberfest-style strong beers, pumpkin-flavored beer is becoming more widely available as well.  I discovered one such draft – The Pumpkinator – a lightly sweet ale flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin – a few years ago at one of the District’s only breweries.  Since then I’ve noticed several varieties of pumpkin beer turn up in specialty markets about this time each year.  Although it initially sounds less than appetizing, everyone I know who has tasted one is surprised, impressed, and ultimately, a convert.

Take advantage of the decreasing temperatures to enjoy a seasonal beer, one that’s bold in body, substantial in flavor, and rich in substance.  Sit outside and enjoy the cool wind that blows the fallen leaves down your street.  Have one drink more.  Because the cool autumn evenings will soon become cold winter nights; you’ll wish you had a little more meat on your bones.  Or a thicker sweater.

Published in: on October 10, 2010 at 11:29 pm  Comments Off on Autumnal Brews  
Tags: , , ,

East Coast Oktoberfest

Beer Gardens NYC app co-developers, Raj Moorjani and Hope Tarr get the party started for Oktoberfest.

Cool autumn weather allows relaxing with a beer in a outdoor space with increased frequency, when soaring summer temperatures fall and humidity dissipates.  As leaves transform their color, so too does our beer; deeper hues of medium-bodied ambers and think chocolate stouts are more prevalent.

The year’s fall months also bring with it Oktoberfest, whose celebration is quite evident during September and October.  Many ordinary bars – especially those with even a scant number of outdoor tables – adopt German themes, music, and beer selection to drawn in those looking for just such an atmosphere.  Polka and other traditional folk tunes are heard in average taverns.  It is safe to assume that if a restaurant has outdoor seating, it will attempt to create a beer garden.

Only recently did the District acquire an authentic biergarten, where one may enjoy the Oktoberfest tradition in fine Munich fashion.  While DC has only its singleton, New York City has another problem altogether: beer gardens are so prevalent a pair of truly enterprising drinkers thought to electronically map the city’s numerous locations.  The result is a Smartphone application to point you towards the nearest beer garden*.

So whether you’re German, or just want to be for an afternoon, head out to your local – or only – beer garden.  Order up your favorite würste, a mound of sauerkraut, and a cold, frothy stein of beer.  It just may be delivered by a dirndl-clad waitress.


Published in: on October 5, 2010 at 11:07 am  Comments Off on East Coast Oktoberfest  
Tags: , , ,