Fall Beer Frustration

hazelnuts

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.”

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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.

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Published in: on October 4, 2013 at 10:09 pm  Comments Off on Fall Beer Frustration  
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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)  
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Fall Beer Round-Up

A few things are certain every October: the leaves change colors; Christmas decorations appear on store shelves earlier and earlier; and there’s a greater variety of autumn-inspired beers. 
 
In past years, standard märzen-style and Oktoberfest varieties have been standard, as well as a couple of different pumpkin-flavored brews.  I’ve been a big fan of pumpkin beer for a long while now after discovering Capitol City Brewing Company’s Pumpkinator several years back.

But this year seems different; I’ve been overwhelmed by numerous varieties of pumpkin brews this year.  Apparently every medium to large craft brewery jumped on the pumpkin bandwagon this year.  And others are exploring other fall flavors, such as smoke, apples, and even maple syrup.

With so many breweries creating fall brews, it’s difficult to determine what’s worth trying and what’s worth not.  Thankfully, a few different publications – most notably, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Travel + Leisure – have helped to narrow the field.  So here’s a short summary of those lists, including a few of my personal seasonal favorites as well as a few exotic brews I have yet to hunt down. 

– The Bruery’s Autumn Maple.  An intriguing blend of yams, nutmeg, and of course, maple syrup.

– Dogfish Head Brewery’s Punkin Ale.  A regional favorite from an adventurous brewery known for experimenting with unique flavors and recipes.

– Captain Lawrence Brewing Company’s Golden Delicious.  Holding beer in apple-brandy barrels creates a sweet and tart cider-like brew.

– Sam Adam’s Bonfire Rauchbier.  A dark, full beer with a unique combination of smoke and malt; a hearty addition to any autumn meal.

– Flying Dog Brewery’s The Fear.  At 9% ABV – strong stuff to be sure – the dark brown brew is bold and substantial, with flavors of caramel and toasted graham cracker.

I was able to enjoy a few of the aforementioned brews at Rustico’s annual autumnal brew bash, an annual block party thrown at the restaurant’s Alexandria location.  Although it was a bit too crowded for my taste – as the below pictures attest – I did enjoy a few cold beers in absolutely perfect weather.  The restaurant had on hand “more than 50 amazing beers from all over the world including a slew of Pumpkin Ales, German Rarities and some of the most sought after Oktoberfests” and promised that “all…[would] be served up under an idyllic 68 degree afternoon sky… warm enough for a cold beer, cool enough for Brats.”

Published in: on October 28, 2011 at 9:35 pm  Comments Off on Fall Beer Round-Up  
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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  
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