WASHINGTON, September 28, 2012 — The calendar announced that Autumn officially began last Saturday morning, but you will be excused if you thought it began at least six weeks earlier.
If you visit the beer store aisles with any regularity, you might report the beginning of the fall season as early as late July to early August since that’s when Oktoberfests, Märzens, and Pumpkin beers begin hitting shelves.
As the craft beer market becomes more crowded, every day and week that a brewery’s seasonal beer can be in front of the consumer before the competition can translate directly to the bottom line.
Now that fall seasonal beer inventories are peaking, following is a brief review of some of the most interesting beers of the season.
Many brewers admit to being perplexed by the exploding popularity of pumpkin beers in the last few years but brew at least one batch per season to meet the growing demand for this fall seasonal beer. While pureed pumpkin is added to the mash in many versions of this style and hopping rates are quite low, the overwhelming identifying flavors owe, like pumpkin pies, to the accompanying spices — typically allspice, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg — and not the relatively subtle flavor from pumpkin.
Two popular versions of pumpkin ales come in a bit higher in alcohol than many pumpkin beers and are available in many states. The Southern Tier Pumking, at 8.6% ABV, packs a rich mouthful of pumpkin pie spices and nuttiness and is available in nearly thirty states. Dogfish Head’s Punkin comes in at around 7% ABV and boasts a similar flavor profile, but one that varies enough from year to year to keep the beer aficionados coming back for more. The incredibly popular Dogfish Head is available, sometimes in fleeting quantities, in 24 states.
More local to its home state of Virginia, Starr Hill’s Boxcar Pumpkin Porter weighs in at a more drinkable 4.7% ABV and is relatively more lightly spiced which many find appealing as something less than a pumpkin pie in a glass. Starr Hill can be found in several mid-Atlantic states around Virginia, as well as Florida and Tennessee.
The Oktoberfest/Märzen style has had its roots planted deeply in German history and its reputation amplified over the past 200+ years by the annual celebration of a royal wedding, the fall harvest, and untold other reasons to party in Germany. Americans can expect to find Oktoberfest beers from Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr to be on tap at many bars across the U.S. The traditional style from Germany will display a smooth maltiness with low bitterness and alcohol levels of nearly 6% ABV.
In the U.S., Great Lakes Oktoberfest from Ohio is distributed in a dozen states mostly around the northeast and midwest and has won several brewing awards in the past ten years. The beer brings just a bit more alcohol, at 6.5%, than its German counterparts and is slightly more bitter.
Closer to the mid-Atlantic states, Legend Oktoberfest is primarily found in its home state of Virginia only, weighs in at 6.0%, and displays the hallmark smooth maltiness of a solid Oktoberfest.
A style very difficult to extricate from the fall season is Fresh/Wet Hop beers. These beers are tied very tightly to the fall harvesting schedule of the annual hop crop. Breweries making these beers are incorporating hops into the process directly from the fields.
One of the most eagerly anticipated and widely available is Sierra Nevada’s Northern Hemisphere. The brewery in Chico, Calif. calibrates its production schedule in late summer/early fall with the delivery of hops picked fresh from fields in the Yakima Valley of Washington and delivered same day to northern California. The “wet” hops are only hours from the hop bines when they are added to the brew kettle to deliver a bouquet of fresh hop flavor unlike nearly any other style of beer.
Another celebrated fresh hop beer hails from Dexter, Mich. and is typically one of the later beers in the style group to hit the market. Founders Harvest Ale packs a citrus hop wallop at nearly 70 IBUs (International Bitterness Units) and is available typically in late October.
More local to the mid-Atlantic region is Sixpoint’s Autumnation, brewed in Brooklyn, NY and available in portions of eight states. The Autumnation is a not only a fresh hop beer — which incorporates a different hop varietal each year; in 2012, the Citra hop — but with a dash of pumpkin pie spice is an interesting hybrid fall seasonal beer.
Fall seasonal beers cover a more diverse beer spectrum than perhaps in any other season of the year. Seasonal beers often provide the chance to sample different beers. From the malt-forwardness of Oktoberfest beers, to hoppy harvest ales and spicy pumpkin beers, there are plenty of reasons to try something new.
Read more of Bryan’s work at After Hours in the Communities at the Washington Times.
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