Ah, Fall: crunching leaves, jeans and hoodies, the melody of Auld Lang Syne playing after a touchdown, and the warming smell of spices in the season’s savory food and drinks. Contrast that with the sweltering, soggy, drawn-out dog days of summer and you’ve got two pretty different headspaces.
This was the source of my shock when, in early August, I saw pallets of Octoberfest beer on the grocery store floor. Not long after, even specialty beer stores were stocking up with everyone’s favorite pumpkin-flavored fall libations. I’ve gotten accustomed to Halloween candy showing up at back-to-school time, and even Santa Claus in October, but this was too much.
I shared my surprise with friends, and was glad to see so many shared my ‘not yet!’ sentiment. I am equally interested in reading the comments on this post to see what readers have to say. It’s possible that I’m just a stickler on this, and that for others the excitement for fall results in a long transition and an early start. From a brewery’s perspective, I understand the incentives behind getting the product out early: being first to market, subsequently locking down shelf space and consumer loyalty, and extending the otherwise tight season for selling a particular brand. There’s also consideration to be made for the Octoberfest beers, which, as lagers, take much more time to produce. On the other side, as someone who works for a farm, it’s hard to digest pumpkin beer so long before pumpkins are even ripe. In a craft market, it feels like those types of things should line up.
However, now that Labor Day is behind us, and this weekend shows some potential lows in the 50’s (please!) it feels a little more sane to begin approaching some of those wonderful fall seasonal beers. They are, after all, my favorite seasonal beers. I checked into Beer Run to see what they had on the shelf, and brought home a few to explore:
Pours a nice, amber color with a thin white head. Nice malt biscuity flavors, but not much in the way of sweetness. Clean and very easy-drinking.
Flying Dog Dogtoberfest Marzen:
This one also pours the typical amber color, but a little darker and also clearer than the Brooklyn. More hop presence on the nose, with subtle a slightly bready taste and a slightly sticky sweet finish. At 5.5% ABV, both Octoberfest beers could be easily hoisted by the steinfull!
Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale:
Major pumpkin nose: smells like gutting pumpkins for carving! The first sip pulls a 180, and it’s a punch in the mouth from the spice cabinet. This is exactly what most people are looking for in a pumpkin beer. Pumpkin essence, cinnamon/nutmeg spice, and not cloyingly sweet.
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin Ale:
This one is the bad boy of the bunch. Not only is the 20 oz. bottle much bigger, but the alcohol is a heftier 9% ABV. This beer smells more like pie filling than gourd, and the toasty, crusty malt flavors join spices to complete the pumpkin pie effect. This is not a session beer, but it is a home run in the ‘feels like fall’ department.
I look forward to seeing how many more of these fall seasonals appear at the Top of the Hops Beer Festival, which takes place on September 22 at the Ntelos Wireless Pavilion.
Lastly, a quick update on our progress at Champion Brewing Company: We are beginning to wrap up some of the final construction in the back of the brewhouse, although it would be hard to believe if you went by today. Tanks are coming to us from California the beginning of next week, so we will be making beer by the end of the month. That gets me very, very excited. Cheers!