It’s late-August and the fall beers have arrived in force. Until recently, autumn offerings focused almost exclusively on rich, amber, malty brews based on the traditional German Oktoberfest style. Nowadays, fall beers feature enough pumpkin ales that attempting to try all of them might actually lead to seeing Schroder’s Great Pumpkin.
Quite a few locals put out solid Oktoberfest-style beers. Goodfellows’ Wheneverfest is available year-round and is joined in the fall by Berkley Brewing’s well-balanced Harvest Ale, as well as fine “Octoberfests” from Cisco, Sam Adams, and Harpoon. All of them are solid, so feel free to pick up any and know you’ll get a good brew.
If you can find it, one of the classics of the style is the Paulaner Oktoberfest-Marzen, the only non-local beer I’ll mention in this column, simply because it’s often considered the Oktoberfest to which all others are compared. It’s actually in the Oxford English Dictionary next to both “Oktoberfest” AND “balanced”.
But as any local hophead knows, this is pumpkin brew season. Quite a few beer enthusiasts dislike pumpkin beers, often because they simply don’t enjoy the combination of flavors. Others dislike the enthusiasm with which some brewers load their pumpkin ales with flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, Old Spice, and anything else they can think to throw in there.
On the other side of the “kitchen sink” approach is the eminently drinkable, and some would argue too-bland Shipyard Pumpkinhead. Personally, I find Pumpkinhead hits the spot – it has just enough flavor to make it interesting but goes down incredibly smoothly. For a true delight, get it on tap at a pub/restaurant that rims it with a cinnamon and brown sugar glaze. Delicious. It’s also great blended with a Guinness or other stout.
Shipyard sized on the stout/pumpkin combination and put it in a beastly pumpkin brew called Smashed Pumpkin, a 9% pumpkin stout that adds just the right amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg to make things really interesting.
A similar brew is the much-sought Pumking, by New York’s top-notch Southern Tier. Not for the faint-of-heart, this 8.6% brew tastes like a slightly bitter pumpkin pie. Loaded with pumpkin flavor, don’t try a Pumpkinhead after this one or you’ll think you’re drinking a Bud Light.
Despite Oktoberfest and pumpkins’ dominance, there are definitely autumn seasonals that defy the standard, like Mayflower’s excellent Autumn Wheat Ale (a medium-bodied brew that packs a big malt wallop with the slightly fruity flavors of wheat beers) or Clown Shoes’ marauding Genghis Pecan Pie Porter (a near-black ale with enough pecans to make any southerner proud).
Also check out the surprisingly-complex and always delicious Harvest Ale by Long Trail. The brown ale, brewed almost exclusively of local Vermont ingredients, packs a nice quick jab of hops followed by a variety of caramel, bready-notes, and toasty toffee. It’s a bit later to the party, but keep your eyes peel as autumn actually begins.
Originally published on August 29, 2013