Autumn Leaves (Me Thirsty)

blogs.suntimes.com

(The following column was originally published in the Waterbury (CT) Republican-American on Sept. 28, 2011.)

By Will Siss

It’s officially fall so it’s officially OK to get excited about “fall beers.” I put that in quotes because there’s really no such thing; I’ve enjoyed a malty pumpkin beer in the dead of winter and had my thirst quenched by an Oktoberfest on a spring evening.

Like me, many of you have not waited until autumn to dive into the harvest. And who can blame you? Here are some of my recommendations for the season.

Oktoberfests

This style of lager is known for its subtle breadiness and mild bitterness. It doesn’t stand up to food with zing, which makes it so perfectly German. It tends to pair with pork sausages and lots of cheeses (such as Stilton) and even battered fried fish.

Spaten Oktoberfest Ur-Marzen is the “original” (hence the “ur”) example from Munich, Germany, and a fine one at that. I would add Boston-based Harpoon’s Octoberfest, which is pretty bready and sweet at first, but dries out in the finish. Utica, NY-based Saranac’s Octoberfest is another example of a beer that’s an easy-drinker with hints of caramel.

Pumpkins

Practically everyone I’ve been running into and talking to about beer has a strong opinion about pumpkins this year. Most are pro-pumpkin beer and have strong preferences. A few make it known that pumpkin beer is a gimmick and that they’d rather carve their own head this year than drink that stuff.

I enjoy a good pumpkin beer, which is a deceptive title. Technically, a pumpkin beer would fall under the “spice, herb, or vegetable beer” category, and there’s usually more to the spices that make the beer, as opposed to the chunks of or pureed pumpkin that brings out the aroma and flavor. Nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice are often the highlight of what some say should be called “pumpkin pie” beers.

Some of my favorites so far this year include Patchogue, NY-based Blue Point’s Pumpkin Ale (flavorful yet mild with a great aroma), Lakewood, NY-based Southern Tier’s Pumking (an “imperial” pumpkin with high alcohol content) and the equally bold Hipp-O-Lantern from Lambertville, NJ-based River Horse, which one reader described recently on Facebook as being “like love in a pumpkin beer.”

Porters

Not strictly a “fall style,” porters are a reminder that colder weather is on the way. Their malty flavors and sometimes thick mouthfeel give me that autumn sensation. And if they’re sweet enough, I can’t help but think of Halloween.

I have a few go-to porters for you to consider. Fredrick, Maryland-based Flying Dog’s Road Dog porter always greets me with a pleasant sweetness, and Flying Dog’s Gonzo Imperial Porter does the same but with a stronger kick (technically it’s more of a “Baltic porter.”) Newport, Ore.-based Rogue Ales’ Mocha Porter has a cocoa flavor I find appealing, perfect for a chilly night.

Until next time, sip well.

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