- Category: Brew News
- Created on 01 October 2008
- Last Updated on 27 March 2012
- Written by Eric Greene
Fall brings a sweet release from summer's sweltering grip, fresh-picked apples, and walks through the woods. All good things, to be sure, but better still: fall is the time of year when hops and barley are harvested. It's a time when brewers perform their good works, without drowning in a fetid pool of their own sweat. It is a time of change and wonder, but that wonder is tempered by the dark knowledge that after the fleeting fall season inevitably comes a long and cold winter.But grab a homebrew, pull up a chair, and forget about winter for now. Let's talk beer...
...Octoberfest is that magical time when lots of folks get together and drink ridiculous quantities of beer in celebration of the pure and simple joy that can be found in a liter-sized mug of beer. These days, most of the beer swilled from those mugs is little more than fizzy yellow water, but some portion of it is the legendary Octoberfest style lager (or Märzen, as zee Germans call it). Märzen is traditionally brewed in March and cold-conditioned over the summer months, only to be released at the start of the next brewing season. This is a departure from the lighter fare of summertime, in that it is hearty, while still maintaining a high degree of quaffability. Märzen is typically a light coppery color—sometimes drifting to brownish—with beautiful head retention and a complex, bready, malt flavor.
It is perfectly suited to grilled foods and fall menu items alike (deep fried poultry, potatoes, gravy, and roasted veggies). Intrigued? Try Octoberfest Vienna lager or Octoberfest Cream Ale for a good example. Think of busty maidens in lederhosen carrying armloads of gigantic frothy beer mugs...it makes everything better, I swear.
The other major beer introduced during the fall season is a loosely defined style sometimes called 'Harvest,' 'wet-hop,' or 'fresh-hop.' When I say loosely defined, I mean it. These beers can be ales or lagers, ranging from fairly pale to coppery-brown, and they might have tons of malt character or nearly none at all (most are fairly robust). Hop bitterness is usually moderate. The one thing they all have in common is a liberal dosing of hop aroma and flavor, often with a fresh, slightly grassy, slightly astringent character from the huge amounts of hops straight from the vine. We're not talking mere whole leaf hops here, but whole leaf hops that are fresh, sticky and wet.
The finest examples use hops harvested on brew day for maximum freshness. The liberal nature of this style really makes them fun to brew, if you can get your hands on some really fresh whole hops that is. Simply pick a style of beer and hop the hell out of it! I'd avoid traditionally rich and roasty beers like porter, stout and schwarzbier, as the intense maltiness will almost certainly mask the hop character you're looking for.
Another style you'll probably see around this fall is the ever-popular pumpkin ale. Pumpkin beers are also pretty hard to pin down. Generally speaking, they range from a pale orange to pretty deep brown. Typically they're malty, often showcasing some pumpkin pie-like spices, if not actual pumpkin flavor. In fact, pumpkin isn't actually a required ingredient, as long as it's pie-riffic. There are two kinds of people in the world: those that love pumpkin beer and those that hate it. I predict that one day the pumpkin haters will rise up and smite pumpkin beer off the face of the earth, along with any humans that try and stop us-them. I meant to say "them." I'm totally impartial.
As I was saying, the best part of fall is that it really accommodates the consumption (and brewing) of virtually any style of beer. There is almost always an abundance both of warm, indian-summer afternoons that call for a summery wheat, and frosty evenings that beg for a rich barleywine. So you have my blessing: drink whatever you damn well please this fall. You've earned it, brewers!