Harvesting a Few Good Brews
The leaves start turning, the first few crisp mornings appear and football begins to dominate your weekend plans. Fall has arrived and with it a mélange of beers that remind you of the fact that the harvest fuels the brewing process.
There is no officially recognized “harvest beer” category, but clearly with so many seasonal options this time of year it is a pretty safe bet that your next beer might just be one of these lagers or ales. And why not? Malty Märzen and Oktoberfest beers. Crisp hop harvest ales. Spicy pumpkin brews. Rich and strong doppelbocks. Fall is the season for seasonal beers.
People are seasonally oriented. There are certain foods you enjoy based on the season and the weather. Who doesn’t like to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner?” said John Marino, owner of Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in Charlotte, NC. “It’s the same thing when it comes to beer. With seasonal beers there is always something to look forward to.”
In the case of Olde Mecklenburg, this fall there will actually be two things to anticipate. The brewery will release its Mecktoberfest right around September 1, and then roll out a second fall seasonal in late October called Bahern Bock, which Marino translates to mean “countryman’s bock.” That beer will be a little darker, a little stronger at 6.5 percent ABV and meant for enjoying with food.
Across the country at Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico, CA, the brew house buzzes at several times of the year with the making of harvest beers. The brewery produces three different hop harvest ales: one made from hops picked in the Southern Hemisphere, a second from hops freshly harvested from the Yakima Valley and a third made with estate grown hops and barley. Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman says it takes extra coordination to time the brewing to when the hops are at their peak, but “there is an excitement around these new releases.”
Sierra Nevada is releasing a new fall seasonal this year. Tumbler is a brown ale that Grossman says is made with malts the brewery treated much like freshly roasted coffee.
We’re taking the malt right off the kiln and using it to brew almost immediately,” Grossman says of Tumbler. “When you do this you maintain more of the biscuity aroma and there is just a slight hint of smokiness to this beer.”
When you brew a seasonal beer you try to come up with a style that works with the season,” says Grossman. “It’s a fun thing to do as a brewer and hopefully it resonates with beer drinkers.”
At Carolina Beer and Beverage in Mooresville, NC, the brewery’s Cottonwood Pumpkin Ale is such a hit with consumers that the beer actually outsells the company’s flagship Carolina Blonde label during the fall. The recipe for the beer was actually acquired when Carolina purchased the Cottonwood Brewery in Boone, NC. The brewer at that facility had converted his grandmother’s pumpkin pie recipe into a recipe for making a fall seasonal beer. When Cottonwood Pumpkin Ale is being made the entire brewery smells like a pumkin pie has just been taken out of the oven.
We use ginger, cinnamon, allspice and cloves, then add real pumpkin at the end of the boil,” says Robert Powers, brewer at Carolina Beer and Beverage. “We don’t use a lot of hops in this beer, only about two pounds for every 1,500 gallons. And we don’t filter the beer.”
The end result is a dark copper colored brew that ranges from 5.7 to 6 ABV because of the ample sugars available for conversion.
I really like this beer with Thanksgiving dinner. It’s perfect for hearty meals,” Powers says.
While pumpkin ale is an American creation, other fall seasonal beers have their roots firmly planted in Germany. A number of German brewers import Oktoberfest beers to the U.S. that are traditionally served in the giant tents in Theresienwiese in Munich during the annual celebration, and American brewers offer their own take on the style.
Doppelbock is not a fall seasonal by definition, but the malty flavor, dark color and higher alcohol content mean that many people turn to these brews when the weather starts to get a little colder. The same is true of wheat beer fans that love finding a solid dunkel weizen at the conclusion of summer. It’s all about the hearty colors and richer flavors that feel almost necessary to shake taste buds back to life after a summer of lighter lawnmower beers.
In the end, harvest season is about the bounty that the good earth and farm labor provides. It just might also be about the fact that your next beer will be one of these tasty seasonals.
Rick Lyke is a beer writer based in Charlotte, NC. He writes the Lyke2Drink blog.