Fall always offers a chance to kickstart that homebrewing motor. We can take advantage of the cooler fermentation temperatures and move from heat-slaying brews to something more rich and substantial to pair with invigorating weather and culinary traditions of autumn. Of course, Thanksgiving is the culmination, a grand finale to the harvest and an ushering in of winter. Crackling fires, toasty kitchens and the earthy aromas of the outdoors beg for a brew to match the ambience.
Märzen, the quintessential fall beer, is a perfect partner for nearly any aspect of the season, with all of the qualities necessary for the design of other brews that are suited for the autumn. This column will take that model to design Thanksgiving beers that deliver the sweetish, spicy character of kilned malts, a sturdy dose of herbal, earthy hops, full malty goodness, and palate and gravity that is neither filling nor narcotic. I’ve selected three of my favorites that pair well with all seasonal treats, from entrée to dessert. They are a top-fermented a malty German bier, drier amber saison and sweetish pumpkin/sweet potato ale, all of which will bless the marriage of food and drink.
Herbstbier (autumn beer)
Herbstbier is a fusion of märzen and altbier, brewed with top-fermenting German yeast, a versatile catalyst that has a fundamental, stellar kinship with gently-kilned Vienna and Munich malts. The hybrid yeast strains thrive in the cool conditions, and where often fermentation in summer without temperature control can be prohibitive, those restrictions disappear in fall.
The recipe template features clean and toasty Vienna and Munich malts, splendid grains for fall seasonals. A 50/50 combination of Vienna and Munich is my choice, but the inclusion of Pilsner or North American 2-row malt for lighter color and more delicate beer, or 100 percent Vienna and specialty malt is also a good option. Any combination of these malts is worth investigating. I eschew specialty malts since I get enough color from my Vienna/Munich blend, and use a slightly elevated mash temperature of about 152-153°F for mouthfeel. Extract and partial-mash brewers can use combinations of light, Munich and amber malt extracts. Light to medium crystal or caramel malts will bring color and body if you want something a bit chewier. Wort in the 1.060 neighborhood is a good starting point, balanced with 30-35 IBU. Use Czech or German noble hops or your favorite American derivatives such as Mt. Hood, Liberty or Crystal. Northern Brewer and Perle will add earthy flavor and aromatics. Herbstbier will benefit from a month or so of cold-conditioning, but it is not entirely necessary. Give yourself at least 6 weeks from brew day to serving to optimize the flavors, clarity and overall condition.