Fall is upon us, boils and ghouls, and it means so much to the assorted freaks and geeks of Masters of Brewtality. This month, as the leaves light up like grinning jack-o’-lanterns and the air turns crisp as the breeze from an open morgue door, we’re going to take a look at five essential styles the season has to offer to the craft beer monster that lives inside us all.
It was trendy to love pumpkin beers a few years back. Then it was trendy to hate pumpkin beers. Now, nothing means anything, so we’re going to drink the high hell out of these this month and pretentiousness be damned. There’s a pumpkin beer for pretty much every style out there with the most popular usually being stouts, ales and porters. Most breweries of prestige use actual pumpkin in the brewing process, either in the mash or racked during secondary fermentation, but the essential flavors come from the added spices. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, mace, allspice and cloves all come together to make for that classic pie taste that defines the season oh-so much. Our personal recommendation comes from Seattle’s Elysian Brewing Company. We fell in love during a white knuckle tasting session a few years back and after trying all of their 10-plus pumpkin varieties, the Swartzbier-styled Dark Knife stood out as a remarkably drinkable take on a traditional German dark. Coming in at a modest 4.3 percent ABV with notes of chocolate, coffee and barley in addition to cinnamon and ginger, it’s a truly diabolical use of pumpkin entrails.
Born in Bavaria, Oktoberfest or Marzen beers are a rich, malty, full-bodied, golden brew that pairs perfectly with brats and sauerkraut. Owing its name to the month of March when the brewing and aging process begins, this beer is a testament to the cliché that good things come to those who wait. One of our favorites year after year has been Sierra Nevada’s take, creatively named Oktoberfest. Coming in at a reasonable 6 percent ABV, this beer has a crisp, bready aroma and a pleasant malt base that complements pork and mild cheddar like a ski mask complements Jason.
For those of us not quite willing to embrace the looming winter, the Double IPA is a perfect way to cling to the flavor memories of the summer. Plus, autumn is just past harvest season, so the hops used for these beers are at their peak freshness and flavor. The Double IPA is basically an amped-up version of the standard tried-and-true IPA: higher alcohol content, more bite and more pronounced malt flavor. The bar for this style was, is and probably always will be Pliny The Elder from Russian River. With a sweet hoppy finish after a pleasant malt intro with floral, citrus and pine notes, and coming in at a solid 8 percent ABV, Pliny The Elder is a perfect beer for any season. As far as food pairings go, we suggest pretty much anything but spicy foods since it tends to mask the plethora of flavors that comes with this masterpiece of the Double IPA.
It’s probably the color, but there’s something seasonally poignant about a red ale on a crisp day. There’s two takes on red ales: Irish and Belgian Flanders. Both are worth a try if for no other reason than to spot the differences. Irish Reds lean more toward a caramel sweetness, while the Flanders reaches farther back with classic Belgian sourness. Neither style should be overwhelmingly hoppy, but in these Wild, Wild West days of craft brewing, everything is on the table, which brings me to our favorite: Dawn of the Red from Ninkasi Brewing. Purists call the idea of a Red IPA an abomination; however, the monsters of Masters of Brewtality love nothing more than a good abomination. Rich, malty, with a tickle of hoppy bitterness and a righteous 7 percent ABV, this beer has it all.
In the world of craft brews, where the consumer can find suds flavored with everything from pomegranate to Oreo cookies, there’s something to be said about a straight up beer that tastes like beer. The brown-style ale is just that. The style goes back to late 17th century Britain where it was a general label used for most mild ales. Flash forward a hundred or so years, the genre had evolved into the distinct profile it has today, characterized by sweet, light and mildly hoppy flavors. Our favorite down here is the Newcastle Brown, which goes down smooth and often a little too fast.
That’s all for this month, happy Halloween!