To a beer drinker, fall can seem like a lost season. Summer’s easy-drinking, thirst-quenching hefeweizens and witbiers are still available, often colliding with the full-bodied, heavily malted beverages of winter already crowding the shelves. Aside from the traditional seasonal suspects (think pumpkin ale and Oktoberfest lager), decent autumnal offerings have a hard time getting noticed.
But they do exist. Some brewers in the Pacific Northwest (and beyond) have standout styles providing bigger, more robust flavors than summer beers, but packing a little less punch than the winter brews. “Fall beers have a stronger flavor, a little more sweetness and a bit more alcohol than summer beers,” says Jeff Smiley, who owns Baron Brewing in South Park (baronbeer.com). “When you have to put your coat on, it’s nice to have something a little bit darker.”
The darker color comes from using darker malts, which also can affect taste. Some malts are toasted to bring out flavors of coffee and chocolate. Cody Morris, brewer at SoDo’s Epic Ales (epicales.com), likens them to a comfortable sweater. “There’s a certain kind of coziness associated with the roasted flavors found in the fall stouts and porters,” he says. “They bridge the gap between the light summer lager and the more intense winter warmer [style].”
Smiley likes to pair fall beers with meatloaf, potpies and other hearty dishes. He says the darker beers also play well with wild game and foods that are high in starch. “The most important thing,” Smiley says, “is that the food shouldn’t be overpowered by the beer....When I drink beer with food, I think about food, and the beer is a complement.”
In considering food pairings (or the weather in general), Smiley also advises that some fall beers make great dessert beverages. The increased alcohol content (over the lighter summer beers) and the more robust body contribute to a perfect sipping scenario. Baron Brewing even partnered with Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream to create a seasonal line of vanilla bean ice cream with a swirl of its Schwarzbier mixed in. Smiley’s only word to describe it: “amazing.”
While most fall beers are available year-round, the flavor characteristics are at their best when paired with good food, good friends and just a bit of bad weather.
WES' AUTUMN BEER PICKS
Baron Brewing Schwarzbier
The Schwarzbier combines chocolate wheat and pilsner malt to make a fine selection for those craving something lighter. This dark lager has notes of chocolate and roasted coffee beans. Drink with: Light meals.
Epic Ales Terra Saurus Ale
This shiitake mushroom ale has an earthy flavor. Aromas of chocolate and black licorice drift up from an inky brew so flavorful you can almost chew it. Drink with: Something off the grill, especially steak, chicken or mushrooms.
Boundary Bay Scotch Ale
A heavy dose of butterscotch and vanilla makes this is a sweeter beer with a big body. Caramel and sweet-fruit flavors prevail, with good balance between malt and hops. Drink with: Friends after dinner, or with dessert.
Midnight Sun Brewing Arctic Rhi