Autumn has arrived in Indiana. With the first serious drop in temperature comes the falling of leaves off trees, people bundling up in warm clothing, and – perhaps most important – fall and winter beers, those seasonal beers that warm the heart and soul during the frigid months.
So what is in a seasonal beer? The answer to this question is as varied as the beers we see on store shelves, on tap at our favorite breweries, and in bottles and kegs at our own homes. Personally, my beer calendar revolves around pumpkin beers. If beers were holidays, pumpkin ale would be my Christmas: pie spices melding perfectly with the orange pulpy delight of pumpkin, appearing in the forefront of an excellently balanced beer. Every year I wait in anticipation for the pumpkin ale to come on tap at my favorite local brewpub. As soon as I see pie pumpkins being sold at the market, the gears in my head start spinning, and I think about the wonderful fermented concoctions I will create.
Of course, pumpkin ales aren’t the only seasonal beer available in the later part of the year; they are just my personal favorite. A lot of people prefer the malty goodness of a well-crafted Oktoberfest beer, whose history can be traced back to the last Märzen beers of the spring. These beers were brewed to a higher original gravity, kept in cellars until late summer, and served at the Oktoberfest festival. Known for their medium to high body and malt character with less of an emphasis on hops, Oktoberfests are a seasonal delight that appeal to many beer brewers and drinkers alike.
My mind also turns to darker beers at the end of the year, beers like porters and stouts. I tend to enjoy porters where I would previously, in the summer, enjoy a light pilsner or pale ale. While true English style porters may be a little lower in alcohol and hop character than some of their American counterparts, they are all quite enjoyable, and seem to go well with the season. Stouts, too, are a delight to the tongue in the fall and winter. While stouts would seem overly heavy in the heat of the summer, they work wonderfully in the colder weather. Whether a classic dry, milk or oatmeal stout, the rich, complex notes derived from chocolate malt, roasted barley, and black malts of all types are a delight around a fall bonfire, or in front of the fireplace surrounded by friends and family during the holidays.
And speaking of the holidays, Christmas ales and other winter seasonal beers are just around the corner! Some winter beers feature spices and herbs, some have fruit added, and some have a higher alcohol content to liven up the cold winter months. Others rely simply on complex malt characters to differentiate themselves from the standard fare of the year, layers of crystal and darkly roasted malts that come together in an explosion of flavor.
Whatever your taste in seasonal beer, Great Fermentations has something for you. Here are a few links to some of our beers that go well with the season. Also, don’t forget those extra herbs and spices to change things up a bit. (I’ll share a secret ingredient of mine with you, since you’ve read this far. In addition to the standard pumpkin pie spices used in brewing pumpkin beers, I like to add a little cardamom…a little goes a long way, and meshes perfectly with those other standards, like cinnamon and nutmeg!)