Fall. The leaves turn and drift lazily to the ground, the wind blows as a constant stark reminder that winter is coming and turkeys are slaughtered en masse for the munching pleasure of overweight Americans everywhere. It is the season of harvest, melancholy , American football, and Halloween. More importantly it is the season of Pumpkin and Oktoberfest style brews. Both styles have been around for a long time, although there is much more documentation for Oktoberfest beers thanks to the long standing festival of the same name which has been held in Munich since 1810.
Oktoberfest is the world largest fair, with more than six million beer enthusiasts in attendance last year. It is currently underway and will end on the first weekend of October. Only beer brewed in Munich can be served at the festival and is thus labeled an Oktoberfest beer. The style typically served is a lager called Marzen which is medium to full bodied and rich in malt with a light complimenting hop character, often they are also slightly above average in alcohol content. In America Oktoberfest and Marzen have become interchangeable for describing the style.
Pumpkin beers, typically ales, see a lot more variety in the way they are brewed. Depending on the brewery your pumpkin ale may have been brewed with whole, mashed, roasted, or pureed pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin flavouring, or no pumpkin at all. Frequently pumpkin beers also include a variety of spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger or cloves. Due to the near endless combinations pumpkin beers vary a lot but are typically on the sweet and spicy side.
As the craft brewing industry continues to grow in America it seems every brewery is releasing their own offering of the seasonal styles. Even the breweries that hold the majority of the market share have seen the demand for these seasonal brews. Anheuser-Busch has their Shocktop Pumpkin Wheat which surprisingly garnered a B- from Beer Advocate, and Miller-Coors has the Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin ale that received a C-. Their are many finer offerings to be had. To help sort through the preponderance of available choices this past weekend some friends and I did a tasting of twelve different fall seasonal beers. The tasting was assembled into three rounds during each of which we sampled four beers and decided on our favourite of the group.
First came the pumpkin ales. We had Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale, Tommyknocker Small Batch Pumpkin Harvest Ale, Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale, and we snuck in Wood Chuck Pumpkin Cider to keep everyone on their toes.I was relieved when everyone caught the cider outright, it was painfully sweet, although if you do not drink beer(WHAT?!?) and you do not want to be left out when your friends are enjoying their robust pumpkin ales it is worth a try. Of the remaining three the Weyerbacher Imperial pumpkin garnered five of eight votes, with the smuttynose receiving three. Sorry Tommyknocker. While the Weyerbacher was more potent, thanks to its imperial styling, both beers had a great balance of pumpkin, spice, and malt flavour without being overly sweet or cloying. If you are shopping pumpkin, I recommend either of the two. Or both.
Next came two rounds of Oktoberfests. The first four were Florida Beer Conchtoberfest, Lake Front Oktoberfest, Red Brick Oktoberfest, and Summit Oktoberfest Marzen. The second group contained Victory Festbier, Peak Organic Fall Summit Ale, Widmer Brothers Okto, and Weihenstephaner Festbier. In the first group Red Brick stood out as the crowd favorite earning four votes, next Florida Conchtoberfest with two and both other beers earned a single vote. This was the most difficult round of the tasting, it took more than a few samples of each for everyone to decide on their favourite. In the second group Victory Festbier earned four votes, Widmer Brothers Okto had three and the Weihenstephaner had a single vote. The Peak Organic Summit Ale was good as well, but it was not an Oktoberfest Marzen. It was more of a red ale, with by far the highest hop character of the bunch. Honestly I think all of the beers in these two groups are excellent recommendations though according to the voting the winner is a tie between the Red Brick and Victory brews.
These twelve beers only begin to skim the surface of the massive variety we have available for our drinking pleasure. I encourage you to sample the most unique and interesting fall seasonals you can get your hands on and let us know what your favourites are.
Fri Sep 30