Well, there is no sense in denying the inevitable any longer: Summer’s end is upon us. As bummed as we are to see the lengthy days shorten and the impending gusts of the Santa Ana winds inevitably fan wildfires in the chaparral-covered SoCal hills, there is a bright-side to Autumn’s arrival: Fall’s seasonal beers!
As much as we love summer in Los Angeles, we’ve just about had our fill of Berliner Wiesses, Kolches, and pale Summer lagers. We are ready for some new beers, autumnal styles, and the seasonal releases from our favorite craft breweries. Here are a few styles to lookout for that are perfect for enjoying as the days shorten and (eventually) cool-off!
Beer styles have been tied to the seasons for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. From the saisons of the Belgian summer to the strong Winter-warmers there is a style for every region in every season. One of the most iconic seasonal beers is the Märzen, or “march beer”, which was brewed in Bavaria during the last days of Spring as brewing in summer was actually forbidden by Bavarian law! The beer was stored in the alpine caves near the brewers and consumed throughout the summer; beer left after the summer months would be consumed during the autumn festivals that began in Munich: Oktoberfest.
Märzen Bier is one of the first lager styles to be developed and it balances a full and malty body with moderate bitterness and the smooth lager-character. The beers are usually a deep-golden to rich amber color with a pronounced rich malt character. Bready, toasty, and smooth, märzen beers are a great choice for watching some football or enjoying the new-found crisp fall air.
Samuel Adams Octoberfest (link)
An American craft beer classic, the Sam Adams Oktoberfest is one of Boston Beer’s best-selling seasonal styles, and it is ubiquitous in supermarkets, gas stations, and bars. If you’re not familiar with the Märzen style beers then the Sam Adams version is a great place to start.
Hangar 24 Oktoberfest (link)
A locally brewed example of the Oktoberfest style, the Hangar 24 version is rich and malty with a touch more complexity and slightly higher alcohol content than the Sam Adams version. Deliciously quaffable, the 4-packs have just begun hitting local stores.
Love them or hate them the pumpkin beers are here. Many craft beer fans wait all year for these seasonal delights, and it seems like the beers have been making their appearance earlier with each year. While not technically a style, pumpkin ale is an American original that was first brewed in the early 18th century when the colonist’s pumpkin crops provided a source of easily fermented sugar. Modern examples of the squash-beer are most often spiced like a pie and can be cloyingly sweet. The best examples balance the sweetness of the squash with flavorful malt bill and just a suggestion of spice (unless you go for the whole pumpkin pie in a glass thing).
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (link)
Legend says that this was the first recipe that Dogfish Head founder Sam Caligione ever homebrewed, and it is now the most beloved seasonal ale from the Delaware brewery. The brewers add brown sugar and roasted pumpkin flesh to the brew, and a subtle addition of spices creates an exceptionally smooth and balanced beer with a delicate interplay between the malt, the squash, and the spices. Look for 4-packs in stores now, but don’t sleep on it as the fan favorite tends to sell quickly
Something about Autumn makes us want a cider. Since the beginning of fall in Los Angeles is often just as hot, if not hotter, than most of the summer months, cider can be a refreshing choice if you’d had your fill of summer beer styles by now. Modern craft ciders can range from sweet to tart to balanced, and examples with interesting and creative additives has become commonplace. One caveat: as mass-market beer sales have declined the big brewing companies have turned to cider to win-back some younger customers and you need to be careful of which brands you purchase if you don’t want to be supporting Miller-Coors or AB InBev with your beer money. For example: Crispin Ciders have become very prominent in the past year because Miller-Coors has been dumping a lot of capital into that brand.
Woodchuck Ciders (link)
We dig all the versions from Vermont cidery, particularly the Granny Smith and Amber varieties. Also look out for the spiced Fall Cider and their new Ginger Cider. Woodchuck presses a less sweet cider than some of the other national brands, and it should be widely available in supermarkets and liquor stores.
For us the most salient and powerful aspect of the changing seasons are those moments that often occur in the days “between” the seasons. More of a sense or a feeling than any meteorological and astronomical measurement; it is the sense that the light is different, or the air is more crisp, or the sun is brighter but the air is cooler. Little, nearly imperceptible sensations of change that are all too easy to miss or ignore or shrug off. You can bet that the plants and animals in our world know that the seasons are changing, and if we pay attention to our senses and the signs instead of a calendar or a weather report then we unlock the opportunity to experience even more potent “beer moments.”
It might be September 4th, but no one is saying you need to put away your Summer Lagers or your refreshing wheat beers. You can drink those through the dark days of December if you want! But pay attention to your senses as these in-between-the-seasons days pass by, and open yourself to experience some beers that you wouldn’t normally approach. The most special and effective beer-pairing is not the perfect beer with the perfect cheese, but the right beer paired with the right moment.
Arm yourself with some autumnal beer styles, and get ready for the change of seasons. We have Autumn beer coverage planned in the next few weeks included a more comprehensive round-up of pumpkin ales and a FACE-OFF of Oktoberfest beers. Let’s hear about your favorite beers to drink during fall in the comments!