Pumpkin beers, Oktoberfest brews the highlights of fall

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One of the many benefits of the 21st century craft beer explosion is that brewers around the world never miss a season or party (or any other reason) to release specialty beers.

Fall is no exception, as a recent visit to the local supermarket revealed. Its already plentiful beer selection was filled with fall seasons, with walls of pumpkin beer and stacks of Oktoberfest offerings.

So why not go ahead and give them a try?

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But where to start ? Well, every big trip starts with just one beer (or something), so I randomly picked a “six-pack” that included three pumpkins and three Oktoberfests to get into the spirit of the season.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a sample of the many beers offered by local, national and national brewers. (If I tried everything on the shelves today, I wouldn’t live to see Christmas beer season.)

Without further ado, here’s what I found:

Pumpkin beers

Confession time: Pumpkin beers were once something I tended to avoid. I always thought they would be too, well, pumpkin-y and not enough ale-y.

But these devious craft brewers have a way to make just about anything taste good. Pumpkin beers have definitely grown on me, and they’re a good marker for the seasonal change after Labor Day, much like the start of the football season.

And, as you will note below, these breweries are NOT CONCERNED WHEN MAKING PUMPKIN ALES. Trying to find one that wasn’t a high-alcohol Imperial was difficult, so I gleefully gave up after two exhaustive minutes of searching.

Here are the three that I sampled:

The Pope's Imperial Pumpkin Beer

• Pope’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Millersburg Brewing Co.

$ 10.99 for a pack of four 12-ounce cans; 9% alcohol by volume

Think grandma’s pumpkin pie, but with a big ABV (take that, Grandma!). This pumpkin is sensational, a big full bodied, dark orange beer, bursting with flavors and spices such as vanilla, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. You’ll come out of your gourd with this big league ale from a small town Ohio brewer. One of my favorites, whatever the style.

Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale

• Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale, Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., Lexington, Kentucky

$ 14.99 for a pack of four 12-ounce bottles; 10% alcohol by volume

Think grandma’s pumpkin pie, but with a little bourbon flavor added to the mix (Kentucky Grandma applauds!). Lighter in color and body than Pope’s and Spooky Tooth (see below), this beer still has a boost. Aged in bourbon oak barrels, this ale leaves a velvety sample of bourbon on the tongue, well balanced with the usual hints of pumpkin ale flavors such as brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Spooky Tooth Imperial Pumpkin Ale

• Spooky Tooth Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Fat Head Brewery, Middleburg Heights, Ohio

$ 10.99 for a pack of four 12-ounce cans; 9% alcohol by volume

Billed as “the pumpkin ale with a bite”, the Fat Head version is a closer cousin to Pope’s in color and body. The “bite” this deep, copper-orange beer refers to is probably its 9% ABV, not the actual taste of the beer itself. While large and robust, it’s not bitter (sweet 22 on the international scale of bitterness units) and it also has all the makings of a rich and creamy pumpkin pie-style brew. To dig !

Oktoberfest beers

Oktoberfest is one of the great rites of fall every year. Although Columbus hosted their Oktoberfest celebration last weekend, the official 2021 release begins Saturday and ends October 2 (making it more of a September party this year, I think).

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the annual two-week festival began in Munich, Germany, in 1810, and was originally a celebration of the marriage of the Crown Prince of Bavaria (later King Ludwig I) to Princess Therese von Sachsen -Hildburghausen.

And, like any festival worth its salt, Oktoberfest ended up revolving around beer drinking. The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that in Munich, which is still the global host of an event that has spread around the world, brewers are now building temporary breweries for up to 6,000 seats and, after The first keg ceremony, revelers drop some 2 million gallons of beer over the two weeks of the festival.

Doing my part to make that total of 2 million gallons and 40 ounces (think globally, act locally!), I tried these three versions:

Oktoberfest Samuel Adams

• Samuel Adams Oktoberfest, Boston Beer Co.

$ 9.99 for a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles; 5.3% alcohol by volume

This Boston beer offering, from the second largest craft beer company in the United States (Yuengling of Pennsylvania is # 1), features a light and deep caramel color. Its malt-based combo is listed as “hearty and sweet” on the label, but I would add “sweet” to that description as well. And, after the pumpkin beers described above, the 5.3% ABV felt like a walk in the park. Nothing unpleasant here.

Norden Hoch Oktoberfest

• Norden Hoch, North High Brewing Co., Columbus

$ 11.99 for a six pack of 12 ounce cans; 5.4% alcohol by volume

The local product is significantly lighter in color than the Sam Adams version, pouring out a hazy orange-tan. Norden Hoch is also nowhere near as sweet – has more of a toasted / breaded flavor – and is more full-bodied. Once you get past a funky little aroma on the first pour, there’s nothing wrong with this Marzen. A sweet, straightforward, non-bitter and easy drinker. And a “fun fact” noted on the side of the can: “The contents of three of these cans will fill a 1 liter beer mug very well.” So you get a little lesson in metric conversion by drinking three beers from a giant mug, to boot.

Oktoberfest

• Oktoberfest, Masthead Brewing Co., Cleveland

$ 10.99 for a pack of four 16-ounce cans; 5.7% alcohol by volume

After tasting beers that all tended towards the sweeter end of the spectrum, Masthead’s German-style lager offers a little bit of bitterness amidst its hearty malts. It pours clear, deep gold and offers a more hoppy and less sweet flavor profile. And, in keeping with the Oktoberfest celebration, Masthead notes that drinking this beer “will make you think you’re standing at a table dressed in Lederhosen (or Dirndl) swinging a bierstein in Munich. Prost!”

And isn’t that what we’re all here for?

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