Beer: Drink in the Season

Local brews just in time for the fall
by Don Russell

For more than a century, the prototypical autumn beer has been Oktoberfestbier, the amber, slightly sweet lager brewed in the spirit of the world’s biggest festival, Munich’s Oktoberfest.

The style, also called Märzen (German for March) because it was originally brewed in that month and aged until the fall, seems an appropriate transition from the the light, effervescent brews of the summer to those dark and hearty warmer brews of the wintertime. Even its color is reminiscent of the changing leaves.

But suddenly, this perfectly suitable autumn beer has found itself facing down a seasonal challenge from—of all things—the lowly pumpkin. Check out the aisles of your favorite beer distributor, and you’ll think you’re wandering through Linus’ famous pumpkin patch. The Great Pumpkin lives!

A smooth, full-bodied lager or a spice-cabinet ale—the choice is yours. Mix and match them with this six-pack of locally-brewed fall beers.

Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale  |  Milton, DE  |  Every year on the first weekend after Halloween, the maniacs in Delaware gather for the World Championship Punkin Chunkin, an offbeat pumpkin-tossing contest in which homemade catapults and trebuchets fling gourds more than 4,000 feet through the air. Call it inventive recycling. Here’s Dogfish’s offbeat tribute to the contest: an ale made with pumpkin meat, organic sugar and freshly crushed cinnamon and allspice from Frontier Co-op.

Flying Fish OktoberFish  |  Cherry Hill, NJ  |  This is a stealth Oktoberfest. Though it mirrors the qualities of a classic, bottom-fermenting Bavarian lager, it’s actually brewed with top-fermenting Düsseldorf Alt yeast. The result is very clean, lightly sweet malt flavor that finishes with the tart, refreshing snap of an ale. Pair it with bratwurst.

Sly Fox Oktoberfest  |  Royersford, PA  |
  Beer fans know Sly Fox best for its classic spring beer festival, which features a raucous goat race and hearty bock beer at its Phoenixville brewpub. In the fall, Sly Fox is a bit more subtle, quietly releasing this classic amber lager in large, 22-ounce bottles. Made with classic German Vienna malt for full-bodied depth, it’s particularly smooth, and pairs well with smoked meats.

Stoudt’s Oktoberfest  |  Adamstown, PA  |  When Stoudt’s opened in the mid-’80s, local beer enthusiasts raved about this “new,” almost revolutionary beer being brewed out in the farmland of Lancaster County. Copper-colored with a subtle sweetness, it was unlike anything else you’d ever tasted. Twenty years later, it turns out Oktoberfest wasn’t “new”—it’s traditional, in the best Bavarian sense of the word.

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale  |  Easton, PA  |
  With the move toward “imperial” or “double” beer styles (Imperial pale ale, Imperial pilsner, etc.), it was inevitable that somebody would brew an imperial pumpkin. It only makes sense that it would come from Weyerbacher, with a well-deserved rep for “big” beers. This one is a bear, with a big bite of cinnamon and nutmeg, not to mention a solid kick—8 percent—of alcohol.

Yards Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce Ale  |  Philadelphia  |
  Forget Festbier, pass on pumpkin—if you really want to go the non-traditional path this fall, try this completely different spruce-flavored ale. Yes, spruce—as in Christmas trees. Before hops, it was one of the many botanicals that was used to bitter or spice beer. This one’s a tribute to a recipe found in the papers of Ben Franklin and originally brewed in honor of his 300th birthday.

Don Russell writes the Joe Sixpack column at the Daily News and shares more beer info at joesixpack.net.