The season's best beers
Not all autumn suds are created equal---from game-changing pumpkin ales to IPAs brewed with freshly harvested hops, get cozy and festive with this standout cast of limited-edition brews.
Mon Oct 25 2010
From left to right: The Bruery Autumn Maple (available at d.b.a Brooklyn, 113 North 7th St between Berry St and Wythe Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-218-6006; $6) * Sixpoint Pumpkin Brewster (available at [node:122316 link=Rattle N Hum;], 14 E 33rd St between Fifth and Madison Aves; 212-481-1586; $6) * Greenport Harbor Leaf Pile (available at [node:122135 link=Pacific Standard;], 82 Fourth Ave between Bergen St and St. Marks Ave, Park Slope, Brooklyn; 212-675-2009; $6)
The Bruery Autumn Maple
Wet hop IPAs
From left to right: Two Brothers Heavy-Handed IPA (available at [node:124669 link=Bierkraft;], 191 Fifth Ave between Berkeley Pl and Union St, Park Slope, Brooklyn; 718-230-7600; $3.10 per bottle) * Sierra Nevada Estate Homegrown Ale (available at [node:124667 link=New Beer Distributors;], 167 Chrystie St between Delancey and Rivington Sts; 212-260-4360; $8.95 per 750ml bottle) * Harvest Ale (available at [node:124667 link=New Beer Distributors;]; $3 per bottle)
Sierra Nevada Estate Homegrown Ale
Founders Harvest Ale
Two Brothers Heavy-Handed IPA
Goose Island Harvest Ale
Available at [node:124667 link=New Beer Distributors;], 167 Chrystie St between Delancey and Rivington Sts; 212-260-4360; $3 per bottle
Southern Tier Harvest Ale
Available at Whole Foods Bowery Beer Room, 95 E Houston St between Bowery and Chrystie St; 212-420-1320; $8.99 per six pack
Pretty Things November 15, 1901
Available at Whole Foods Bowery Beer Room; 95 E Houston St between Bowery and Chrystie St; 212-420-1320; $10.99 for 750ml bottle
Dominating liquor store shelves and taps throughout the season, pumpkin ale is like the craft-beer world's candy corn: an easy shorthand for fall flavors that usually offers little beyond sickly sweetness. Thankfully, this year's crop includes a few selections that buck the trend. Long Island newcomer Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. has aced its first autumn seasonal—the superbly balanced Leaf Pile (available at Pacific Standard, 82 Fourth Ave between Bergen St and St. Marks Ave, Park Slope, Brooklyn; 212-675-2009; $6). Fresh, whole spices like nutmeg and vanilla pods provide an enticing whiff of pumpkin pie, but a strong malt backbone and a subtle hit of bitter hops rescue the brew from tasting too sugary. Sixpoint's crisp, refreshing Pumpkin Brewster (available at Rattle N Hum, 14 E 33rd St between Fifth and Madison Aves; 212-481-1586; $6), meanwhile, takes cues from another spiced beer style, the saison (a French farmhouse ale traditionally offered to farmworkers during harvest). Hand-grated gingerroot and white peppercorns replace the usual cinnamon-and-allspice potpourri, and the team has experimented with swapping house-roasted local pumpkins for canned puree in a recent batch. Still, the biggest innovation comes from across the country in Orange County, California, where the Bruery has ditched the squash altogether, instead unleashing 17 pounds of yams in each barrel of its warming Autumn Maple (available at d.b.a Brooklyn, 113 North 7th St between Berry St and Wythe Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-218-6006; $6). The result: a spicy, bold Belgian-style ale, ideal for anyone who makes a beeline for the sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving.
Wet hop IPAs
When hops are harvested in early September, most of the bounty is dried and stored for use throughout the year. But a handful of craft producers rush bundles of the fresh crop straight to the brew kettle in a process called wet-hopping. During the very brief period when these farm-to-glass suds are available (usually October through November), ordering a regular IPA would be like asking for frozen fruit in your apple crumble. Residual oils and resins from the vine-ripened hops infuse these brews with intense flavors that coat the tongue—savor the grassiness of the Two Brothers Heavy-Handed IPA (available at Bierkraft, 191 Fifth Ave between Berkeley Pl and Union St, Park Slope, Brooklyn; 718-230-7600; $3.10 per bottle), or wrap your palate around the juicy citrus notes of Founders Brewing's hazy-gold Harvest Ale (available at New Beer Distributors, 167 Chrystie St between Delancey and Rivington Sts; 212-260-4360; $3 per bottle). Sierra Nevada—one of the pioneers of wet-hopping—continues to push the envelope in the genre with its Estate Homegrown Ale (available at New Beer Distributors; $8.95 per 750ml bottle). The organic brew is made with grapefruity West Coast hops and lightly toasted barley grown on the grounds of its Chico, California, brewery. It's the wine snob's dream beer—suds with terroir, tapped directly from Golden State soil.
More fresh hops
IPA lovers aren't the only ones who can enjoy the hop harvest. Two craft brewers offer excellent wet-hopped extra-special bitters, a British style known for its pronounced malts. Southern Tier Harvest Ale (available at Whole Foods Bowery Beer Room, 95 E Houston St between Bowery and Chrystie St; 212-420-1320; $8.99 per six pack)—produced in upstate New York—combines a piney, orange-tinged burst of flavor with the biscuit-like smoothness you'd expect from a traditional English ale. Goose Island Harvest Ale (available at New Beer Distributors; $3 per bottle), meanwhile, balances a hint of maple sweetness with toasty Midwestern malts and fragrant hops. Like the season's other fresh-hopped offerings, these brews will be gone before you know it.
Franconian Oktoberfest lagers
Most people think of Oktoberfest as an ambiguously defined period in the fall when beers come in steins and wearing lederhosen is acceptable. But what fewer folks realize is that Oktoberfest also denotes a specific style of seasonal lager, known in Germany as Mrzenbier, because it's brewed in March (Mrzen) and then stored for consumption during the autumn. Americanized Oktoberfests tend to be overhopped or caramel-sweet; for the genuine article, head to subterranean gastropub (43 E 7th St between Second and Third Aves, 212-982-3006). Owner Jimmy Carbone has worked with specialty beer importer Shelton Brothers to feature a series of unfiltered, unpasteurized lagers (mostly Mrzens, along with some other types) sourced from small breweries in the Franconia region of Northern Bavaria. The bertraditional quaffs are ambrosia to beer purists, balancing clean maltiness with the subtle complexities and natural carbonation produced by live yeast in the kegs. The bar will continue to roll out these rare brews—including Weissenohe Annafest and Huppendorfer Vollbier, both $6 per half liter—at a rate of two per week until mid-November; this Saturday, you can also find the German casks at both locations of d.b.a. (41 First Ave between 1st and 2nd Sts, 212-475-5097 * 113 North 7th St between Berry St and Wythe Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-218-6006).
Historical fall beer
While other craft brewers battle to put their stamp on established autumn styles, the Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project takes a more cerebral approach to the time of year with its "Once Upon a Time..." series. The Massachussetts brewer's most recent installment—the complex November 15, 1901, London, England KK (available at Whole Foods Bowery Beer Room; $10.99 for 750ml bottle)—is not so much a seasonal as a liquid time capsule of a specific fall day in Edwardian England. With the aid of brewing documents dug up by historian Ron Pattison, husband-and-wife team Dann and Martha Paquette have faithfully resurrected a dry, hoppy black ale using the exact recipe that a London beermaker followed one mid-November morning more than 100 years ago. Drink deeply, and let the antique quaff take your taste buds on a pondhopping, turn-of-the-20th-century journey—you may be jealous that similar suds aren't around anymore, but just remember, neither is smallpox.