DRAFT PICKS: A change in the seasons

As the seasons shift, the weather changes and the air becomes a bit damper and more cool, there is a general trend to change our beer drinking habits as well.

A lot of the lighter, more brisk, refreshing beers are purchased less and less, while the heartier, more warming and substantial brews begin dominating our tables.

For some, beer is strictly a summer drink — with lighter lagers, fruit ales and shandies carrying the day.

For many explorers however, this is a great time of year to start slipping more comfortably into slightly stronger, and often darker lagers and ales with just a bit more ooomph.

It may not quite be time to break out the winter warmers, but we certainly are heading in that direction.

Suck it up, team! Summer is gone and there is a long haul of Michigan winter ahead!

After a long afternoon of raking leaves, it may be time for serious acolytes to sample a bottle of barleywine.

Don’t worry. Barleywine is beer.

It is almost always stronger than other standard beers, but it is beer nevertheless.

Aside from the real specialty brews (the ones being purposefully brewed for maximum alcohol content, such as Utopias), barleywines are generally speaking the strongest brewed beverages out there — usually somewhere between 8 and 15 percent ABV.

Still, despite the obvious — but often quite subtle — “muscle,” these brews are refreshing and can even be a touch fruity to the palate.

There are a wide range of brews in this genre ranging in color from light yellow to darker browns, and they are usually more intense in flavor — be it from the hops or in the fruitiness.

Sometimes barleywines can be quite resiny and I have tasted some in the past that were not at all unlike the Greek wine Retsina, which is very, very piney and sappy.

Barleywine beers are wonderfully expressive, but not for every palate. Still, give one or two a try before you make a “Yea” or “Nay” decision.

They probably aren’t what you’re used to, but they are worth an experiment, and you may well be pleasantly surprised.

Following are a few I’ve found in our area, and quite enjoyed over the years.

  • Founders Bolt Cutter — Founders Brewing Company.
  • Third Coast Old Ale — Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
  • Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale — Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
  • Olde School Barleywine — Dogfish Head Brewery.
  • Old Guardian Barley Wine Style Ale — Stone Brewing Co.
  • Olde GnarlyWine — Lagunitas Brewing Company.

Don’t give up on your beer journey simply because it’s getting cool outside. Shift gears a bit and try some great fireside brews.

Strongbow Cider

Bulmers Cider

Hereford, England

In a nod to the very special season in which we find ourselves, I’m going to steer a bit off course and take a look at a very special hard cider. Cider mills are working overtime at this time of year turning out some of the most delicious drinks imaginable — both straight cider and hard cider.

I appreciate good hard cider because I also love good cider straight from the press. It really is ... something!

So, with a generous gift from a friend, I recently had an opportunity to sample cider from the country where the style really developed — England. And it was really, Really, REALLY good. I usually leave any recommendation for the end of the review. This time, I’ll jump ahead.

If you can find this stuff, BUY IT!

Strongbow pour a rather dull, rather unexciting yellow color — quite a bit paler than the ciders you see in jugs around the area at this time of year. There is just a touch of white bubbly head.

The rich aroma is one of ... drum roll, please ... apples! Clear, crisp and certainly the aroma of more tart green apples than the sweeter reds. At first wash there is the obvious cider taste. This is backed up with just a tinge of malty flavor from the fermentation process. Strongbow is a wonderfully refreshing drink. The tartness of green apples is so very well balanced with a sweetness you find more in red apples. There is an obvious care taken in blending types of apples, rather than simply throwing a bunch of the fruit in a press and letting ‘er rip!

Strongbow has a light but crisp, fresh but aged, hefty but gentle taste that is just fizzy enough and not too gassy as are some hard ciders. There is just a hint of alcohol. Certainly nothing that distracts from the wonderful natural taste.

This wonderful cider finishes well. There is very little aftertaste so that when you’re done ... you’re done.

This is a great cider to have out in the yard after a hard afternoon of raking or cutting wood. Put on an old, well-loved sweater; get comfortable; invite a friend or two over to celebrate the season; and break out some Strongbow.

Dang this was good!

Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout

Anderson Valley Brewing Co.

Boonville, Calif.

It’s been a while since I last enjoyed a righteous oatmeal stout.

I’m thinking this style of beer might be more suitable to this time of year than, say, summertime. It is a bit heavier and more ... er ... um ... substantial.

That may well be what I love about oatmeal stouts (and I do love them, classmates!)

Having said all that, I heartily recommend a good oatmeal stout around a low campfire with good friends.

Barney Flats pours a rich, dark brown (almost black) with a nice finger-thick topping of dark beige to tan foam.

At first whiff, the luxurious, sweet, expressive, creaminess of the oatmeal is already well felt. The coffee scents are strong and domineering — one of the reasons I like this genre so well. There is a hint of chocolate in the background, and a good sense of bready maltiness.

Barney Flats is velvety, smooth and ever-so delicious.

In the tasting, the coffee tones once again lead strong, followed convincingly by the cocoa and bready supporting elements.

This is a great example of an oatmeal stout — and there are really some wonderful examples on local shelves.

Former Pioneer editor Dave Clark was a HUGE fan of this genre, and we shared a love, (and a bottle or two), of the best of the best.

Barney Flats is a medium to full-bodied representation of this type of stout, with the oatmeal creating a wonderfully hearty, sweet-ish stage for rich, expansive flavoring.

Very, very well recommended.