DRAFT PICKS: Good seasonal beer
In this week’s reviews I discuss a couple of super seasonal brews I’ve enjoyed over the past couple weeks.
The “seasonal” thing can be a bit distracting, and even a bit disappointing for some beer drinkers.
Every brewer worth his or her salt is going to eventually need to produce a “seasonal” beer.
I don’t mean to confuse “Seasonal” with “Saison.”
Not at all.
I’m talking about beers which are brewed with an eye to celebrating a specific time of year, or even some event.
The coming of autumn sees a wave of beers celebrating the crisp, brisk and invigorating time of year.
Then there are beers aimed at Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, the new spring and the eventual arrival of summer.
Each season or holiday beer is filled with nuanced brewing.
And so ... there are a lot of exciting, taste-filled and expressive brews hitting the shelves at just about any time of year in anticipation of the season of holiday to come, (whatever that may be.)
Lots of good beer, indeed.
AND ... lots of schlock.
English from Yiddish: Schlock: of low quality or value
— schlock noun
Variants of SCHLOCK
schlock or schlocky, also shlock or shlocky
In my humble opinion, schlock beer is produced when a brewer creates a perfect respectable base — often an American Brown Ale — and then simply chucks a bucket full of flavoring into the mix before bottling. (And, yes, this does happen.)
The beer certainly takes on the taste of the pumpkin pie mix that has been added to the brew, but it ends up neither here nor there — not good beer, and certainly not good pumpkin pie.
Then there are the others — brewers who really ponder the possibilities of what will happen when they actually brew beer with pumpkin mash and carefully consider what will happen to the brew with the addition of cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom.
There is a lot of trial and error involved in creating a specialty, seasonal beer, and with a little investigation and exploration, it becomes seriously obvious to beer lovers what is “schlock” and what is an inventive, innovative, and creative example of fine brewing.
Just because a beer is advertised as a pumpkin or autumn brew doesn’t mean it is necessarily a quality beer.
C’mon, team. Even I can take a good bottle of Moose Drool brown ale and stir in some pumpkin pie mix and a fistful of cinnamon.
That doesn’t make it a good, seasonal beer.
It just tastes ... schlocky.
Read the labels, team. Go for the good stuff.
Here are a couple examples.
SMUTTYNOSE PUMPKIN ALE SMUTTYNOSE BREWING CO. HAMPTON, N.H.
I picked up a six-pack of this to introduce to both good friends and myself during a seasonal celebration.
It was a great purchase!
Smuttynose’s pumpkin offering pours a darkish orange, (leaning to amber), color with a reasonable head that disappears pretty quickly.
It is a touch cloudy, and I suspect that cooling it a bit too much would only increase the cloudiness, (which has little or no effect on the beer’s taste, by the way.)
Surprising enough, there was a more citrusy taste to this beer than there was a pumpkin presence. That’s OK. The brew is a touch tart, maybe a hint acidic, but that makes it that much more crisp and , (to my taste), refreshing.
There is a background sense of pumpkin spicing. The subtlety of the pumpkin flavor may well be a good indication that this beer is produced with the real deal - pumpkin - and not just a bunch of flavoring.
This Pumpkin Ale is quite a bit more sharp than most sippers would expect from a beer of this genre, but don’t write it off without really exploring in depth.
It is one that should always be available at seasonal celebrations.
A good, honest autumn brew.
WARLOCK SOUTHERN TIER BREWING CO. LAKEWOOD, N.Y.
This was recommended to me by a friend, and I hurried out to pick up a bottle knowing both that she has good taste, and that Southern Tier is doing exceptional work in the brewing world.
Warlock pours a dark brown with sparkles of amber ripping through. There is a decent amount of light beige head which really helps in the scenting. The head fades pretty quickly so get busy while you still have time.
There is a strong aroma of seasonal spicing - cinnamon, hints of chocolate, a promise of pumpkin, and even touches of ginger which I simply adore. There is a sweet, defined maltiness in the background.
The malts determine the taste. This is certainly an imperial stout, but the spiciness is well felt in the first and later washes.
Warlock is, in fine, delicious.
A step above. In fact, quite a few steps above.
There is all the creaminess of a excellently crafted Imperial, with the very, Very, VERY well-considered mix of autumn spices.
Gosh! My next bottle of this brew, (and there will certainly be more to come), will be sipped while comfortably settled around a autumn bonfire.
This is a must try. It is one of the best autumn seasonal brews I’ve had in a long, long time.