Autumn is a season of unmistakable change, as the days grow shorter and the sun moves south. It’s time to set aside the refreshing, playful beers of summer and explore more contemplative beers with greater character and substance. Our local brewers provide plenty of options to help you prepare for the longer nights and colder days; you can ease your way into the season with a crisp, traditional German-style Oktoberfest beer, or jump in with both feet and grab a bold, bodacious stout or rich and luscious brown ale. More and more brewers are experimenting with fresh pumpkin, discovering ways to infuse their beer with the meat of the gourd along with a variety of spices. This is also hops harvest season, so do not be afraid of beers with intense hop character. Here, we offer some beer recommendations for the fall of 2012.
Night Owl Pumpkin Ale
Elysian Brewing Company
Dick Cantwell, the brewmaster at Elysian Brewing Company, is obsessed with pumpkins. Each fall, Cantwell’s brew crew creates as many as 12 different pumpkin beers for Elysian’s annual Great Pumpkin Beer Festival (see page 49). The festival features dozens of locally produced pumpkin beers, along with beers from as far away as Norway. This style of beer is usually brewed using pumpkin meat along with the grains and hops normally used for brewing. Pumpkin beers frequently include spices that conjure visions of pumpkin pie, such as clove, cinnamon and nutmeg; tinges of ginger and allspice taste right for the season. Of all of Cantwell’s gourd-inspired creations, some of which border on the bizarre, Night Owl Pumpkin Ale is the most approachable. The beer pours in a beautiful shade of deep reddish orange and weighs in at 5.9 percent alcohol by volume. Night Owl Pumpkin Ale is widely available from August through October, so look for it now at most grocery stores or bottle shops in 12- and 22-ounce bottles. You can get it on tap at any of Elysian’s three Seattle brewpubs, but I recommend visiting the company’s flagship location on Capitol Hill (Seattle, 1221 E Pike St.; 206.860.1920; elysianbrewing.com)
Brave American Brown Ale
American Brewing Company
This beloved beer has just been rereleased after a discouraging dry spell. In the summer of 2011, American Brewing created an original brown ale to serve at the Brave Horse Tavern: Brave American Brown Ale. Those who enjoyed it at the tavern were not surprised when the beer brought home a coveted bronze medal from the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado, in September 2011. Soon thereafter, American Brewing Company suspended production of the beer. (Always leave them wanting more!) To commemorate the first anniversary of the victory, the brewery released a special version of the award-winning beer. This interpretation of traditional English brown ale with hop influences from the Northwest weighs in at 6.5 percent alcohol by volume and features rich, toasty caramel overtones balanced perfectly with a subtle hint of citrus as the beer finishes dry on the palate. The best place to enjoy Brave American Brown Ale on tap is at the Brave Horse Tavern, where it will be pouring through the end of October, or enjoy it straight from the source at the American Brewing taproom (Edmonds, 180 W Dayton St.; 425.774.1717; americanbrewing.com).
Cowiche Canyon Organic Hop Lab #1
Fremont Brewing Company
This beer is born out of a collaborative relationship between Fremont Brewing Company and some of the oldest and largest hop farmers in the country. The goal was to create a new India pale ale (IPA) that features Washington organic hops. On the nose, you will notice an appetizing fruity aroma and perhaps a hint of pineapple. On the palate, a slightly sweet, biscuit-like flavor that serves to highlight an unmistakable floral and citrus hop character. It is obvious that Fremont Brewing designed this beer to showcase the hops, making it a beer that every hop lover must experience. Cowiche Canyon Organic Hop Lab #1 is an IPA that checks in at 6.2 percent alcohol by volume. Fremont Brewing donates a portion of the sales to the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy, to preserve open spaces between Yakima and the Cascade foothills. You can find it in bottles and cans at better beer retailers around the Northwest, such as The Beer Junction (West Seattle, 4511 California Ave. SW; 206.938.2337; thebeerjunction.com). I recommend sampling this one at the Urban Beer Garden—Fremont Brewing’s taproom—where it will be on tap from September through November (Fremont, 3409 Woodland Park Ave. N; 206.420.2407; fremontbrewing.com).
Snoqualmie Falls Brewing
Autumn in the Pacific Northwest can be a challenging time of year as the days grow shorter and the reality of another gloomy, damp winter sinks in. To celebrate all that is beautiful about the season, each year Snoqualmie Falls Brewing creates Harvest Moon, a Northwestern version of a traditional German Festbier. Hold this beer up to the last glimpses of the summer sun and you will see a reddish-orange hue that matches the changing leaves. Snoqualmie Falls uses traditional German ingredients combined with its house ale yeast, creating a hybrid of two different styles: German lager and Northwest ale. Harvest Moon is smooth and quaffable at 5.3 percent alcohol by volume with a sparkling, refreshing flavor that shines in the face of the coming darkness. Get it in 22-ounce bottles at grocery stores and bottle shops. You’ll find it on tap throughout the season at better beer bars around the area, particularly the Barking Dog Alehouse (Ballard, 705 NW 70th St.; 206.782.2974; thebarkingdogalehouse.com), but my favorite place to quaff a pint is the Snoqualmie Falls Brewing taproom in downtown Snoqualmie (8032 Falls Ave. SE; 425.831.2357; fallsbrew.com).
Silver City Oktoberfest
Silver City Brewery
Over the past 20 years, Don Spencer, the brewmaster at Silver City Brewing in Bremerton, has gained a reputation as one of the Northwest’s great brewers. His German ancestors would be proud. This beer is Spencer’s interpretation of a classic German-style autumnal lager. It is slightly sweet, crisp and clean, with a golden-amber complexion. Load some oompah music on the iPod, take a sip and imagine yourself in one of the great beer halls of Bavaria. As it passes your lips, you will notice a toasty caramel character combined with a hint of cinnamon spiciness, likely imparted by the very traditional German Hersbrucker hops, which are rarely used by our local brewers. Silver City Oktoberfest weighs in at 6.25 percent alcohol by volume. It’s available in 22-ounce bottles at bottle shops and grocery stores, or find it on tap at pubs around the Puget Sound area, such as Naked City Taphouse (Greenwood, 8564 Greenwood Ave. N; 206.838.6299; nakedcitybrewing.com), the Silver City brewpub (Silverdale, 2799 NW Myhre Road; 360.698.5879) or at the brewery’s tasting room (Bremerton, 206 Katy Penman Ave.; 360.813.1487; silvercitybrewery.com).
Final Departure Stout
Airways Brewing Company
According to the Mayan calendar, the world as we know it ends on December 20, 2012. To help you prepare for this momentous affair—or at least the coming winter—Airways Brewing Company in Kent concocted a very special beer: Final Departure Stout. Clocking in at a whopping 9.9 percent alcohol by volume, this big and bold brew will make you forget that the end is near. It is ready to drink right now, but the label on each 22-ounce bottle includes an expiration date of midnight on December 20. After all, you can’t take it with you. The beer pours pitch black, with a thick, light brown head. You will notice unmistakable coffee and chocolate flavors combined with a slight caramel sweetness. The profound alcohol content warms your tummy as well as your mortal soul. Find 22-ounce bottles at bottle shops in the Seattle area, or get it on tap at the Airways Brewing tasting room (Kent, 6644 S 196th St.; 253.200.1707) or the Airways Beer and Bistro, the company’s pub in downtown Kent (320 W Harrison; 253.236. 8632; airwaysbrewing.com).
HOPPING GOOD ALES
Rare, unpredictable fresh hop brews are one of the ephemeral pleasures of autumn
Our state is the biggest hops producer in the nation. This time of year, farmers in the Pacific Northwest harvest nearly 100 percent of the nation’s annual commercial hops crop, with a whopping 84 percent of the hops coming from the Yakima Valley. This gives our local brewers a distinct advantage for brewing fresh hop ale, since this style of beer must be brewed using hops that are less than 24 hours off the bine. (Hops actually grow on bines, not vines; bines are a different type of climbing plant.)
Fresh hop ale used to be rare, but today, Northwest breweries create dozens of variations on the style. Because of the changing nature of the harvest, these beers are not produced on any definable schedule: Hops are only harvested once a year, from late August through September. When the hops are ready, the beer must be brewed. There is no real official definition of the style, but fresh hop ale is usually a light- to medium-bodied beer designed to showcase the hops; there’s no sense burying the floral, spicy and delicate flavors of the fresh hops deep within a rich, malty beer.
Look for this style of beer from September through November; generally, it’s only served on tap. Each year’s harvest brings a new crop of fresh hop ale, and each brewery’s ale changes annually, depending on what hops are available. Keep an eye out for two of my favorites: HOP PROPHET 100% WET HOP ALE by 7 Seas Brewing and BIG AL BREWING’S HARVEST ALE. Perhaps the best place to sample a variety of fresh hop ales is at one of these two annual events: Hood River Hops Fest and Yakima Fresh Hop Ale Festival.