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Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Ah, autumn. The end of summer, the beginning of long shadows and frosty mornings. Time to cover the pool, rake the leaves, check the furnace, bring in the wood (or in our case, turn on the pilot light) and get ready to hunker down for the cold and snow that looms like some frozen Sword of Damocles, held at bay not by a horse's hair but by the vagaries of jet streams, fronts, convection currents and El Ninos (or Ninas). Of course the good news is it also means football and Oktoberfest beers. And in keeping with the season, we choose for October's BOTB beers those brews which are as fleeting as the colorful leaves that paint the countryside. Octoberfest, Oktoberfest, harvest ale, autumn ale.. they go by a number of different names and include a great variety of tastes as well.
In general, Oktoberfest beers tend to reflect the changing season by leaving the lighter summer seasonals behind in favor of darker, heartier, more robust ales. And while I love summer, I don't particularly love summer ales which tend to be light, fruity and lacking in much true beer flavor. With Oktobefest style beers malt tends to dominate, but many have a good dose of hops as well.
This time we met at Gerry's and he created a rating sheet that allowed each of us to rate the beers for aroma, appearance (color and head) and taste. He had a 1-5 rating with the caveat that 1 is good 5 is superior. Without further ado, here are the results, presented alphabetically.

1. Grindstone Brewery Nut Blonde Ale - Made with freshly harvested hops, this beer won over the group unanimously. By far the hoppiest of the bunch it still has a real nice nutty underpinning. The color and clarity is excellent and the head is superior, rich and foamy. The primary taste is hops with hints of citrus and nuts. The finish is strong. Comments included: "A beautiful blonde!; Awesome!; Powerful hoppy/nutty; Fresh hopped, and it shows; Wow!"

 2. Harpoon Octoberfest Beer - Nearly superior malt aroma with only moderate hops coming through. Far better than average color, clarity and head. The taste was a complex one with malt dominating with some sweet and fruity overtones. The finish was felt to be strong by most, but was rated by a few as only memorable and even weak. Comments include: "Ed has done a good job! Let's tour the facility; Opens sweet, finishes with a warm bitterness - hint of banana; Tastes like fall to me."

3. Long Trail's Harvest Ale - Moderately malty, not so hoppy. Very good color, moderately clear with an average head (didn't do the full Guinness, but was solid). It has a malty to sweet taste and a firm to memorable finish. A selection of comments were: "The sweetest so far for the category. Similar to Harpoon, but not quite as bold. Nice session beer." "Nice color. Good with a Harvest Moon!"

4. Saranac Octoberfest Lager - In truth we don't include a lot of lagers, mainly because the typical lager tends to be along the lines of Bud, Miller, Coors etc. All pretty much the same. However there are some lagers that dare to be different and actually have some taste. This is one of them. It has a slight malty/hoppy aroma, certainly much more so than your typical lager. It scored above average in color and clarity and average head. The taste was a very pleasant malty taste, with hints of roasted malt and nuts. The finish was firm to memorable. Some comments: "A long way from Utica Club. Schultz and Dooley would be impressed; To me, a classic Octoberfest - nice malty taste - some hop bitterness. Very drinkable."
5. Sierra Nevada Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale - A very balanced beer here - a nice mix of malt and hops. Superior color and head. The predominate taste was nutty with a firm to strong finish. Some comments: "Great beer! Terrific mix of malt/hops; Very complex - nice warm mouthfeel; Solid finish; Smooth yet mild; Delicious."

6. Weyerbacher Autumnfest Ale - Quite malty, not much hops presence. The taste tends toward malty and nutty with a firm finish. Comments: "Full flavored, slight banana scent which carries over into the initial taste. Good warm malty flavor. Great copper color; Why wait till Autumn to drink this?; Lighter version of banana hop tasted similar to Harpoon's Octoberfest."

7. Williamsburg Alewerks Wheat Ale - Dan had this while in Virginia at a restaurant called The Whaling Company and was so impressed he bought a sixer and decided to use it for his entry in our Oktoberfest tastings. Again we found a wheat beer that has some real flavor. It was a pleasant surprise. While there wasn't a real strong aroma, different judges detected malt and/or hops. There was a surprising bitter bite to it which was unexpected and had a memorable finish. Comments: "Not your typical wheat beer; Wow! Best wheat beer ever!; Nice bitterness to open. Good mix of nutty/hoppy; Will surprise you."

We ultimately ranked the beers, though they were all very good. We picked the top three unanimously as:

1. Grindstone Brewery's Nut Blonde Ale - Just couldn't beat the combination of in-your-face hops and warm nutty finish.
2. Sierra Nevada's Tumbler - The complexity of flavor won over the judges here.
3. Harpoon's Octoberfest - Great balance and drinkability (and not the way a certain light beer commercial uses the word.)

The remaining four all had their advocates. We of course had to finish off the remainders just to make sure we got it right.

I also brought along Southern Tier's Pumpking Ale just to annoy Ron. There were wildly varying opinions about it. Some said it tasted like pumpkin pie and was far too sweet for their tastes. I kind of liked it. I didn't think it was overpowering and it had a kind of nice, warming finish that surprised me. I, however, was in the minority here! Oh well. That's what makes craft beer so much fun.

Honestly, I Don't Have Stock in Wegman's but...

I just have to give them cudos again! I went to their Dewitt store and they have a mix your own six pack of craft beers. There must be over a hundred different craft beers in individual bottles from which you can pick and choose to put together a mixed-pack of beers. It's great. I just looked for six beers I hadn't tried yet. The cool thing is, if you don't care for the beer, you're not stuck with a six pack of it. Here's what I got:

1. Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron
2. Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian style India Pale Ale
3. Great Lakes Nosferatu
4. Mojo India Pale Ale
5. Troegs Java Head Stout
6. Presque Isle Pilsner from Erie Brewery

I can't wait. It's like Christmas.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like fun. Sometimes Mark would bring a beer back for me to try when he was working at the liquor store. It was fun to try different ones.
    BTW - you said that you all rated the beers - what ratings did they get?
    Miss you! Can't wait for Thanksgiving!