by Erik Wollschlager
There are a few chronological anomalies in our culture that defy logic—
Christmas displays after Halloween, or Halloween candy after the Fourth of July, for example. If you’ve spent any time in your local grocery store or beverage center, you may have noticed a changing of the guard. The bright yellow boxes of your summer wheats have given way to the fluorescent oranges, burning brightly like the Eye of Sauron and ruling over all of beerdom. Joining the ranks of Christmas and Halloween, fall beers have come too early.
There was a time not so long ago when the fall beer lover had Labor Day Weekend circled on their calendar. It made perfect sense, too; just as Memorial Day launches us headlong into the thrills of summer, Labor Day denotes the end of summer and the beginning of fall—the days are ever shorter, the sun’s rays a little dimmer. The leaves are grasping desperately to their green hues, but will soon give way to the bright colors of autumn. The time was just right to sit back with some friends and enjoy a slightly darker and spicier brew.
But here we are, barely two weeks into August. The temperatures are still surpassing 80 degrees and judging by the pools of sweat at my feet, the humidity simply must be triple digits. No matter what you may have heard, the Dog Days are not over—not by a long shot. There is still plenty of time for the crisp, citrusy beers of summer. Shandys and radlers for all of my people!
So what gives? Summer beers are great, and the temperature is perfect for something light and dry, so why are the beer shelves shaming the leaves and making their untimely transformation to orange and brown? The answer is terrifying and damning.
The answer is YOU. You are the reason for the unnatural season. And honestly, so am I.
I must confess—I’ve already had my share of the fall beers that are available so far. Of course, leading this charge is locally brewed and nationally loved; Southern Tier’s Pumking. The incredible imperial ale is now available in 4-packs of 12oz bottles—another result of consumer demand. Pumking does not stand alone, though; Southern Tier has also released their Harvest Ale. A heavy dose of English hops grace this extra special bitter and treat the drinker to a great American version of this British pub style. Of course, national breweries are already joining the parade to the shelves—Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead is available for the masses, and Sam Adams’ OctoberFest is canned and ready to go. While the two battle for mediocrity, the brew masters at Hamburg Brewing want to be sure you’ve got a local option, and so 6-packs of their Oktoberfest are also available at grocery stores and beer depots. One can be certain that this early wave will refresh the palate for the flood of fall beers yet to come, as each brewery releases their batch of marzen. Be sure to stay tuned to these pages, as we will be reviewing these and other fall beers so you can head to the shelves with a little more insight.
The market is not changing any time soon, and why should it? It would be masochistic for us to restrict the timeline we have to enjoy these great beers. Just as people enjoy some bright red strawberries in the coldest throes of winter, there is no reason to deny the enjoyment of an Oktoberfest on a fine August evening. These beers can enhance many of the things we enjoy in summer—the caramel malts that are often in Western versions of these beers perfectly pair with any dessert, and the sweetness can nuzzle a spicy barbecue sauce in a whole new direction. Be sure to take this opportunity to find some new flavor combinations for old-time summer favorites!
The question remains: Is it too early for fall beers? The answer is probably ‘yes,’ but more importantly, the question is whether it is too early to enjoy fall beers, and the answer to that is a resounding ‘NO!’ There may not be a chill in the air, but there is no time like the present. The future is not promised, so while you’re making the most of this moment, make it perfect with an amazing autumn amber. A little rebellion is good for the soul, and a little Oktoberfest is, as well.