Even before your tan has faded and you've had a chance to vacuum the sand out of your car – fall seasonal beers have arrived. Pumpkin and Oktoberfest beers have started edging out all the summer lagers and fruity wheat beers that had been lining the shelves.
And while I look forward to the milder weather and the influx of Bavarian lagers in the fall, I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of the pumpkin beers. No matter how hard I try (and I try every year), my palate just can't handle the onslaught of allspice and clove present in practically every pumpkin beer available. I am in the minority though, because there's no denying their popularity. Take Pumking by Southern Tier Brewing Company as an example. Local beer stores struggle to keep it in stock, with many selling out before the first leaf falls.
"We try and get enough Pumking to last at least through Thanksgiving, but the way it is selling this year we may not even make it to November," said Michael Byrd, Store Operator of the Piggly Wiggly at Market Common in Myrtle Beach.
And while the popularity of pumpkin beers has seen an increase in the past few years, the style has been around since the 1700s. Faced with a scarcity of malted barley in the New World, colonists turned to the native gourd to make beer. Besides the relative ease of fermenting the juice of the orange squash, many believed it held great nutritional value. Some early recipes used pumpkin entirely in place of malted barley. However, as malted barley became more accessible, the popularity of pumpkin beers waned. Then in the late 1980s, Buffalo Bill's Brewery revived the style with its "America's Original Pumpkin Beer," – and with the current American craft beer boom, the popularity of the style has exploded.
Modern pumpkin ales tend to be flavored with spices found in pumpkin pie, such as cloves, allspice, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. They have little to no hop bitterness and tend to have a malt-forward taste with a thick mouth feel. And while most pumpkin ales are between 4-7 percent ABV, there are a few imperial examples of the style, like Pumking, which clocks in at 8.6 percent or Weyerbacher Brewing Co.’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale at 8 percent ABV.
Today, many brewers will add the pumpkin meat directly to the mash with the malted barley. While others prefer to add the pumpkin to the new beer (called wort), after it has finished boiling. The spices are generally added at the end of the boil, as well – or added prior to kegging. Some brewers even roast the pumpkin to bring out the caramelized sugars, lending a stronger pumpkin taste, while others will bypass the squash altogether and just use the pie spice.
Luckily for all the pumpkin beer lovers in Myrtle Beach, this fall we will see even more from a ton of breweries. Cottonwood, Terrapin, New Holland, Weyerbacher, Smuttynose, Sam Adams, New Belgium, Lakefront, Dogfish Head and many others will all release their pumpkin beers in the coming weeks.
Another style that signals the beginning of autumn is the Munich Helles – the beer served at the Munich Oktoberfest. The Munich Helles is a German lager - "Helles" is German for "bright". But when the Germans say "bright," they are referring to a light-colored beer – definitely not referring to anything resembling the fizzy yellow adjunct lagers so popular here in the states.
Many Bavarian brewers still adhere to the medieval law of the "Reinheitsgebot" – which states that beer may only be made with 4 ingredients: water, malted barley, hops and yeast. So, this means that even though the Munich Helles is a light-colored lager, it is still made with 100 percent malted barley - no corn or rice added like their distant American step-cousins, mentioned above.
The Munich Helles was the German answer to the rise in popularity of the Czech lager in the late 19th century. Golden amber-colored and hopped with spicy noble hops, the real star of the Munich Helles is the aptly-named "Munich malt," which lends the beer its malty backbone. The subtle, balanced, smooth-drinking Helles has replaced the traditional Märzen as the "Festbier" at the world-famous Munich Oktoberfest and is the preferred everyday beer for many Germans. Commercial examples include the Weihenstephaner Original, Paulaner Premium Lager, Victory Lager, Spaten Premium Lager and Stoudt's Gold Lager.
Craft brewers continue to create new seasonals and different takes on classic styles, including Sierra Nevada’s new Red IPA due this fall – Flipside, and New Belgium’s cranberry pumpkin ale Pumpkick. There’s also a new (at least in the U.S.) fruit that’s showing up this fall in a few beers – the Yuzu – a Japanese citrus fruit that is related to the sour mandarin orange. Check out New Belgium’s Lips of Faith Yuzu Imperial Berliner Weisse and Femme Fatale Yuzu IPA coming soon from Evil Twin.
The autumn is perfect for beer drinking - especially at the beach. Here are some events coming up: Brews, Blues and BBQ at the House of Blues on Aug. 31, a Dogfish Head beer dinner at the Mellow Mushroom on Sept. 3, the Sam Adams Tap Takeover at the Crafty Rooster on Sept. 5 and the MASH homebrew meeting at the Piggly Wiggly at Market Common on Sept. 7.
Contact John Garner at MBCraftBeer@gmail.com and follow him at www.facebook.com/TheNewBeerman.