I just spent an afternoon putting in a firepit in the backyard of my country house in rural Pennsylvania. It was hard, hot and dusty work, and I refreshed myself with quarts of cold water cut with a little vinegar, an old country boy trick that really quenches. But when the night came, and the first fire was lit, we christened it with a growler of kölsch from the local brewpub; golden, light but tasty, perfect for relaxing without getting too limber.
Beer is great for those outdoor drinking occasions; cold, quaffable, refreshing, and an aid to conversation. When you’re around a fire this fall, or tailgating before or after a game, you’ll probably have a cooler or two filled with beverages. Stock them with some (or all) of these relatively new beers, specially selected for the occasion. Cheers!
Dogfish Head SeaQuench Ale is brewed with lime peel, black limes and sea salt. I was just at the brewery a few weeks ago and those black limes are wild-looking; truly black, small, looked more like walnuts than limes, but what a great taste! You might think that the lime and salt sounds like just another gose-type beer, but thankfully it’s not. (I’m not a fan of the gose; too many of them taste like sweat and dish soap.) SeaQuench has the Dogfish Head touch, it’s a mash-up of a gose, a kölsch and a Berliner Weisse. Got that? So it’s salty-citrus, light and malty and just a bit sour. Mostly what it is...is good.
August Schell Fort Road Helles is the newest year-round beer from America’s sixth-oldest brewery. I’ve been a fan of Schell’s for about 30 years, and they just keep making good stuff. This one really gets back to their German roots; a classic helles-style lager with bread-fresh malt character, medium-light body and just enough hop to balance it all out. Get a big glass and pop two of these, you’re probably going to dive in head-first after the first sip. This is tremendous with meaty tailgating fare.
Victory Home Grown Lager is the newest release from the acclaimed Pennsylvania brewer. That’s right, it’s another lager: get used to it. From Jack’s Abbey House Lager to Firestone Walker’s Pivo, lagers are finally coming on strong with American craft drinkers. Victory mastered the lager years ago, and this one, at 4.8 percent alcohol and chockful of the same zippy hops that make IPAs sing—Centennial, Mosaic, Cascade, Citra and the so-new-it’s-barely-named Azacca—is killing it. They’re having a hard time keeping it on the shelves. But keep looking, it’s worth it.
Ecliptic Starburst IPA comes in a striking can, and that’s just the start. Ecliptic is John Harris’s new venture; he’s a hero of the Pacific Northwest brewing scene, and now he’s able to do what he wants to. Starburst is a flag planted fiercely in the heart of PNW-style IPA: dank, piney, golden and unashamedly bitter. At 7.8 percent alcohol you’ve got to give it some respect and take it slow, but that’s what golden fall afternoons are for.
New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Atomic Pumpkin...Yes, a pumpkin beer. Let’s be honest, given how much pumkin beer is sold every year you or somebody you know and love probably drinks it. But if you join them, you might as well make it a good one. Pour yourself an Atomic Pumpkin from New Belgium, and you’re in for one hell of a ride. It starts out malty, then slams into drive with habaneros, Saigon cinnamon, and yes, actual pumpkin flavor. You’re not going to change people’s minds with this one...you’re going to change lives.
Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest is a collaboration with Germany’s Brauhaus Miltenberger. I’ll be honest: I haven’t had a chance to taste this year’s release yet. But given that I bought at least two cases of the last three such collaborations, I am completely confident in this recommendation. If you’ve been too busy sucking down pumpkin beer to have any Oktoberfest beers, first, I don’t understand you, and second, here’s a chance to redeem yourself. This is the inverse of IPA: delicious malt with just a whisper of hops, a beer that drinks like water to a dying man, and tastes fantastic with the foods of fall. Don’t taste it, just drink it.
Firestone Walker 805 isn’t under a year old, but it’s now just getting to most markets outside California. Originally meant as a beer for local supporters who maybe weren’t on board with the whole IPA thing, it’s become a phenomenon that has exploded for Firestone Walker. There are already 805 imitators, a sure sign of success. This beer is all about subtly: a little malt sweetness, delicate but deliberate hops, an all-day beer. Beer geeks may not know what to do with it, but your friends will. This is a beer for drinking.