Tap into fall beers

Pumpkin ale, fresh hop, oktoberfest among offerings

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter


Updated: November 6, 2011, 6:00 AM


Fall Seasonal Selections

By The Bottle employees’ recommendations:

Fresh Hop Beers:

Deschutes Fresh Hop Mirror Pond (Bend, Ore.)

Double Mountain Killer Red (Hood River, Ore.)

Port Brewing High Tide Fresh Hop IPA (California)

Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale (Colorado)

10 Barrel Brewing Crosby Farms Harvest Fresh Hop Ale (Bend, Ore.)


Köstritzer Oktoberfest (Germany)

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen (Germany)

Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen (Germany)

Silver City Oktoberfest (Bremerton)

Widmer Okto (Portland)

Pumpkin Ales:

Southern Tier Pumking (New York)

Elyssian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale (Seattle)

Laurelwood Stingy Jack Pumpkin Ale (Portland)

Rogue Chatoe Rogue Pumpkin Patch Ale (Newport, Ore.)

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (Delaware)

The trick or treaters have come and gone, cold foggy weather has returned and clocks have fallen back to standard time, but autumn is far from over — especially if you’re a beer drinker.

There are plenty of interesting fall seasonal beers to try, despite the fact that winter offerings are already populating many store shelves.

“Even in late August, early September they’re already releasing the winter beers, like (Deschutes) Jubelale,” said Angelo De Ieso II, head beer blogger at http://brewpublic.com and an employee at By The Bottle in Vancouver. “I don’t like it when they do that.”

Fall beers, like Oktoberfests and pumpkin ales, just don’t get enough time in the spotlight when winter warmer type beers appear so soon, said Arlene Nunez, owner of By The Bottle, at 104 W. Evergreen Blvd.

“It’s like stealing a page out of Target, when you go there in August and they already have all the Christmas stuff out,” she said.

Fall is a bit of a transitional season for brewers. It’s a great time to make and try ambers, reds and nut brown ales, beer types that are more dense than summer varieties like wheat beer, but not quite as fully dark and thick as winter ones, said Eric Surface, who owns Mt. Tabor Brewing, Vancouver’s newest brewery.

“I try to make my beers the color of the leaves,” Surface said. “The leaves change, the beers change. Fall you get all those great reds and oranges and deep yellows.”

One of the best ways to enjoy the season in the Pacific Northwest is through a variety of beer called fresh hop.

Hops are a plant that give an earthy, bitter and somewhat flowery flavor to beer. They are usually dried for preservation before shipping and added to beer in dehydrated form.

But the Pacific Northwest, especially areas in southern Washington and northern Oregon, is a big player in hops production, growing about 30 percent of the international supply.

That gives brewers here a chance to make beers with fresh, non-dried hops that come straight from the fields, Nunez said.

“I think that’s what sets this place apart from any other region in the world,” she said. “The brewers will start their boil as the truck driver starts his trip from the fields, and they’ll time it so the hops go in at their absolute freshest.”

Brewers usually start making fresh hop beers in mid August or early September when the hop harvest comes in. Many use them to make pale ales or red ales, but if you look at the label and it says “fresh hop,” then you know the brewer has used that method, De Ieso II said.

“Oktoberfest beers get a lot of attention during the season, but they’re actually more of an East Coast thing,” he said. “We’re one of only a few areas that do the hop harvest, and so fresh hop beers tend to be much more common than oktoberfests here.”

Surface, who didn’t have time to make a fresh hop ale this year because he was busy opening his brewery, goes to the extreme with his choice of hops when making the beer, he said.

“I’ve got about five different types of hops growing in my back yard,” said Surface, who’s lived in Vancouver his entire life. “I call it my backyard beer, because I’ll pick all the hops from my yard and use them to make it.”

He plans to make the beer next year, once his production system is fully running, he said.

Oktoberfest beers come from harvest festival traditions in Germany. The beers, also called Marzens, are made all over the world, including some in the Vancouver-Portland area.

“Oktoberfests are like a malty amber lager,” De Ieso said. “They’re usually drank in celebration of fall.”

The most authentic Oktoberfest beers come from Germany, including varieties made by Paulaner and Ayinger, Nunez said.

There are also some decent varieties made closer to home, including Widmer’s Okto, made in Portland, De Ieso said.

Pumpkin ales

As the season rolls into late October and early November, pumpkin ales hit their prime. Much like the winter beers, pumpkin ale releases seem to be happening progressively earlier in the year, Nunez said.

Pumpkin ales range from offering subtle hints of spice to full you-just-ate-a-pumpkin-pie flavor, with a lot of options in between. Many are brewed with actual bits of pumpkin, although some brewers only use spices like nutmeg and cinnamon to get a holiday flavor.

The holy grail of pumpkin ales, at least at By The Bottle, is made by Southern Tier in New York. The beer, called Pumking, sells out faster than she can stock it, Nunez said.

“On the first day it came in this year — and we limited it to two bottles per person — we sold out our seven cases in a few hours,” Nunez said. “I was able to get some more, but we decided to hold six cases back. We’ll put them out again for Thanksgiving, because it’s just perfect with the big holiday meal.”

Laurelwood’s Stingy Jack Pumpkin Ale, made in Portland, is more subtle but also very nice, she said.

“It satisfies people who don’t really want a beer that tastes like a piece of pumpkin pie,” Nunez said. “It’s more of a dark ale with just a touch of pumpkin spice.”

Elyssian Brewing in Seattle goes all out with its pumpkin ales. The company has about 50 different varieties on tap at its annual Great Pumpkin Ale Festival in early October, including about 10 that are made by Elyssian.

The company also hosts pumpkin beer road shows in October, including one in Portland.

Outside of Seattle, though, the only Elyssian pumpkin ale you’re likely to find in November is the Night Owl Pumpkin Ale, De Ieso said.

“During the festival up there, they fill a pumpkin up with beer and tap it like a keg,” he said.

If you want to branch away from beer, ciders are also a popular fall drink.

By The Bottle’s most popular one is Ace Pumpkin Hard Cider, but it sells out almost as fast as the Pumking ale, Nunez said.

“It’s nice, dry, not too sweet,” Nunez said.

She also recommends Tieton Cider Works’ apricot and cherry varieties, and Aspall English Organic Draft Cider.

There’s no reason to not try several different fall beers before the season starts to wind down at the end of November, Surface said.

“It’s a good time of year to figure out the styles that you like best,” he said. “Everybody seems to be in such a rush to get to the winter flavors, but really they should slow down, stop to enjoy the great fall beers.”