Thanksgiving is right around the corner. The weather has changed and parts of the country are about to see their first snowfall. It’s time to fatten up for the winter. May as well do it in style. Right?
This is a great time of year for both food and beer. It’s not too hot to enjoy something hearty or spicy and it isn’t too cold that a frosty beer seems out of the question. There are great new vegetables popping their heads up at the farmers market and all of those malty holiday ales are starting to hit the shelves at the local bodega. So, where do we begin? As with any classic tasting, let’s go light to dark.
I know, what kind of Certified Cicerone™ would recommend a beer that was originally intended for drinking in the heat of the summer? This kind of Certified Cicerone™, that’s who! It’s true, the beer was originally produced in the colder months because there was no such thing as refrigeration in the Belgian countryside and it was the only way to properly ferment the beer. It would then be bottled up, cellared until the warm months, and enjoyed by the farmhands who were in grave need of something to drink as they worked in the fields.
But what’s so perfect about the Saison is that it is the ultimate harvest beer. There were no true style guidelines for the beer and, as it was brewed on farmlands, it was brewed with whatever they had on hand: barley, oats, rye, spelt, wheat, hops, spices, whatever you had to make something that turns non-potable water into delicious delightful beer. The beer was typically brewed in a rudimentary way that involved plenty of wild yeast, so you really could say that even though it was harvested from the winter air. And now that modern technology has brought glycol to the world of brewing, we can brew and enjoy these beers right now instead of waiting for the summer.
There are plenty of amazing Saisons out there, but of course I’m partial to our Saison Rue. Our year-round Saison is brewed with around 30% rye malt, adding a bit of spice and malty backbone to the typically lighter bodied beer. A perfect cooler weather harvest beer.
|(photo via The Kitchy Kitchen)|
The Pumpkin Beer
How can you talk about harvest month and skip out on the pumpkin-style beer! This is probably the seasonal that every one is waiting for each year and it seems like almost every brewery is making some sort of pumpkin-esque beer these days. The funny thing is that pumpkin isn’t really the key to the beer, it’s the spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, ginger, whatever you associate with the harvest at this time of year. It’s these flavors that pair so well with pumpkins, squashes, sweet potatoes and all of the great root vegetables that find themselves on our tables this month.
One of my favorite pumpkin beers is Kern River Brewing’s Pumpkin Ale. They add allspice to the lighter than usual pumpkin ale and it really brings it up a level.
Another favorite is Southern Tier’s Pumking. Unfortunately, Pumking is not available on the west coast, but this sturdy pumpkin ale tastes as close to a pumpkin pie as you can get.
And of course, there is there is The Bruery’s Autumn Maple, a pumpkin-style beer that is in fact made with yams, along with maple syrup, molasses, vanilla beans, cinnamon -- the list goes on. People often ask, “Why yams instead of pumpkins?” Well, that’s an easy one: yams are actually delicious. Pumpkins are … well, they’re pumpkins.
|(photo via The Kitchy Kitchen)|
What to pair with one of these beers? Now we need to aim a bit more hearty to balance with all of that spice flavor that is infused into the beer. Let’s go back to our friend Claire for this crazy recipe for a roasted butternut squash deep dish pizza. Come on. Butternut squash, brown butter, sage, burrata, ricotta, and so much more. The richness of this pizza could certainly be cut with a crisp lager, but this is harvest month! Let’s meet the flavors of this pie with a beer of equal caliber. A glass of Autumn Maple and a slice of this pizza pie will probably knock you out of commission for a bit, but it would be well worth it.
The Holiday Ale
This is the another seasonal beer that is impossible to escape and knows no boundaries. The holiday seasonal beer style runs the gamut, but is always something that will keep you warm. It isn’t quite time to break out the heavy imperial stouts, but these beers get you ready while still reminding you that it’s harvest time.
Let’s start with a true harvest holiday ale and a classic since 1981: Sierra Nevada Celebration. One of very few hop forward holiday beers, Sierra Nevada sticks to their guns with this one, harvesting their own fresh hops (Cascade, Centennial & Chinook) and creating an outstanding IPA to close out the year. For hopheads, this is one that they wait for each year and enjoy immensely.
Most holiday beers are quite different from the fresh hop version that Sierra Nevada brews up. They are typically malty beers, higher in alcohol, and sometimes contain flavors of the season. Winter spices, similar to those enjoyed in the pumpkin beers, can be added. Sometimes the fruits of the season are used in the brewing process and even ingredients like chocolate or vanilla are used to give it that seasonal character.
Here at The Bruery, we like to play around in the winter time and come up with a new beer each year. This time around it's our 6 Geese-A-Laying, which incorporates cape gooseberries into the mix for a slightly tart, underripe fruit note that blends in well with the strong, dark Belgian-style base beer.
What king of pairing works well here? We've found it pairs best with friends and family :)
What’s your favorite holiday ale? With what would you pair it?
|Post written by Benjamin Weiss, our Director of Marketing and one of our resident Certified Cicerones™, which more or less means he gets to brag around the office all day while wearing ironic shirts.|