Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

October 1, 2009

Beer Diary:

October Doesn’t Suck Either

There are plenty of beer-related reasons to love this blustery, gloomy month.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
For everyone outside of the Midwest this week, let me sum up the weather: Like every year, it went from summer to fall overnight. Sunday it’s in the low 80s and sunny, Monday, it’s 45 and raw. Not that I’m complaining, because I love October. Football—college and pro—is beginning to hit its stride, the baseball playoffs start, hunting seasons are opening up, and the month plays host to America’s most pagan holiday, Halloween.

But there are plenty of beer-related reasons to love October, too. First off, because a lot of marketing dumbasses think Oktoberfest actually takes place in October, you’ve got more than a few local Oktoberfest celebrations going on during the month. As long as they have some locally brewed märzens available—or, at the very least, actual German beers—they’re worth going to. Brats, kraut, German potato salad, polka bands, and the local culture are all gravy after that.

Second off, I love October weather. Sometimes blustery and gloomy, other times bright and crisply cool, the weather just begs for a whole selection of different brews. Sure, Oktoberfests are still more than welcome beers during the month, but you’ll also start to see bigger, meatier seasonals cropping up, like Great Lakes Nosferatu, Surly Darkness, or Bell’s Hell Hath No Fury … Ale.

Third off, local harvest festivals. Most of them aren’t beer-centric like they used to be a century ago, but sometimes you’ll run across a brewery that’s releasing its apple ale or, increasingly more, pumpkin beers. Which leads me into the absolute best part of October.

Hops. One of the latest trends in craft brewing is for breweries to put out “wet” or “fresh” hopped brews in the fall. These are beers made with hops that came right off the vine 24 hours—or less— earlier. Breweries on the west coast, where the lion’s share of hops are grown, just drive a truck up to the hop fields, but here in the Midwest—for now, at least—breweries have the hops shipped overnight at a mammoth expense. But the money’s worth it. Freshly picked hops add a vibrant, “green” flavor to the beer that you won’t find in regularly hopped brews. These beers aren’t necessarily more bitter, but they just burst with bright, lively hop flavor that is becoming a trademark in the American craft brewing industry.

Freshly picked hops add a vibrant, “green” flavor to the beer that you won’t find in regularly hopped brews.
A number of Midwest breweries put out wet-hopped beers in the fall: Three Floyds and their BrooDoo, Two Brothers’ wet-hopped version of their Heavy Handed IPA, and Founders Harvest Ale, just to name a very few.

And this is only going to get more prevalent as the industry matures. Lots of the more established breweries are starting to investigate starting their own hop fields, and this is going to create some incredibly diverse, tasty beers in the future. Hops are the last remnant of beer’s terroir—that is, ingredients that are unique to the geography in which they come from. Water can be dosed with the right salts and acids to mimic the famous brewing liquors of Burton-upon-Trent and Dortmunder and Pilsn that are a world away, and malts are so highly modified it doesn’t matter where they’re grown, which leaves—saving a closely guarded brewery’s unique house yeast—hops to carry on a millennia-old tradition. Sierra Nevada out in Chico, California has its own “estate hops” and Milwaukee’s Lakefront has been trying to grow its own organic hops for a couple of years. Because Cascade hops grown in northern California are going to show different flavors than the same strain of hops grown in, say, northern Michigan, we’re going to see some wildly unique beers from Midwest craft breweries down the road. And if that isn’t enough to get a beer dork excited about October, well, I saw some Christmas crap on sale in the basement at Sears this week …

Today is the feast day of St. Arnold, patron saint of beer.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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