Seasonal releases are best-sellers among styles of beer and this fall brings many choices. Harvest ales may be made with fresh hops, or brewed with fruits and nuts. Holiday ales— robust, often spicy, barrel-aged ales and strong lagers—are warming delights of the season.
Crack open a Nutcracker Ale from Boulevard Brewing and what you’ll get is the sumptuous smell of the hop harvest. Van Horn Farms, in Washington State, sends fresh, green, just-picked Chinook cones in time to be added to the fermentation tanks. The Nutcracker, an English-style winter warmer, is brewed with five different malts and the result is a robust ale with piney, resinous aromas that meld with malt to create delicious spices on the palate. (Boulevard Brewing)
Scaldis Prestige de Nuits 2010 is triple-fermented for smoothness, including a minimum of six months spent aging in Burgundy Côtes de Nuits barrels. The caramel malty flavors are complemented by the vinous quality imparted by barrel aging and its impact heightened at 13 percent ABV. It’s a beautiful marriage of wood and beer, cask-conditioned for sprightly effervescence and cork-finished for tabletop presentation. Service in stemmed glassware is recommended. (Vanberg & DeWulf)
Goose Island Beer Co. has bottled its barrel-aged Bourbon County Stout since 2005, and this year introduces a one-time release Bourbon County Rare, aged in Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon barrels that are 23 years old. “It’s got an impressive American oak flavor,” says brewmaster Greg Hall. It is both malty and spirituous and deserves sipping in snifters. The Vanilla Bourbon County stout will be released in late October, in time to serve with Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. (Goose Island Beer Company)
Boulder Beer marks its 31st anniversary by resurrecting the Killer Penguin Barley Wine Style Ale, both on draft and in 22 oz. bottles, only available in November and December. A high octane barley wine weighing in at 10 percent ABV, the Killer Penguin is both warming and smooth as ice, with creamy carbonation and candied fruit flavors. Best presented in snifters, this barley wine pairs well with aged Cheddar and blue cheeses with dried figs and dates. (Boulder Beer Company)
Harpoon Brewery offers its Grateful Harvest Ale made with freshly harvested local cranberries. It’s a Thanksgiving beer for parties, with scads of sweet malt balanced by the tartness of fresh cranberry puree, and at six percent ABV, it is light enough to enjoy with the feast. Present it in a tulip glass to appreciate its ruby hues. In keeping with the season, Harpoon will donate a dollar for every six-pack sold to a regional food bank, through the Harpoon Helps program. (Harpoon Brewery)
The century-old Spoetzl Brewery is the main attraction in Shiner, Texas, but Holiday Cheer, the brewery’s Christmas seasonal ale, is rising in distribution thanks to early release in October. Brewmaster Jimmy Mauric makes the dunkelweizen with wheat, caramel and Munich malts, flavored with peach and pecan, two of Texas’ top agricultural products. The beer is bready and toasty, sweet and immensely peachy, good with holiday fare such as roast pork loin with chutney, or brunch with brown sugar pecan waffles. (Spoetzl Brewery, Gambrinus Company).
Kasteel Cuvée Du Chateau 2010 is a special release made with the fresh, young Kasteel Dark as its base, but brewed to achieve the aromatics of Madeira and Port found in aged ale. Sixth generation brewery owner Xavier Van Honsebrouck worked with his father Luc to develop the complexity in flavors. Exceptionally food friendly and elegant packaging, it is a timely addition to gastropubs’ seasonal beer lists. It would be best served in goblets to better appreciate the collar of foam and aromas of caramelized plums. (Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck N.V., Wetton Imports)