The shift toward colder days is best done gently and with great care. Our bodies begin to sink into our chairs a little deeper, and our lawns begin to slow their attempted escape toward the sun. We put the lawn mowers away and begin dedicating our weekends to sports that include men wearing helmets. Even baseball starts to give up, weeding out most of its teams in a practice they call “playoffs” but I really recognize as “conservation.” I do the same thing with the thermostat.
Thankfully, autumn allows us to make this slow shift with a great selection of warmer, sweeter and generally more comforting beers - like the seasons, our beer tastes move from thin to thick, and it can’t be done in one swift jump.
The purpose behind beer in the colder autumn months lies somewhere in between refreshment and homesteading. Gone are the days of beer as thirst quencher, where even a cooler full of Miller Lite looks like a pot of gold. Gone are the days of boats and beaches and fishing and yard work; in their place, we find the first hints of hunkering down, of bottling and canning and frenetic preparation for blizzards and shoveling and snow tires.
On one end, you’ve got clear, clean and cold. On the other, you’ve got dark porters and holiday ales and things with oak chips. One end is 3.2% ABV, the other 8.5% ABV. One is summer, the other winter. In the middle: fall.
Don’t look now, y’all. But fall is here.
The season is best known as Oktoberfest season. I’ve already talked about that, though, and that’s okay, because Oktoberfest gets all of the good press. It’s the closest thing we have to a beer holiday, but it’s also a choking, aggravating season of too-early releases and weak competition. Shiner has an Oktoberfest, people. Shiner - the beer best known for being fancy yard beer. A beer known for being light and easy to drink comes out with a beer that’s traditionally - in the American sense - thicker, sweeter and completely out of style of anything Shiner typically brings to the table.
Oktoberfest is everywhere right now. So let’s be contrarian and wave it off.
I - as many often do - assume fall is synonymous with Oktoberfest on the beer calendar. It’s not. Fall brings an entire station of autumnal beers - harvest ales, traditional märzens and even those horrible pumpkin beers that keep cropping up like fruit flies around a yeast starter. Hop aroma is scaled back, the malts are ramped up, and sweet, warm flavors reign.
The last two years I’ve found myself drawn to Sierra Nevada’s Tumbler, an Autumn Brown Ale that weighs in at 5.5% ABV and tastes like smoke and malts. It’s crisp - dare I say, crisp as the dead leaves you refuse to rake? - and it’s filled with this complex mix of flavors you’d typically associate with a porter - chocolate, or coffee, or something with caffeine that I shouldn’t be eating an hour before bed.
What’s funny is that this could be as random as an Oktoberfest for Sierra Nevada, a brewery that’s become so well known for its hopped up beers - to the point of ubiquitousness - that I often overlook them in the cooler. Thankfully, it’s NOT an Oktoberfest. I applaud the breweries that sidestep the assumed beer season and bring something a little different to the table.
The brown ale market is filled with some stinkers - I’ve never been able to get my mind around Big Sky Brewing’s Moose Drool, and the version of Newcastle we get in these parts I’ve long suspected to be a watered down American version - but this one fits my sensibilities a bit more. I like it a lot. I strongly suggest finding some.
The most important question, though, is whether or not this makes for a good football drinking beer. Which is a pretty silly question because, let’s be honest, almost every beer would make for a good football drinking beer, depending on the accompaniments - food, teams, company.
I’ll say yes. We’re entering into one of beers’ greatest seasons, and it would be a shame if we spent the entire time talking Oktoberfest. Grab a Tumbler - or whatever you’ve got around, really - and toast to the falling leaves, the falling temperatures, and yet another excuse to drink beer in the afternoon.