The temperature keeps falling, leaves keep turning and soon the Green Country landscape will be virtually indistinguishable from the north, eastern and Rust Belt climes from which our ancestors escaped. What they brought with them, however, were the tools for survival and prosperity. And it's time to celebrate.
Our ancestors, they were a feisty bunch. Creative, pioneer types, risk-takers, mostly beer drinkers--they found ways to make this cold season more palatable.
Oktoberfest is a distant memory, but Urban Tulsa Weekly's annual Autumn Brews comes just in the nick of time to give you a head's up on some of the brews to choose when it's time to chill, er, warm up to some new flavors.
Let's toast to these cooler days with heartier, maltier beers to cover the stomach with that extra warm and frothy blanket only an amber-hued brew or velvety stout can provide.
Urban Tulsa Weekly's 2009 Autumn Brews features a variety of the best of the best. We put together a panel of eight beer connoisseurs ranging in age and comprised of both males and females. The group gathered for an evening of pouring, smelling, swirling, tasting and observing. Taste buds were killed softly as the evening uncapped 25 bottles of cold, fresh brews.
Our scientific evaluation included beverages available within arm's length at truly local vendors, including liquor stores and Oklahoma breweries and distributors: Collins Midtown Liquor, Mustang Brewing Co. (Mustang, OK), Coop Ale Works (OKC), Choc Beer (Krebs, OK), Marshall Brewing Co. (Tulsa), Boulevard Brewing Co. (Kansas City), Shiner Beers (Shiner, Texas) and Jarboe Sales Co.
Critics said there is no one way to rate beer. Therefore, we approached this task in the following way:
First, we did not taste test the beer directly from the bottle; we used beer sampler glasses, which allowed the panel to fully "inspect" the contents.
Temperature is also an important factor. A few degrees cooler than a cellar temperature is recommended, so by the time the beer is poured into the glass, it remains chilled to cellar temperature, around 46 degrees. Note, however, that darker beers--and most autumn brews--call for warmer temperatures. Use the following general guidelines for assistance:
Fruit beers: 40-50 degrees
Wheat beers and pale lagers: 45-50
Pale ales and amber or dark lagers: 50-55
Strong ales (barley wines and Belgian ales): 50-55
Dark ales (porters and stouts): 55-60
Our rating system included an allocation of points (1-5, with 5 being the best) for specifically measuring features such as appearance, aroma, palate and flavor, as well as an overall impression rating.
We observed the color, clarity, carbonation, head size and its longevity; the first smell is crucial because nasal sensors quickly saturate; whether the aromas are bad, sweet, fruity, hoppy or malty. Swirling the glass--similar to wine tasting--releases the fainter, more subtle aromas.
For palate, we tasted the beer and tried to "feel" the beer inside the mouth. Then, we swallowed and observed how the beer felt around the front and back of the mouth.
Next, we explored the flavor. How many flavors can be identified from the start, middle, finish and aftertaste? Are they fresh? Is it natural flavoring?
Finally, the overall rating. Would we buy the beer again, and what was the lasting impression? More importantly, will it warm the soul during brisk fall days? Please enjoy UTW's lesson in fine imbibing.
The Countdown Begins
Coming in at no. 25 is Estrella Damm, an import from Barcelona, Spain. You might be thinking this is an odd selection for an autumn brew, but not everyone likes to change the color of their beer this time of year as fast as the leaves change outside. If you aren't a fan of anything darker than your golden retriever, then the Estrella might be something worth sampling.
Really, it's a pretty good beer: Easy to drink, not too filling and more flavorful than expected. The appearance is thin and very clear; and the aroma releases nice, grainy malts, but hints that nothing too special is abounding inside the glass. On the palate, the Autumn Brews panel detected a little spice in the hops, as well as some carbonation that lingers in the mouth. "It's certainly a beer that won't offend anybody," said one. Last Sip: It's a classic premium lager, but could be mistaken for a simple domestic.
Moving along to New Spain (also known as Baja Oklahoma), year after year, beer after beer, the brew masters in Texas keep on shining as more varieties and seasonals grace liquor store shelves. Similar to Sam Adams (whose Oktoberfest Seasonal is now an Autumn Brews Hall of Famer), Shiner Brewery products rarely disappoint. While hardly a surprise party in your mouth, they promise to deliver a flavorful, refreshing cold beer--no matter the occasion. And so No. 24 goes to the Shiner Smokehaus, a Helles-style beer with a robust, smoky flavor.
Ideally, this is a summer brew--the perfect side item to a slab of grilled ribs. A light, sweet malty aroma greets tasters. One of the Autumn Brews panelists considered this a trendsetter for the realm of smoked beers to come. However, this brew is not for everyone.
The smoky flavor is strong and seems to obscure any and all other characteristics of the beer. Another panelist suggested possibly cooking with the Smokehaus. Last Sip: When the winter blues have got you craving some barbecue and you head to the nearest rib provider, consider snagging a sixer of the Smokehaus.
At this point, UTW readers should be familiar with Stevens Point Brewery out of Stevens Point, Wisconsin--a brewmaking dynasty only recently deigning to be distributed to the Sooner State. From the Burly Brown to Horizon Wheat to the Classic Amber (winner of the Fall 2008 Autumn Brews contest), Stevens Point keeps cranking out the varieties, satisfying all taste buds with cold, tasty brews available at relatively low prices. The hops continue to run strong with the new Point Oktoberfest, Marzen Style, making No. 23 on the list.
Five types of malts and three types of hops combine for this authentic lager, a style reminiscent of beers originally brewed for Oktoberfest celebrations in Germany. Availability for these is dwindling, so check out liquor stores now before these vanish until next year.
As far as our panel was concerned, reactions were mixed. Samplers who enjoyed the Oktoberfest commented on its dark, golden hue, mild head and subtle spice. The less enthused said the beer rests awkwardly on the palate and lacks any finish. Last Sip: Perhaps this would be good for beginners looking to broaden their fall beer horizons.
Seasonally significant, No. 22 goes to the Pumpkinhead from Shipyard. It took no time at all for our brew panel to recognize the seasonal nature of this beer. It's a must try for anyone looking for an extra little spice in their fall beverage selection. You certainly wouldn't sit around drinking several of these (flavor explosion would ensue), but to nestle up with one of these on the front porch is a sure way to get you in the autumn spirit.
Coming to us from Portland, Maine, Shipyard Pumpkinhead is a crisp, refreshing wheat ale with spiced flavor--specifically cinnamon and nutmeg. It's hard to tell whether brewers use hand-cut pumpkins (preferred method), puree, or pumpkin flavoring. Panelists labeled this beer: "a liquefied cinnamon roll," "more spice than pumpkin," "possibly better in the winter," and "too much cinnamon." Last Sip: If you like cinnamon anything--streusel, pie, tea, whatever--Pumpkinhead is a beer for you.
UTW recognizes its brew panel knows its stuff, as the Southampton Pumpkin Ale came in at no. 21--just ahead of the Pumpkinhead. This "pumpkin pie in a glass" (according to one sampler) earned style points for its nice, amber hue and good balance of spices. The panel awarded even more points for the aroma, which pleasantly reeked of nutmeg, cinnamon and pumpkin--something the Pumpkinhead lacked. The conclusion was that this ale was much more of a pumpkin beer than Shipyard's. Last Sip: Keep the Southampton around until Thanksgiving. It could be a fine substitute for that store-bought pumpkin pie your sister's boyfriend brought.
UTW proudly supports Oklahoma brewers, which is why we included the Golden Ale from Mustang Brewing Company in Mustang, Oklahoma (southwest of Oklahoma City) in our contest. The beer earned the no. 20 spot. Owner Tim Schoelen started as a home brewer and opted to take his passion to the next level three years ago with the help of his family.
Schoelen's goal with the Golden Ale was to make a great, easy-to-drink session beer. Three types of barley combine for this ale, which is brewed in small batches. At first glance, the ale is pretty; it pours clear with a persistent head. The flavor is light, with a grainy malt taste that finishes sweet on the palate. Panelists called this beer "approachable to the masses" and "good for the football stadium." Last Sip: Look for the Amber Lager available in six packs this November.
No. 19 in the Autumn Brews contest takes us to a Bavarian brewery--to a land with a long-standing reputation for excellence in beer, indeed, the region of Germany that produced the original Oktoberfest. Ayinger Oktoberfest filled taster's cups with a light, clean brew that lingered sweet aromas (of possibly banana bread? said one panelist).
The full-bodied Oktoberfest is served at the celebration in Bavaria each year and is frequently paired with veal, chicken, pork and sauerkraut. A long maturation gives this seasonal a soft dryness. The big, slightly sweet malts are enjoyable, but this is not the most outstanding for the style. It's certainly smooth and easy to drink, but possibly too light and too sweet for Oktoberfest lovers. Last Sip: Try a pairing, perhaps with clam chowder--or a weiner schnitzel.
Murphy's Irish Red Ale, another fine malt beverage from Ireland, came in at #18. The red ale is a well-carbonated, clear beer with a large persistent head but no lacing. The aroma lacks flavor but balances the grainy maltiness and hop bitterness. Overall, the flavor of the red ale is fairly simple; subtle fruit characteristics linger but a zest overpowers much distinction.
Our group thought the red ale was too similar to the big three: Bud, Miller and Coors. It can be very easily consumed, which might be a plus for some. Last Sip: Samplers won't notice much "red" in this ale. If you opt for a red ale, go with Killian's.
No. 17 breaks into the dark lager department. Leinenkugel's Creamy Dark made its mark in the 2009 Autumn Brews contest. Most of us are probably familiar with the Leinenkugel's brand, but the Creamy Dark is probably not the most sought after of its lineup.
Aged slowly, the dark lager appears like that of a stout but without the bitterness. Labeled by one sampler as "Shiner Bock's big brother," the Creamy Dark had a slightly sweet, roasted aroma. From the outside, it's a black beauty, but the inside left panelists wanting more--especially flavor. However, an enjoyable nutty, crisp finish rounds it out, leaving hints of chocolate malts. Last Sip: Another said this beer was for the "working man." In that case, consider this the perfect fall Happy Hour brew.
No. 16 on our list takes us to Krebs, Oklahoma, where the Spahnie 363 earned high regards from the Autumn Brews team. The folks at Choc want this to be the beer of choice during the World Series, even though it might be more suited for a summertime game. Named after baseball great Warren Spahn, who retired to Oklahoma after pitching for the Milwaukee Braves and managing the Tulsa Oilers, the Spahnie 363 is hoping to gain attention from the market beyond Oklahoma. (It's available here, Arkansas and Wisconsin).
This unfiltered ale--brewed kolsch-style--uses Wisconsin malt and German hops and yeast. Another good looking beer, the Spahnie was heady and full of fruity aromas. The hops are well-balanced and glide across the palate--making this an exceptionally smooth beer with a high drinkability factor. The panel agreed this to be a great session beer. Last Sip: If you are looking for, in fact, a session beer, why not support the local guy?
In July 2008, a new brewery was born to our dear neighbor, Oklahoma City. Coop Ale Works has released its brews to Tulsa and the label is picking up steam. UTW contacted Head Brewer Chase Healey and asked for a sample for the Autumn Brews contest. Healey sent the Oak Aged Imperial Stout, part of Coop's Territorial Reserve Series and it earned No. 15. The stout is a blend of Bulleit Bourbon Barrel-aged beer and un-oaked beer.
Pouring like oil, the stout's a beauty--and it smells great, too. The deeply roasted stout offered mild hints of fruit with an aroma also featuring some dark chocolate and coffee notes. The flavor is light and astringent, almost medicinal--something noticed by more than one panelist. It was agreed that the beer holds potential but has some flaws. Last Sip: Determine for yourself, and keep an eye out for more of Coop's products at Tulsa restaurants and bars this fall.
It's a pleasure to include Rogue beers in these beer issues. They're simply delicious. Brewed in Newport, Oregon, Rogue beers have been available in Tulsa for some time, but not well-marketed. Sold in 22-ounce bottles, Rogue beers are cleverly named, packaged, seasonal and but maintain a handful of flagship varieties. So, without further ado, no. 14 goes to the Rogue Maierfest Lager.
Named after brewmaster John Maier, who joined Rogue Nation in 1989, this dark gold lager delivers a rich German malt aroma, similar to that of Oktoberfest beers. It boasts of malt character and mouthy feel. The look in itself is enticing; the brew sits comfortably under a good, white foamy head. The flavor unveils itself slowly, but the malty backbone of this beer kicks in at the end. The panel agreed this is a very tasty beer. Last Sip: You can't go wrong with these Rogues. Pick your poison. They're all good. Another noted favorite for fall is the Hazelnut Brown Nectar.
Tulsa's favorite (and only) local brewery, Marshall Brewing Co., lent its Old Pavilion Pilsner to the Autumn Brews lineup. After scores were tallied, the Old Pavilion came in at no. 13. This brew was inspired by owner Eric Marshall's time as an apprentice brewer in Germany, but the name is a tribute to the Fairgrounds' hallowed, art deco arena.
The Pilsner pours very light with a small head. The aroma releases hints of fruit and some nice, bitter hops. In fact, hops are the name of the game in this brew. If you prefer hops, this is a must. However, the malt does back it up, offering a good balance. Tasters agreed that the Old Pavilion is simple, dry and refreshing.
Last Sip: In September, Marshall Brewing Co. was mentioned in Draft Magazine. The article, "50 Beers, 50 States," named Marshall's McNellie's Pub Ale as the beer of choice in Oklahoma. Congrats, to Eric and all the folks over at Marshall!
No. 12 goes to Weihenstephaner's Hefeweissbier Dark. Weihenstaphaner made a good run in Summer Brews 2009, so UTW tossed the Dark in the lineup for fall. During cooler weather, the dunkel is certainly the way to go. The Weihenstephaner label claims it to be "the world's oldest brewery."
The wheat beer releases hints of banana and cloves right from the glass. The color is murky amber with a soft, billowy head. On the palate, the Dark is smooth and leaves a sour yet pleasant taste in the mouth.
The panel thought this beer tasted much better than it appeared. In all categories (appearance, aroma, palate and flavor), the beer earned high scores. One taster did complain that the Dark packed a harsh aftertaste. Last Sip: TV beer hunter Michael Jackson recommends in his Greet Beer Guide serving this atop pancakes because of its banana walnut flavor.
Sometimes small packages can hold big surprises. So is the case with no. 11 on the list, the Full Sail Session Black, a premium dark lager sold in a retro 11--ounce chubber of a bottle. The Session Black was also a gold medal winner at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival. The brewers of the session pride themselves on the drinkability of this beer, calling it a true original. Sure, it's dark, chocolaty and roasty, but it's nothing similar to that of a stout.
First, enjoy this full-bodied, all-malt lager right from the bottle. Second, examine the aroma, a difficult task considering it actually lacks any outstanding odors; it's just pleasant and intoxicating. The flavor sticks around the whole way through. Most enjoyable on the palate are the concluding remarks. One panelist said it starts simply and then "karate explodes" at the finish. For those who want a beer with some serious flavor, this is a strong recommendation. Also, those looking for a crossover beer from light to dark should venture to the Full Sail. Last Sip: Black lagers are gaining popularity. For a solid intro, go Full Sail.
Drum Roll, Please
Now, it's time to tap into the Top Ten, which begins with a genuflection toward the Great Divide Brewing in Denver, Colo. Saint Bridget's Porter sits in pew Number 10. Save us a seat.
During the years, UTW has sampled just about every Great Divide brew available; they are perennial favorites, offering a variety for everyone. For fall, we suggest drinkers take on this porter, named after Saint Bridget who is claimed to have turned bathwater into beer and shared it with the lepers and clerics in the colony where she worked. You go, girl!
The medicinal aspect just may be the the melanoidins, techie speak for malts, malts and more malts. And the roasted characteristics back the 'noids up. A full grainy aroma complements the roasty traits of the porter. It pours a dark amber, almost black shade. On the palate, it's malty, of course, slightly creamy and smooth throughout. Words to describe this beer include: bold, robust and weird. Last Sip: Dark ales, such as porters, should be enjoyed between 55-60 degrees. Hit the temp range in order to make sure this beer is fully realized and enjoyed.
No. 9 brings us back home to Marshall Brewing Co., where we sampled the Oktoberfest Lager. The writer contends this to be the best product of Marshall's yet. And panel members agreed.
Bavarian style turns Okie style for this seasonal brew. The deep copper-colored lager features complex malt flavor and accompanying bitter German hops. In the glass, the beer excels due to its color and carbonation. In the mouth, the Oktoberfest is full-bodied with a lingering roast that adorns the palate. Caramel and toffee notes are some highlights of the flavor, as well as a hint of spice. Classic Oktoberfest.
Considering its weight, the beer comes across as light in the stomach therefore very drinkable. "It's worth more than one glass. Prost!" said one Autumn Brewer. Last Sip: It's a limited release, so keep an eye out.
Battering Boar Brewing Company in Oklahoma City, new this year, gives this crafty state three new successful breweries since 2008 (Marshall, Coop and Battered Boar), Oklahomans should be cheers-ing to these new thirst-quenching entrepreneurs. The Company Man Pale Ale takes the no. 8 spot on the countdown, an impressive position considering the youthfulness of the brewery.
Large hops and malts rise to the occasion in the aroma, hinting that this pale ale might be one for hop lovers. The taste is equally as large with American hops and some sticky malts dodging around. The aftertaste stumbles a bit, but overall this is one big beer that packs flavor from start to finish. The Company Man ranked high in all categories. Last Sip: The Web site was down during press time, a bummer considering how much traffic will congest as more and more Oklahomans will look for action updates at Battered Boar. Fortunately for those who prefer to booze at home, Battered Boar products are available in liquor stores now, but continue looking for them at Tulsa restaurants and bars.
We return to the land of black lagers for #7 on the Autumn Brews list. And our trip takes us back to Choc Brewing of Krebs, Ok for a sampling of the Miner Mishap, another German Schwarzbier, or simply "black lager." This lager was crafted by a former homebrewer who now works at Choc. He had longed to try his black lager recipe in larger batches, and Choc gave him the stomping grounds to concoct his creation. The result is a brew made up of German hops and malts that make this brew quite a standout for Choc.
Panelists were impressed by this inviting black lager radiating a perfect roastiness. The aroma of chocolate malts and espresso notes will certainly warm the soul. The aftertaste was mentioned as the best part of this beer. Last Sip: If you have not sampled a Choc beer yet, go with this. A solid (and local!) Autumn Brew pick.
Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY, brings the countdown to Numbero 6 with Hennepin Farmhouse Saison, a bottle-conditioned golden ale.
"An ale for all seasons," say our teams of experts, the Hennepin is pale and hazy, packing plenty of foam. The lingering aroma smells heavenly. The first sip holds an explosion of bubbles, which soon turn into a burst of flavors. Prepare for the pucker. This beer is surprisingly tart, perhaps due to the spicy gingersnap and citrusy hops. However, sweetness can be detected as well, therefore providing a nice balance. Last Sip: Overall comments on the Hennepin included: "a special occasion drink," "a session beer," and "the kind of beer you would drink next to the chiminea all bundled up."
All foodies will want to pay special attention to the Number 5 winner on our list. Leffe Blond, an outstanding Belgian ale, comes across as sophisticated and, possibly, more of an acquired taste. The amber-colored beer is best when poured with the glass tilted at an angle toward the bottle. A wonderfully complex aroma filters through the frothy head. Sensors detect fruit (banana, berry), spice (clove), vanilla and chocolate. The flavor has the Belgian funk that many beer enthusiasts rave about.
One drinker called this beer "damn good," saying that "it's the kind of beer for Thanksgiving. Give thanks for this beer!" Last Sip: Like a red wine, the Leffe Blond should be paired with certain foods, such as red meat, smoked ham, cheeses and sweet'n'sour dishes.
North Coast Brewing Co. in California brings us to No. 4, the Old Plowshare Stout. A Celtic-styled stout means this brew remains true to the time-honored Irish tradition of respecting natural ingredients. That's right, Old Plowshare is the only organic brew in the Autumn Brews patch.
The stout holds up well in all aspects. A smooth, firm body packs bold flavor, delivering notes of dark roasted malts. It has an especially nice appearance and aroma; both draw you in immediately. A smooth and silky blanket fills the mouth with a bittersweet chocolate taste.
Panelists said this beer is "purely fantastic" and a "must-try for first time stouters." Drinkers will be impressed with how welcoming the Old Plowshare is for a stout. Last Sip note: The Pranqster Belgian Style Golden Ale from North Coast won sixth place in the 2009 Summer Brew competition.
Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, MO, jumps to the occasion when UTW calls them to participate in the year's brews issues. We're happy to report that the bronze medal in Autumn Brews 2009 goes to the Smokestack Series' Saison Brett, part of the limited edition brews at Boulevard. This ale is bold and complex, like all the Smokestack beers. The Saison (season) Brett comes from the French-speaking region of Belgium, where native yeasts and time-honored recipes combine.
This is the kind of beer that opens one's eyes to the complexity of crafting quality brews. A fruity aroma (pear, apricot, lemon) and high carbonation are first impressions. (A sampler referred to the aroma as "wonderful barnyard funk.") On the palate, prepare for a smooth start and even smoother finish that never overpowers the flavor.
Said one panelist: "This is why the Belgians make the best beer in the world." Another said: "This almost tastes like champagne. Strong flavor but damn good." Last Sip: This beer stands alone. Don't pair it with anything.
Down To It
Very limited production didn't keep UTW from getting its hands on Samuel Smith's Yorkshire Stingo, the Second Place winner. Brewed from British malt and multiple hop varieties, the Stingo (it even sounds like a cool brew, doesn't it?) is aged for more than a year in oak barrels that previously held cask-conditioned ale. The beer hibernates after this process, allowing it to gain complexity and depth from the wood.
A beautiful, amber-colored beer, the Stingo greets you with an intriguing, tart aroma that is backed by sweet, thick malts. The taste is of sweet, toffee notes, light oakiness, tart cherries and a dose of alcohol (eight percent alcohol by volume).
Some panelists said the Stingo passed the eye test, but failed to deliver the flavor. Another said it certainly will warm the belly. Last Sip: It was concluded that one should drink the Stingo with an open mind, and it will change his/her view of what a beer can be.
We Have a Champion
The Gold Medal winner of the 2009 Autumn Brews review is the special release Harvest Wet Hop Ale from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, California. Claimed to have started the "modern-day fresh hop ale phenomenon in America," the Harvest Ale is going on 13 years. The ale features Cascade and Centennial hops, harvested and shipped the same day they are picked, from Washington.
The Autumn Brews panel thought this was the classic American India Pale Ale. Starting at the top, the head retention is beautiful. The aroma offers a great balance of sweet malt and bitter pine and citrus hops. Fruity (apple) and hoppy, the beer possesses bold caramel flavor as well. The Harvest excelled in all categories, earning a few perfect scores in appearance and flavor.
It can be concluded that the best beers pack the flavor and overwhelm the taster. Of the Harvest, one panelist said that if you like beer that prevents you from tasting anything else for an hour, this is the beer for you. Last Sip: And it's gone.
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