The trees are changing colors, Oktoberfest in Tulsa was once again wonderful and the temperatures are dropping faster than Tiger Woods' approval rating. Fall is in full swing in T-Town, and now that the ghouls and goblins of Halloween have come and gone, it's time to relax, sit back and crack open an ice-cold brewski.
That's why we're here. It's time for Urban Tulsa Weekly's 2010 Autumn Brews, your guide to the best in beer this fall season.
To help sort through the good, the bad and the skunky, we assembled a panel of experts, five local beer enthusiasts from bars and restaurants around town. We gave them 20 brews to smell, taste and rate, and their decisions form what we consider some of the fall's finest.
As summer was drawing to a close, area breweries and distributors were busy positioning their seasonal offerings for success. We've gathered a variety of offerings, including new brews waiting to be picked off the shelves and bastions of the fall beer lineup finally available in Oklahoma.
We have adult beverages from local, regional, national and international breweries, including Mustang Brewing Co. (Mustang, Okla.), Choc Beer Co. (Krebs, Okla.), Boulevard Brewing Co. (Kansas City) and even Zatec Brewery in the Czech Republic.
We need to send out a special thanks to our panelists -- who shall remain nameless -- and the breweries and distributors who provided the goods for our twice-a-year tradition. Without them, there would be no party. And we like a party.
Rules, Rules, Rules
There is, of course, no one "right" way to rate beer, but here's the UTW formula:
We employed a "blind" taste test, which means the panelists had no idea which beer they were sampling until after they rated it. Sometimes, the revelation impresses our panelists; other times, not so much.
With Summer Brews, we review mostly ambers, wheats and lagers -- beers that are traditionally enjoyed more in the heat of the summer. (Check out "Summer Brews" in the May 5-11, 2010 issue or online at urbantulsa.com.) That isn't the case with Autumn Brews.
Here you'll find more seasonal brews, porters and stouts. Generally these beers are appreciated more fully in the cooler months, when fall is in the air and a pot of chili is cooking on the stove. The heavier the beer, the more you're thinking about fall foliage and chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
The brews reviewed were not tasted from bottles. Rather, they were poured into pint glasses to help bring out the full flavors and aromas of each and every beer.
Of course, since no one wants to drink a warm beer, the brews were kept on ice at a perfect chilled temperature until they were brought out for tasting.
Our rating system utilizes an allocation of points from 1-5 (with 5 being the best) to measure the appearance, aroma, palate and flavor of each brew.
To judge appearance, the panel observed the color, clarity carbonation, head size and its longevity.
Our panelists judged whether the aroma was, sweet or fruity, hoppy or malty, skunky or just bad.
For palate, the tasters sipped each brew, attempting to "feel" the beer inside their mouths as it progressed from the front of the mouth to the back.
Finally, our precise panel judged the flavor of each brew at the start, middle, finish and the aftertaste.
Our experts began with one beer and finished after 20. They ate great pizza and all had a fantastic time at UTW world headquarters.
Without further ado, let's get this proverbial party started.
And So It Begins...
Let's get right to it. We begin the countdown at No. 20 with a new local brew, Mustang Brewing Co.'s Harvest Lager. Mustang's second seasonal offering didn't fare so well with our judges, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, brand new beers need a little bit of time to mature and develop into a great-tasting brew. The Harvest Lager is brewed with six European types of barley and German Hallertauer and Tettnanger hops. Our panel found it to be a light and crisp, yet boring, offering, but mentioned that the brew shows promise for this young brewing company.
Next on the list at No. 19 is Shiner Oktoberfest. This Texas-based brewery is generally known for its quality brews, but our panel decided this one came up a bit short of Shiner's normal quality. Made with Two-Row Barley, Munich and Caramel malts and German Hallertau Tradition and Hersbrucker hops, this brew is amber in color and toasted in flavor. The panelists didn't find it to have a good aroma or finish, with one reviewer noting that it had too much carbonation. This is one brew that might need refining before next autumn.
This next brew garnered the widest range of scores of the tasting, but it didn't necessarily work out that well. No. 18 on our list is Lindemans Faro Lambic, an imported offering from Lindemans Brewery in Vlezenbeek, Belgium. This brew possesses an aroma of fruit and caramel, and its flavor starts sweet and finishes with an apple-tartness. Our panel noted the apple flavors, with one reviewer comparing it to apple cider on steroids and other to "grandma's apple pie in a bottle."
Moving on to No. 17, we find Avery Brewing Co.'s Dugana IPA. Based in Boulder, Colo., Avery's limited-release offering is meant for the hop-heads among us. Our panel definitely picked up on the hoppy nature of this bitter ale, which is brewed with Chinook, Centennial and Columbus hops. One panelist even noted that it was "hard to look past (the) hops to find any flavor." Avery only brews Dugana when there is a little extra tank space, and it shows -- this IPA needs some work.
At No. 16 on the list is a brew with a local flavor -- Choc's Signature Belgian-Style Dubbel Ale from Krebs-based Choc Brewing Company. Though this brew won the gold medal at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival in the "abbey-style ale" competition, our panel didn't find it to be the best Choc offering among the three we reviewed -- which can only mean great things for the local brewery's other beers on the list. Some of our panelists thought this brew, deep red in color, was "over-done" and not very easy to drink, while another reviewer found it to be a great, full-bodied beer.
Coming in at No. 15 is an import from our friends across the pond -- Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale. Hailing from Yorkshire's oldest brewery in Tadcaster, England, this ale is honey-amber in color possesses a floral aroma, and, according to our panel, is an easy-drinking beer with "not much to it." One reviewer noted this would make a good session beer and is a beer that "tastes like beer." That sounds like a recipe for success to us.
Our countdown continues with No. 14, where we find Mustang's Amber Lager, the second of two offerings on our list from the local brewery. Our panel was quite surprised when we revealed this beer to them, noting that Mustang has come a long way in the past year and continues to grow as a regional brewing presence. This beer is a European-style red lager brewed with two-row barley, Tettnanger and Northers Brewer hops. Our panel had mixed reactions to this brew -- some thought it was too sweet, others thought it was nice and hoppy. One of our panelists thought this brew played the old "bait and switch" trick, and said that it "looks good, smells good (but) tastes OK."
As we move down to No. 13, we find another import -- Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel. Since 1878, the Ayinger Brewery in Aying, Germany has been producing world-class beers, and this one is no exception. A traditional old-style Bavarian dark lager, the Altbairisch Dunkel has a deep amber-brown color, sweet aroma and malty flavor. Our panel found this brew to be generally enjoyable, noting its clean finish, pleasant aroma and easy-drinking nature. Great food pairings include pasta with meat sauce, chili and egg rolls.
Boston loves its beer. And it's hard to talk about Boston beer without mentioning No. 12 on our list, Samuel Adams Octoberfest. A seasonal tradition in the Sam Adams lineup, Octoberfest boasts a deep, reddish amber blended from five roasts of malt to bring together caramel and toffee flavors. Our panelists found this brew to be a great way to welcome the changing colors of fall, with one reviewer saying it "screams autumn -- you can almost taste the leaves changing colors as you drink it." That's a good enough endorsement for us.
We're getting close to the top 10 as we approach No. 11 in our countdown -- Boulevard Brewing Co.'s Bob's '47 Oktoberfest. Brewed regionally in Kansas City, this fall seasonal is a medium-bodied, dark amber beer made using Pale, Munich, Carapils and Aromatic malts and Magnum and Hallertau hops. Our UTW panel found this to be an easy-drinking beer with a sweet, smooth finish. Boulevard has grown in popularity throughout the past several years, and as long as the regional brewery keeps putting great beers on the shelves, there's no reason for this to stop.
We begin the top 10 at No. 10 with Southampton Pumpkin Ale, a brew that is sure to make you think of autumn and Thanksgiving. Brewed with pumpkin and traditional pumpkin pie spices, this ale has definite seasonal character -- something our panel definitely noticed. From cinnamon and clove to nutmeg and brown sugar, our tasters took notice of and enjoyed all the flavors of this "pumpkin pie beer." If you're looking for a brew that defines autumn, this might be it.
We return to Kansas City for No. 9 with Boulevard's The Sixth Glass Quadrupel Ale. Part of Boulevard's Smokestack Series, which includes both year-round and seasonal brews, this offering is dark, full-bodied and contains 10.5 percent alcohol by volume -- a high number for any beer. Brewed with Magnum and Saphir hops, The Sixth Glass won the 2008 Great American Beer Festival Bronze Medal in the "Belgian-Style Abbey Ale" category, and our panel found it worthy of that merit. Our panel found the high alcohol level to have an effect on the taste of this ale -- one reviewer said it simply had too much and another thought it was "reminiscent of a malt liquor." Overall, the tasters thought it was a good, solid beer-lovers beer. Great food pairings for this brew include smoked or roast meats, cheeses and chocolate desserts. Sounds good to us.
The second of three beers from Oklahoma's own Choc Brewing Co. makes an appearance at No. 8 -- the newly-released Choc Winter Baltic-Style Porter. This newcomer to the Choc lineup impressed our panelists, who noted the smoky nature of the brew. One panelist even went as far to say, "Pour out the eggnog from your Wally World cup, Chevy Chase, and fill it with this." For the Clark Griswolds of the world, this brew is for you.
It's time to take a trek into true Oktoberfest territory for No. 7 on our list, Spaten Oktoberfest. Created in Munich, Germany, in 1872, this is the world's first Oktoberfest beer, brewed for a festival celebrated around the world. Our panel was impressed with this brew, noting its pleasant color and aroma and smooth, crisp taste. "I would definitely buy this," one reviewer said. If you're looking for a taste of Germany, you can't go wrong with this brew.
Narrowly missing out on the top five is No. 6 on the list, Big Sky Brewing Co.'s Moose Drool Brown Ale. Based in Missoula, Mont., Big Sky is known for their creative names when it comes to their products -- alongside Moose Drool stand Scape Goat and Trout Slayer. While the name might sound unpleasant, the end result is one of the finer brews in our tasting this year. Chocolate brown in color and creamy in texture, this ale is brewed with Goldings, Liberty and Willamette hops. The panel thought this would be a good starting point for someone who is interested in trying dark beers and a "good beer to eat a steak with."
The Final Five
As we move closer to discovering this year's top autumn beer, it's time to stop at No. 5, where we have Sierra Nevada Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale. Sierra Nevada is known for producing high-quality brews, and this seasonal offering is no exception. Brewed with two-row pale, crystal, chocolate and smoke malts and Challenger and Yakima Goldings hops, this dark ale wowed our panel with its hoppy yet smooth nature. Sierra Nevada has always performed well in our Summer and Autumn Brews tastings -- in fact, the special-release Harvest Wet Hop Ale was the winner of Autumn Brews 2009 -- so a top-five ranking is no surprise. Grab this one while it's available.
Coming in at No. 4 in this year's Autumn Brews is another European import, Zatec Dark Lager Beer, which comes to us all the way from the Czech Republic. This brew is fairly full-bodied, with a clean malt flavor and an aroma of dark bread, caramel, fresh malt and toffee. It's balanced by herbal hops and finishes with a refined smoothness. One of our panelists noted that this would be a great beer for winter, which is exactly what we want to see. Pairing suggestions include Polish or Italian sausage, turkey and aromatic cheeses.
If this was a beauty pageant, we'd be in second-runner-up territory right now. Thankfully, we're judging these brews on more than beauty. Either way, No. 3 on our list is Chatoe Rouge Creek Ale, a newly available brew in Oklahoma. This ale is brewed using eight ingredients: Wheat, Rogue Barley Farm Dare and Risk malts; Rogue Hopyard Revolution hops; Montmorency cherries; Pacman and Belgian yeast and free range coastal water. Our panelists definitely noticed the tart cherry flavor, and while one reviewer said that flavor could be scaled back a bit, it's still a very solid beer. Perhaps its best endorsement came from one taste-tester, who said, "After every sip, you just want to take another one." That's a sign of a good beer. But don't take our word for it, go out and try it for yourself.
There's only one brew separating us from the winning brew, but before we reveal the grand champion, let's recognize our runner-up, Dundee Oktoberfest Lager. While the name may not be original (how many beers named Oktoberfest can you have?), this brew proved superior to all but one. This is a traditional Marzen-style lager, brewed using Caramel 60, Vienna, Munich and Chocolate malts and Galena and Czech Saaz hops. Our panel enjoyed the sweet and hoppy smell and taste, while one reviewer noted that this lager is "great from start to finish." In short, it is the perfect transition from light summer beers to heavier winter brews.
And the Winner Is...
After 19 brews, we're down to the one that our panel found to be the best of the best, and it's one of Oklahoma's own. The winner of Autumn Brews 2010 is none other than Choc's Signature Smoked Porter, a relatively new offering that proves the quality of beverages being produced by one of our local breweries. Brewed with Weyermann smoked malt, Briess smoked and CaraMunich malts, and Columbus hops, this dark beverage is a perfect fit for the cooling temperatures and feel of fall and winter. Our panelists enjoyed the smoky aroma and taste, and one taster said, "It's dark, it's heavy, but it's a good drink." We couldn't have put it better.
Cheers to Choc for delivering the goods, and proving that Oklahomans know a thing or two about brews. We hope this is a sign of good things to come for Choc and our other in-state breweries. Check back with UTW in May for Summer Brews 2011, but until then, eat, drink and be merry!
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