Monday, September 19, 2011

Beer style of the week; Autumn Ale

Week 33

First, to be clear, there is no officially recognized beer style designated as “Autumn” Ale. There are, however groups of ales that successfully, if loosely, convey the spirit of the demi-season bridging summer to fall. Heck, there is even debate about the defined difference between autumn and fall, but let’s forget all that and go with our simplistic explanation. Fall begins later when signs of frost begin and the leaves have fallen (fall) to the ground. You want a more bracing and substantial brew to warm your insides, and more importantly, it give me more styles to write about.

The Autumn Ale might slide a bit into the English Brown Ale style, if you don’t mind an extra dose of hops, a bit more roasted malt and the resulting kick of alcohol. Or, if you prefer to accept another brewer’s interpretation of what kind of ale best conveys the sense of Autumn, maybe a slightly amped up American Amber or Red Ale will fit the bill.

Whatever style the brewer borrows from, the Autumn Ale should have a solid malt body with a deep amber, or auburn to brown ale color, a substantial off-white to beige head, an assertive (not aggressive) hop profile and a bit more robust than the style it’s born from.

You know it’s time to locate your favorite sweater, windbreaker, lawn rake, and college football schedule when the first sightings of Autumn Ale hit the packies.

While Autumn Ale seems to be an American hybrid of some traditional English ale styles, we can find some of those originals still fit nicely into the theme of the season. Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale comes immediately to mind as ale to enjoy in Autumn weather, although maybe it lacks a bit of the warming alcoholic kick I thought might be needed to create a new sub style.

Autumn Ales

Sierra Nevada Tumbler – Chico, California – 5.5% ABV12 oz. dark brown bottle. No freshness date. Marvelous dark auburn, brown leathery color with a medium-sized beige head on top. Loads of sticky lacing clings to the glass throughout.The aroma is mostly malt-driven, with dry grain, caramel malt and farina wheat smells. There is a bit of fruit and citrus peel to the hop aroma.The flavors are under-whelming. I expected a strong, sweet malty taste with a solid hop blend for support, but was a little disappointed. It sort of reminds me of a New Castle Ale, except with a bit more of a hop and alcohol kick.The body has an unexpected spritzy effervescence. I would like a little more solid, rich malty body in an autumn ale. Something to stand up to creamy, thick autumn stews, perhaps.

New England Autumns

Geary’s Autumn Ale – D.L. Geary’s Brewing – Portland, Maine – 5.8% ABV

This Autumn Ale is in a class of its own. Sort of a cross breed of Hampshire Special - sans the piney effect, and Pale Ale.It pours a wonderful teak color with a thin tan head. A nice blend of roasted malt and hops make up the initial burst of aroma. The aroma fades rather quickly. The full-bodied toasty malt is lightly sweet, with hints of caramel and dark coffee, and in the Geary's fashion, a little on the raw-edged side. Bitter citrusy hops mingle with a mild metallic tang and a slightly peppery spiciness. The flavors tend to balance towards the end and this brew just glides down the throat in a rich, almost buttery, velvety textured liquid. Oh my!

Long Trail Harvest – Long Trail Brewing Co. Bridgewater Corners, Vermont – 4.6% ABV

12oz brown bottle. Freshness date on label.
It pours a tan/cordovan with a smallish off-white head and some patchy and trailing lace.
The aroma is mostly of sweet malt and brown bread.
It's not as malty as one would expect after reading on the label about all the malts used in the brewing.
There's a light caramel sweetness and a taste of fresh marble rye, along with the essence of brown bread.
A sweet lime-like bitterness is matched by a taste of hard water and faint metallic tang.
This is a flavorful brew despite the fact that it is low in alcohol.
Nice stuff to quell spicy chili.

Pretty Things – St. Boltoph’s Town (Not listed as an Autumn Ale, but a damn good one anyway!) 5.9% ABV22oz brown bottle. Bottled on date stamped on cap top label. (Batch 10)

Served in a standard pint glass. Pours a dark brownish amber mahogany color with a solid 2" beige head and lots of webby lacing. Smells of roasted barley, barn, and resinous and citrusy hops blend nicely together. A whiff mixed fruit soaked in mellow rum floats in the background.

Brown Malty backbone with a touch of toffee. Evenly matched hoppy balance. A light taste of prunes with a hint of tobacco.

This is an amped up Brown Ale. It can easily slide into an Autumn or Fall Ale style profile. There's more malt, hops and alcoholic punch to this wonderfully crafted ale, than you find in your standard English Brown Ale.

Just a lovely ale for a cool evening! Very nice!

Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale – Portsmouth, New Hampshire – 6.5% ABV

On Tap served in a standard pint glass

It pours a burnt, orange-hued tan leather color with a medium-sized beige head and a fair amount of webby lacing.

A pleasant aroma of roasty brown malt rises at first pour. A light tea-light follows and lingers throughout. Mild resinous hops and a touch of alcohol fuminess round out the aromas.

The flavors match the smells to near perfection, with the exception being, a hint of a metallic tang noticed in the aftertaste.

This is a very fluid liquidy brew. The alcohol is fairly well disguised, so don’t just sit there enjoying one after the other and thinking to yourself, “man, these are tasty suckers, I can drink these all day long!”

Now, where’d I leave my favorite sweatshirt?

Next week; Oktoberfest (It’s on right now! – Sept 17 – Oct 3)

Quote: “And young and old come forth to play
On a sunshine holiday,
Till the live-long daylight fail;
Then to the spicy nut-brown ale” – John Milton – 1608 - 1674