Autumn is a time for Oktoberfest lagers, pumpkin beers, and wet hop ales, but fall fever doesn't keep other styles from hitting the shelves. Here's a rundown of six notables.
Not every collaboration beer is a success, but they can offer suds lovers a chance to try an inaccessible brewery. Alpine Brewing, a tiny San Diego outfit known for hop-giants like Pure Hoppiness, recently joined New Belgium Brewing to brew Super India Pale Ale (9 percent ABV). My childhood addiction to mandarin oranges in syrup is a constant touch-point with this beer. A bright orange pour with a subdued white head yields an intensely fruity aroma, thanks to a triple dry-hop with Columbus, Amarillo, Centennial, and Simcoe. It's more like sticky-sweet fruit concentrate than actual fruit. Queue the syrup. It's a doozy at 9 percent, but only slightly astringent. A curve of malt sweetness carries it easily across your palate. Meanwhile, hops dominate every corner of your mouth. Mango, orange, pine, and citrus notes beat down every other component of the beer, true to style. This is a keeper.
We're getting uniquely acquainted with the gypsy stylings of Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø's Evil Twin Brewing since Mt. Pleasant's Westbrook Brewing is now one of the 10 companies brewing his beer. Kiwi Imperial Pils (7.5 percent ABV, 82) was produced at Napabier in Pamplona, Spain, but its typically cryptic label points to New Zealand for inspiration, mentioning Motueka hops, a New Zealand varietal with a noble hop parent, Saaz. That heritage, among other things, puts the beer squarely in big pilsner territory — straw color, tightly foaming head, biscuity malt, and a crisp finish. The hops are also extraordinarily fruity, adding in bright, floral tangerine, melon, and maybe even dark berry notes. Bjergsø doesn't disappoint.
The only traditional fall beer in this bunch is Märzenbier (6 percent ABV,), Westbrook's take on a traditional, Oktoberfest-ready amber lager. Opening a bottle filled just three days prior is a treat. An amber, red-leaning pour results in a short, super-white head, but bubbles continue cascading up the glass. The Caramunich malt is the star in both the aroma and taste, coming heavy with burnt sugar character. A soft malt opening gives way to a clean noble hop finish, with the malt returning in the aftertaste. My bottle could have done with slightly stiffer carbonation, but this is an incredibly smooth-drinking beer well suited for its stated purpose: "Drinking by the liter outside in the cool fall weather."
After sipping Rogue Ales' big pink monster, Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale (5.6 percent ABV, 75, 45), my wife said, "That taste needs to get out of my mouth right now." This is the beer everyone loves to hate. I grabbed it expecting as much, despite being a Rogue fanboy. At $11+ for a 750mL bottle, the price point makes it seem even worse. The Travel Channel taught me that Voodoo Doughnut is in Portland, and this beer taught me that doughnut shops should stick to doughnuts. The beer's unattractive, brownish color is a poor start. The nose is a mess of maple and smoke, like pouring a gallon of maple syrup onto a campfire. At first sip it's just an under-hopped pale ale, but then the smoked malt, maple, and bacon take hold. Catastrophic. Not the worst beer ever, but it's on the list.
American Mild (4.9 percent ABV), the latest seasonal from North Charleston's COAST Brewing, was born in reverse. The idea started with a combination of ingredients and backed into a style, a wheaty, American interpretation of a classic English Mild. Pouring a translucent, deep orange with a smattering of sediment, American Mild's aroma is equal parts wheat and light pine, plus some mint from the Glacier hops. The Carawheat backbone carries the taste, with the hops coming back in the finish with a clean, bitter bite. I'm a sucker for low ABV beers with character, and the chewy, full-bodied mouthfeel of American Mild does not disappoint. Yet another winner from COAST, and one you can drink in quantity to boot.
The Gueuze style may be the ultimate expression of brewing prowess. It requires brewing a beer designed for aging, spontaneous fermentation and long-term barreling, and the artful blending of multiple vintages. Drie Fonteinen (Three Fountains) is the brainchild of Armand Debelder, a master of traditional Lambic brewing and blending. His Oude Geuze (6 percent ABV) is not new, but was recently reintroduced to our market. Score. Spritzy, bottle-conditioned carbonation is the main feature of the pour. Lemon, light funk, and a dank, cellar-like aroma portend the sour delight to come. Lemon leads from aroma to taste, followed by complex, lactic acidity, and maybe a hint of soap? It's an impossibly refreshing beer that wipes your palate clean of anything preceding it. "World-class" is not an overstatement.
Timmons Pettigrew is the author of Charleston Beer: A High-Gravity History of Lowcountry Brewing, and co-founder/editor of CHSBeer.org. Follow him on Twitter @CHSBeer.