I don’t know about you, but I always start to crave soup about this time of year. Just like ice-cold beer tastes great on those 90 degree summer days, the idea of a big, steaming bowl of chili in October sounds so good. My taste for the type of beer I like to drink starts to shift with the season, too. I like the light, crisp beers in the summer, but dark and rich is what I want with my chili.
I’m not alone in this. Look at the seasonal beers that are out during summertime (Bell’s Oberon and Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy) - Light, garnished with citrus. Oktoberfest and pumpkin brews start to hit shelves in September and October. Perfect timing for the taste-shift.
There’s something hearty about the fall seasonal beers. Oktoberfest brews are typically dark lagers and bring brats to mind as well as the annual Oktoberfest festivals that bring a little more German tradition to Wisconsin. Samuel Adams, Leinenkugel’s and Capital Brewing are just a few of the brands that have great Oktoberfest beers available locally.
Pumpkin ale also comes out around this time. Pumpkin flavored beer may sound a little odd, but don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it! Lakefront Brewery and Blue Moon both make great pumpkin beers that tastes like pumpkin pie with nutmeg, cinnamon and pumpkin brewed right into the beer. All that's missing is the pie crust!
As a self-proclaimed beer buff, one of the things I like best about beer is how many different types there are out there to try. Over the years, we’ve heard of wine tasting classes, events and parties; now all of theses trends are pertinent to beer as well. We can partially attribute this awesome trend to the influence of microbreweries, and the new exotic flavors that are being produced.
A beer tasting is something you can host easily at home. Stick with all varieties of one brand (for example, purchase a few different varieties of Capital beer like Amber, Island Wheat, etc. and explore the similarities and differences in taste) or explore one type of beer from several different brands (compare and contrast pale ales from Sierra Nevada, Great Lakes Brewing and Bells Brewing Company).
Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning an event like this:
- A variety of beers equals a variety of tastes.
- Have something on hand to cleanse the palate between beers. Light snacks or seltzer water work well.
- Provide small tasting cups to portion out samples. The point of a tasting is to get a small taste of several different flavors to compare and contrast.
- Encourage guests to write down the beers they like, including the tastes and ingredients that stood out to them.
I’ve learned that just like a wine tasting, there’s a bit of a science to beer tasting. The steps are very similar and are designed to help fully experience the beer. Here’s what to look for:
- Tasting starts even before you drink a drop. Give it a sniff- the aroma of a beer comes from a lot of factors (malt, type of hops, alcohol, and other spices and ingredients used during the brewing process). The smell has a strong influence over the taste of a beer. Try to distinguish any distinct flavors unique to that particular beer.
- Look at the color, clarity and the nature of the head. The malts used during the brewing process influence the color of the beer. Many beers are transparent, but some beers, such as hefeweizen, may be cloudy due to the presence of yeast making them translucent. A third variety is the opaque or near-opaque color that exists with stouts, porters and other dark colored styles. Also pay attention to the thickness and retention of the head when the beer is poured.
- Take a small sip and explore the taste characteristics. Malt, hops and yeast are common ingredients in beer. Try to distinguish those ingredients apart from any other flavors in the beer. Rate the strength of bitterness of a beer using the International Bitterness Units scale, which is used in North America by a number of brewers.
- Mouth feel
- Thickness, creaminess and carbonation are all factors to be evaluated when tasting a beer. Pay attention not only to how the beer tastes, but also how it feels in your mouth.
- Other ingredients
- Many beers on the market use fruits and spices as key ingredients in the brewing process. Each contributes unique flavors. Try to discern those flavors each individually and evaluate how combinations of certain spices react within each beer.
A few weeks ago I posted about the great fall seasonal beers that are available right now. As a big fan of pairing a beer with my meal, I thought I’d offer some pairing suggestions for some of the fall seasonals.
Pairing is all about experimentation. Sure, there are suggested pairings, but the best way to figure out if a beer pairs well with a certain dish is to try it! There are no rules when it comes to pairing, but there are a few guidelines as to which tastes go best together:
• Ales go well with red meats in the same fashion as red wines do.
• With lighter, beers like lagers, consider pairing as you would with white wines (pastas, light meals, cooked vegetables).
• Dark beers pair well with rich foods.
• Hoppy beers match up and hold their own with spicy foods.
Seasonal beers are around for a limited time, so I’d recommend trying them with your dinner soon. You can try my suggestions or experiment and find your own favorite combos.
Oktoberfest beers, like Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest and Samuel Adams Octoberfest, are full bodied and bold. They pair best with foods that are also full-flavored like brats and *** or pretzels and mustard. The full flavors of the beers and the food balance each other well.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a bitter, hoppy beer. The bitterness cuts through spicy foods like jambalaya or Szechwan chicken.
Lakefront Pumpkin Lager tastes like liquid pumpkin pie and pairs perfectly with holiday meals like turkey, chicken or ham.
Capital Autumnal Fire is a rich Dopplebock with a slightly bitter finish. I like this one best with bread or barbequed ribs.
Leinenkugel’s Apple Spice is full of apple flavor with a hint of cinnamon. It pairs best with dishes with similar tastes like pork tenderloin with applesauce.