4 Beers to Keep you Warm Until Thanksgiving
By Adam Franklin-Lyons
This being the middle of October, you might think that I’m going to recommend a series of Oktoberfest beers, but I’m not going to mention a single one. The original Oktoberfest happened on October 12, 1810 at the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and the modern Oktoberfest usually starts right at the end of September and stops about yesterday. So instead of telling you about beers you might have drank yesterday, we’ll look to tomorrow and beers you can enjoy from now till Thanksgiving. “Harvest Ale” isn’t a well defined style and the beers can include ales, lagers, light, dark and everything in between. The traditional “Harvest Ale” is usually (usually) a medium to dark, fairly sweet, strong ale around 7% ABV; recently a subset of the style, the “Hop-Harvest ale,” has replaced the sweet with a healthy dose of American bitterness and floral aroma. So with that in mind, here’s a few great ones to try:
Sierra Nevada Harvest
Amber in color, 6.7% ABV and full of citric aroma from the fresh hop resins, this is the defining beer of the “hop-harvest” variety from one of the mainstays of the American craft brewing industry. The beer comes in three varieties, one classic “Harvest,” one locavore and one that would make a locavore’s hair curl. The “Chico estate” uses hops raised right on the fields outside the brewery – it’s still in Chico, California, so it’s not local to here, but it’s better than “Southern Hemisphere,” a beer whose hops are flown as fast as possible after the harvest in New Zealand to Chico so that we can drink a nice fresh hoppy beer in the off season. Classic globalization, but also classic beer.
Victory Brewing Hop Wallop
Another showcase of hoppy bitterness, the Hop Wallop use a blend of American and European hops for an earthier, richer flavor and aroma. Victory uses a variety of German malts to give the beer a sweetness not always present in other American harvests (many of the beers from this brewery follow the German tradition – the Prima Pils would be another fine example). Stronger than the Sierra Nevada at 8.5%, this is not a beer to drink an entire six-pack in one sitting or you’ll end up tasting the wallop instead of the hop.
J. W. Lees Harvest Ale
This is a strange and amazing creation. Despite the name, the 11.5+% ABV often push this beer into the barley wine category (which is to say, from one poorly defined style to another) but whatever its label, it is a very dark, very rich, and very strong ale. The chief defining character of this ale is that it is brewed to be aged, unlike almost every other commercial beer on the market. The high alcohol content and live yeast allow the beer to continue changing and maturing for ten or even twenty years. The mature, ester-based flavor isn’t something everyone will love, but I think it’s something everyone should try.
Berkshire Brewing Company Cabin Fever Ale
With a name like Cabin Fever, you might think this beer was designed for January or February, but the beer comes out in early November and fits many of the style markers of a harvest: it is coppery in color with a range of warm caramel flavors and a bright fresh hoppiness. At 6.3% ABV, you can drink one of the large 22 oz. Bottles that Berkshire frequently comes in without needing to be harvested from the floor yourself. If after the Wallop and the J.W. Lees, you just can’t go back to normal strength beers, then just be patient for Berkshire’s spiced barley-wine, “Holidale.” In my opinion, this is one of the best breweries in New England, so you can’t go too far wrong.
You can find most of these beers at any upscale liquor store like The Wine Thief or Amity Wine, and I know I’ve seen the Sierra Nevada at Zack’s and College Wine.