There are many things that I classically associate with fall, including the smell of leaves in the air, the hike we take each year for Mountain Day, the quickly-descending Williamstown cold that leaps on you practically out of nowhere – oh, and midterms. This October, I decided to add something else to my list: the wide breadth of beers that brewing companies regularly bring to their buyers each fall. With that goal in mind, I have sampled a variety of seasonal offerings over the last several weeks. Although my palate is a bit untrained in the ways of beer-tasting, I hope that I can offer a few useful tidbits to help those of you that are legal enjoy the various beers available at our local stores and establishments.
Allow me to begin with a classic: Samuel Adams Octoberfest. Brewed only in the fall months in honor of the yearly Oktoberfest celebration in Munich, the beer is made using a combination of five types of malt and two types of hops. As I poured the beer, I couldn’t help but notice its distinctive color, aptly described by the brewers as a “rich, deep reddish-amber hue.” Octoberfest smells distinctly of malt, though perhaps surprisingly, the bitterness of the hops breaks through just a touch, and the smell is rather light on the whole. The beer is almost creamy, and it has a full, sweet, distinctly malty flavor that is capped off with a lightly bitter, hoppy finish that will appeal to those that prefer a typical ale flavor, if they can handle the malt. I would not recommend Sam’s Octoberfest to someone that is looking to be refreshed. Instead, it seems to be more of a beverage for comfort and relaxation that should be sought out by those who are looking to enjoy a full-bodied, simple malt taste after a long fall day climbing the hills of the Purple Valley.
This contrasts interestingly with Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale. For anyone who loves the taste of pumpkin, this beverage is a true treat. A pouring of the ale reveals its clear, orange-brown complexion. The aroma it gives off is marvelous: The pumpkin and cinnamon in the beer masks the hops, and both scents come through just enough to entice, but not enough to overwhelm. The flavor is certainly rich, and at first taste, the bitterness of the hops jumps onto the tongue and lingers through the finish. Yet each sip yields a slightly different experience on the taste buds. I regularly caught the distinct spiciness of cinnamon and sweetness of pumpkin peeking through the ale’s basic hoppy flavor, and the flavors remain with the hops in the finish. Moreover, the ale somehow pairs this richness with a light feel in the mouth that doesn’t stick as it goes down. Crisp and complex, light and refreshing, Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale captures the essence of fall.
Magic Hat Hex Octoberfest is Magic Hat’s own take on the Oktoberfest variety of beer. Like the Sam Adams Octoberfest, Hex is brewed with five malts and two hops, though the exact types differ. The result is a beer that is lighter in all of its aspects. Hex’s color is not as a deeply amber as the Octoberfest, and the smell is slightly less forceful as well. Its taste is essentially a toned-down version of the Octoberfest, which in my view makes the beer more enjoyable: It allows the toffee and caramel flavors that are within the beer to come through just a bit more. The finish has the same slight bitterness and lingering malt as the Octoberfest. To a more trained taster, there might be other differences, but on the whole, Hex is great if you are looking for a less intense experience than Octoberfest, but are still in the mood for that rich, malty flavor.
The final brew on our list is Long Trail Harvest, a brown ale brewed with maple syrup. The coloring of the beer is very similar to Octoberfest, though the brewing company calls it “auburn.” Any similarities end at coloring. Harvest’s flavoring is not particularly intense, but is definitely malt-heavy, with only a hint of a hoppy flavor and finish. The maple syrup comes through lightly in both the smell and the taste. On the whole, the beer is relatively basic: enjoyable to sip, but not the most memorable beer you could have.
Of the four beers, I enjoyed the Wolaver’s the most. As for the other three, the amount that I could truly enjoy them, I think, would vary with my mood. And with that, I take my leave. I encourage you all to try each of these beers – responsibly, as they say in the advertisements – and to let me know if there are others you would like to see reviewed.