Story by Dave Eckert
Anyone who knows me, even casually, quickly grasps that I’m a wine guy, not a beer guy. That said, I’ve had some pretty amazing beer tasting experiences recently that lead me to write these two articles-The Indulgences column on pairing beer and food, and this one on that wonderful transition from lighter summertime beers to fuller-bodied, darker, and richer fall and winter brews.
One of the terrific beer pairings I shared came at Pig & Finch in Leawood. General Manager Seth Welch organized the tasting, so who better to get some insights on the annual “transitioning of the suds?” “Fall beers get a little heavier, maybe to keep us warmer on those cool autumn nights,” Welch opined. “I think breweries have a little more fun and play around more with fall/winter beers because those beers are more forgiving.”
Welch points to flavors like chocolate, peanut butter, and coffee, which you will often find in heavier beers, but not so often in lighter, summertime brews. “It can be done, but it takes a lot of finesse. However, with “bigger” beers like browns, porters and stouts, those flavors can be more easily paired with the big malt bills these beers have. I think you see a lot more creativity and complexity in the craft beers that are released in the cooler months,” Welch shared.
I also dropped in on the Smokestack Beer Tour at Boulevard Brewing Company, which concludes with a small tasting which pairs beer with food; the brewery calls these “Smokestack Bites.” I actually missed the tour but did manage to show up in time for the “Bites” portion of the event (imagine that?). Like Pig and Finch, the beer and food matches weren’t just good, but seamless.
Boulevard Brand Ambassador Kyle Hopkins is responsible for those pairings. Hopkins is also one of the most passionate and knowledgeable beer experts I have met. Not surprisingly, he had some deep thoughts and lavish praise for fall and winter beers. “I think it’s just human nature. As it starts to get colder we want bigger beers,” Hopkins stated. “We host a big pig roast on the weekend of Thanksgiving, and I feel like that’s my kick off. I’ll have Snow and Tell, our smoky Scotch Ale, and we had a Black IPA a couple of years ago. It was just the first perfect night for that rather than a regular IPA.”
Hopkins says the malts start to shine in the fall, when your palate starts to crave that darker malt that leads to a fuller-bodied beer. “In the winter, sitting by a fire, you want a big satisfying beer that has a ton of flavor and maybe even a higher ABV (more alcohol),” Hopkins shared. On a personal note, Hopkins says he really looks forward to the onset of cooler temperatures and bigger beers. “My wife and I really like bourbon and whiskey, so the weather makes it great bourbon and whiskey on the rocks kind of weather. And the beers mimic that with our Bourbon Barrel Quad, Whiskey Barrel Stout, and some of our other bigger beers. It just makes sense to have them,” Hopkins summarized.
Finally, a chat with Rodney Beagle, founder of Colony Handcrafted Ales and a profligate brew master! Colony just celebrated its one-year anniversary in early September. I spoke with Beagle back in July and his mind was already racing toward fall and winter. “For me, it’s the balance that really draws me to those fall and winter beers. I want my beers to be savory and roasted, and maybe even a little hoppy, I need all of those elements to come together,” Beagle said over a glass of his Cinco Wheat, clearly a summer beer. “The balance is key, and the balance is what draws me in.”
Beagle, who was on pace to release more than a beer a week during Colony’s first year, says the perfect example is Schlafly Brewing’s Pumpkin Ale, which is a fall beer released in August. “For me, that’s a little early, but for them, they say it flies off the shelf. People are ready for the cooler weather and the flavors and aromas that come with it,” Beagle said. Beagle has done his own pumpkin beer. He’s done a yam-flavored beer, and plenty of brews with bourbon and coffee influence. Count on many more from Colony this fall and winter, especially now that Beagle has found a yeast that will ferment his beers in six rather than 14 days!
And one more thing you can count on, all of Beagle’s Colony releases will be balanced and delicious. Cheers!