Fall is a season of great drink. The harvest and Oktoberfest, running roughly from the last weekend in September until the first in November, are perfect times to warm things up a bit, whether with traditional German brews, slightly sweet pumpkin ales or unexpected IPAs. Here’s some help telling your Oktoberfests from your Pumpkinheads.
With its annual draw of six million people, Munich’s Oktoberfest has grown into the world’s largest fair since its start in 1810. In the mid-1800s, German emigrants held their own offshoot festivals, especially in German population centers like Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Official Oktoberfest beer must be brewed within Munich proper — only six breweries are allowed to do so — but other brewers can adhere to the same guidelines, such as 6-percent alcohol volume and limited ingredients: barley, hops and water.
At IncrediBrew in Nashua (112 DW Highway, 891-2477, incredibrew.com) Oktoberfest is the biggest brewfest of the year. Owner Dave Williams attributes that to the locals’ settling in after a summer of fun. “We try to be as authentic as we can,” Williams said.
“We try to use German malts ... and try to get all the German hops and German-strength yeast we can get. The flavors that they produce are authentic,” Williams said.
IncrediBrew’s Oktoberfest and My Favorite Marzen are the two styles most like those in the beer halls of Oktoberfest. The others are Oom-Pah Pilsner, a basic German by way of Czech Republic beer named for the music played at Oktoberfest; Hefeweizen, a popular style that Williams says has a flavor profile with banana, cloves and summer-type flavors; and Dunkelewiezen, a heavier Hefeweizen. Rogg-n-Roll, a newer recipe for the store, uses German rye for dryness and sourness.
For his Oktoberfest, Williams invites German John of German John’s Bakery, who brings authentic pretzels and other traditional foods. “It’s food that not only complements the beer but really uses a lot of the same ingredients — water, grains, wheat. It’s a big part of the German tradition,” Williams said.
Whenever harvest time for pumpkins falls — a sunny summer can mean early September picking — it seems to incite a madness in New Englanders, says Peter Telge, owner of Milly’s Tavern in Manchester (500 N. Commercial St., 625-4444). The Tavern’s Pumpkin Ale is its exclusive fall beverage, and Telge’s crew can’t keep up with demand this time of year. “Even the pumpkin seeds we put out on the bar are popular,” Telge said.
Using New Hampshire-grown pumpkins, the Tavern’s version of Pumpkin Ale is recognizably pumpkinesque but lightly spiced, a contrast to those that use pumpkin pie mix, he said.
The Milly’s crew readies for 350 pounds of pumkins between September and October “We’re the only place I know of that uses that much real pumpkins. We get them and take them to the kitchen, where we spend a day cutting, cleaning them out, and roasting each for 20 minutes. We put those into our mash, which is the beginning of the brew. It makes for a subtle pumpkin flavor, not a strong nutmeg aftertaste [as] in other beers,” Telge said. This brewing marathon lasts until the pumpkins are gone, a two-month window in which the Tavern crew “brews as much as they physically can,” Telge said, while keeping up with the other 18 beers they have on tap. Their first batch, 28 half-barrels worth, ran out in about eight days, at the beginning of October.
A third way
What about forgoing tradition entirely?
“No Pumpkin beers here!” reads the fall brochure for White Birch Brewing in Hooksett (1339 Hooksett Road, 244-8593). “Distributors tell me I need to be doing it, but we do other styles. I love a good lager, like a doppelbock, and we’re more Belgian-inspired,” owner Bill Herlicka said.
White Birch’s Farmhouse Red uses Belgian yeast from the Ardennes region and has a drier finish. Oude Tymey, with its raisiny, malty and sour flavor and medium body, also goes well with food; food cooked or topped with cheese “stands up to it,” he said. The third offering, Nyx, is an apprentice beer: a “black IPA.” Herlicka said it looks, acts and smells like a stout but drinks like a “beautifully balanced, hop-filtered IPA.” Nyx is robust without the baggage, he said.
“This is a golden age of beer drinking. As a consumer you have beautiful traditional, modern American styles, like the pumpkin ale. At White Birch Brewing what we make are my preferences and my teams’ preferences. There are great traditional beers, but there’s so much more,” he said.