Seasonal Suds

As fall hikes give way to the first powder days of winter, there's a beer for every occasion

Sep 28, 2006
Outside Magazine

From left: Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen, Okto, Mahr's Bock, Celebrator   

AUTUMN BEERS STARTED COMING into their own during the Pagans Gone Wild Middle Ages, when, to match the festive moods of the fall harvest and the ritual cheer of winter, brewers began to amp their concoctions with extra hops (adding flavor and aroma) and grain (for more buzz). Thus were born our robust fall and winter beers. A few centuries later, Germany's Oktoberfest, a 16-day bacchanal commemorating a well-oiled royal wedding from 1810, generated its own namesake beer when Bavarian brewers mixed extra batches in the cool of March (high temps hinder brewing) and stowed them in Alpine ice caves during the summer. When they retrieved them in the fall, they discovered that the months of cold storage had produced exceptionally smooth brews. The ice caves have been replaced with industrial refrigeration, and most of us now mark the seasons by the type of gear racks on our cars. But, thankfully, the beers live on. Tape this page next to your calendar and drink accordingly.

OKTOBERFEST beers emphasize hearty malt flavor over the spice and tang of hops.

1. AYINGER OKTOBER FEST–MÄRZEN Ayinger Brewery, Germany // Amber-hued and nutty, with a hint of malty sweetness

2. OKTOBERFEST BROOKLYN BREWERY, NEW YORK // Bready and spicy—the perfect complement to a good brat

3. OKTO WIDMER BROTHERS BREWING CO.,OREGON // Rich and malty but subtly hopped, with a moderate 5.5 percent alcohol content by volume

FALL brings more substantial fare, with grainy heft, roasted malts, and a bigger alcoholic kick.

4. STICKE UERIGE, GERMANY // This caramelly yet crisp beer is released only on the third Tuesday of every October and January

5. BROTHER DAVID'S DOUBLE ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING CO., CALIFORNIA // Malty, rich Belgian-style ale with a bracing 9 percent alcohol content by volume

6. MAHR'S BOCK MAHR'S BREWERY, GERMANY // Pleasantly honeyish yet dry with notes of pear; would make a suitable cap to any hike

WINTER beers up the ante further, with more alcohol and hops—and sometimes added spices—for complexity and strength.

7. THIRD COAST OLD ALE BELL'S BREWERY, MICHIGAN // This garnet barley wine (with 9 percent alcohol by volume) erupts with complex,portlike flavors

8. CELEBRATOR AYINGER BREWERY, GERMANY // A smoky, toffeeish doppelbock (meaning, in a loose pun, strong as a goat)

9. CELEBRATION ALE SIERRA NEVADA BREWING CO., CALIFORNIA // With whole dried hops added to the brewing kettle, this ruddy-red beer has a citrusy, aromatic kick

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