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Seasonal Beers

November 30, 2012

This is a beer town. I say that despite the opening of the Troy wine bar and their fantastic wine list. But there are many more places to drink great beer. I just wrote about The Ruck and their killer wings on AOA. And I have always loved Mahars even though I wish they had more seating. But the list of great beer halls is much longer than that of wine bars.

Not too long ago I was at The City Beer Hall with Mrs. Fussy and we created two different beer flights. Each was composed of four five-ounce pours from their beer lines. The first was a selection of IPAs. The second was a more wintery mix of brews.

For the curious, the IPAs included Crossroads Outrage, Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada Floral, and Dogfish Head 60-minute. The wintery mix was made up of Harpoon Winter Warmer, Ommegang Abbey Ale, Firestone DBA, and Southern Tier 2X Christmas.

One of the great things about these flights in particular is that they were only $6 a piece. It’s a steal. But the other great thing about flights in general is that a well selected grouping can really help you get a better understanding of not just a style, but also your own taste.

After drinking eight beers, what did I learn?

First I learned that the Crossroads Outrage was my favorite among the IPAs and the Firestone DBA went amazingly well with the braised short rib shepherd’s pie. I also became reacquainted with the phenomenon of how the order of a tasting can affect the results.

Mrs. Fussy and I were stymied about the provenance of the Dogfish Head 60-minute. It’s a beer we’re both familiar with, but that night it tasted different. Not bad. Just not like itself. We had seriously contemplated that we were given the wrong beer. After our second flight of wintery beers, we ordered one last half pint of the Dogfish Head 60.

This tasted like the beer we knew.

What had happened was that the bitterness from all of the other IPAs transformed the Dogfish Head into something else. Its own bitterness was diminished, and as a result it wasn’t quite as good.

It’s an important lesson to remember when tasting anything. Your tastebuds can play tricks on you. That’s the story of The Pepsi Challenge.

But I also learned that while I love drinking certain beers in winter, I’m not a big fan of winter beers. Christmas beers and pumpkin beers have their fans. But I really don’t go for the sweet spice profile of these styles.

For me, winter calls not for warming spice, but for something thick and hearty. Give me a porter or a stout. Something that’s dark and heavy, deeply roasted and maybe even a bit smokey. A beer you can sit by the fire and contemplate. A beer that would be as out of place on a hot summer day as pants on a trout.

I don’t know why IPAs feel more fall-like. My favorite have a bit of grapefruit brightness to them. And grapefruit is seasonally appropriate to winter. Maybe it’s that their more golden color is redolent of the changing leaves, while the porters and stouts conjure up the long dark nights of winter.

The exciting thing is that there are so many places to explore more of these beers in the area. The killer part is that we have no good late night public transportation here and almost everything is a drive. Still, instead of going out and only having one beer, the City Beer Hall found a way for me to split two flights. That means I could effectively sample everything I wanted to try on their tap line and still be able to drive home safely.

That’s something special. This place is great, and their food is pretty freakin’ delicious too. But unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, that last part (along with praises for their beer brunch) is all old news.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. -R. permalink
    November 30, 2012 11:34 am

    I hate to admit it, but I’m over Ommegang. They produce a nice line of beer, but they never stray far from Belgian-style bottle conditioned ales, all with a close family flavor profile. They need to branch out and diversify; I’d love to see what they could come up with were they to simply make a killer porter (like draft Smuttynose Robust Porter) or pale ale without any Belgian lineage. On the other hand, Dogfish Head has such a wide scope to their brewing, it can be overwhelming sometimes. Also, I concur with your opinion of the Crossroads IPA – it’s rather worth the bucolic drive down to Athens to check out the brewery itself and have a bite to eat at their brewpub. Of all the local breweries, Crossroads is quickly winning my heart and taste buds.
    One of my favorite seasonals is Full Sail ‘Wreck The Halls’ – try one out the next time you’re at Olivers.

    • November 30, 2012 3:29 pm

      It’s interesting to think of Ommegang as needing to diversify. I think of them similarly to Unibroue (they do the same type of beer, generally), and I don’t mind that they both fill this one specific niche. If you can do one thing well, sometimes it’s better to just stick to that–try new little things here and there–and let other breweries who do those other styles well maintain that terrain.

    • Chris VanDoren permalink
      December 2, 2012 3:48 am

      We had a seasonal blind beer tasting a few days ago – my first time and very interesting what putting the bottle in a bag does… Anyway the Full Sail “Wreck the Halls” was a favorite (and the best named) along with Southern Tier Crampus, Rogue Yellow Snow, and Rogue Santa something. The Ridgeway (Bad ELf) beers were horrible (last years?)

  2. November 30, 2012 11:41 am

    A flight of beers and the free pizza at City Beer Hall is the best way for a cheap date on the town. Heck, if you feel like splurging, that 518 burger is magical and not too pricey either. I can’t get enough CBH.

    I love a smokey porter in the winter but I do enjoy the spicy winter seasonals as well. For a long time i thought they were awful but in recent years I’ve really developed a liking for fall and winter seasonal beers.

    That night you went to CBH a couple hours after we left you missed out on one one of the best beers I’ve ever tried there – the Evil Twin Soft Dookie (Looks like most Evil Twin beers have, um, interesting names). Now THAT was a yummy winter beer. Strong, dark, full of chocolate and a bit of smoke. It was really rich and warming (probably the 10%+ ABV). If you ever see it on the board again, don’t hesitate in ordering a pint (they wouldn’t put it on a flight).

  3. November 30, 2012 11:56 am

    I’ve never read your blog before, but I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I couldn’t agree more. When Fall/Winter roll around I find myself looking elsewhere for the beer I want. I’m not a huge fan of the spiced and seasonal beers. Like you, I’ll gladly take a porter (Anchor please!) or a nice Stout (Bells Expedition anyone?).

    Thanks for writing!

  4. November 30, 2012 12:33 pm

    IPAs can seem fall-appropriate mainly because many lean extreme. Hops, hops and more hops require a hefty malt backbone to balance the flavors so you’re not drinking an acidic glass of lawn clippings, so the hoppier IPAs will generally be your heavier IPAs.

    But extreme is the trend among many American breweries, especially when considering seasonal flavors. It’s very easy to bulk up a beer, but very difficult to get a consistent flavor out of a lighter bodied beer (which is where a nod to AB-InBev is deserved – say what you want about light American lager, but it’s consistent every time). So you’ll find that many fall pumpkin beers, for example, are a bit over the top with regard to spicing and sweetness. I much prefer a mellower pumpkin where all flavors are present but don’t conflict with the base style of the beer. In that respect, Brown’s succeeds year after year in brewing a fantastic pumpkin ale. If you can’t get to Brown’s while they have it (very limited time because it’s so popular) then look for bottles of Long Trail’s pumpkin ale. It’s as close to what you’ll find at Brown’s as possible, and is something you could sit down with a 6-pack of over the course of a session.

    I love me a big beer or three, but I much prefer to enjoy exceptional sessionable beers. There are some excellent ones out there for every season and specialty, but you need to taste around to find them. Of course everyone’s taste is different, so try to follow your own taste and not the hype as much as possible.

    • November 30, 2012 3:39 pm

      “It’s very easy to bulk up a beer, but very difficult to get a consistent flavor out of a lighter bodied beer (which is where a nod to AB-InBev is deserved – say what you want about light American lager, but it’s consistent every time).”

      This sounds like the beer side of DB’s discussion recently about the “consistency” of chain restaurants versus the somewhat inconsistent–in a good way–results turned out at thoughtful independent restaurants.

      And in terms of beer, I’m going to side with the inconsistency; I love, for instance, breweries that put out seasonals and tweak the recipe just slightly from year to year. But I do agree that this is much more often done with the bulkier beers, as you say, than lighter-bodied ones.

  5. Michaeline permalink
    November 30, 2012 1:18 pm

    *clink* Cheers to the City Beer Hall!

  6. November 30, 2012 1:41 pm

    Nice post, as we don’t often realize how tastes change depending on what we have previously had to drink or eat. I’m sure most of you are familiar with this saying regarding wine…sell wine with cheese, buy wine with bread. The why is obvious, wine and cheese are the perfect pairing, elevating the wine. Bread is a palate cleanser and sponge and lets the true “quality” of the wine come through.

    BUT, this is about beer, Dogfish Head 90 Imperial IPA is my go to IPA but 6 Point Resin is a close second. Actually, I really like Ithaca Flower Power IPA but I just can’t find it. We visit NYC fairly often and in resaurants you’re seeing more offering beer appropriate for each course, as well as wine pairings.

    It’s great having more craft beers/ales coming into the market because they give us variety over the “light” stuff.

    • albanylandlord permalink
      December 2, 2012 3:51 am

      Westmere beverage got a large shipment of Flower Power in a few weeks ago and might still have some. You can’t have mine :)

  7. November 30, 2012 2:59 pm

    Flower Power is excellent, as is Nugget Nectar if you can nab it in time. Dogfish Head’s IPAs have been lost on me over time as I’ve found so many that are better. Whether it’s the 60 Minute, 75, 90, or 120, they’re all just a bit unbalanced in one way or another.

  8. November 30, 2012 3:34 pm

    Ever tried the Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout? That seems like a winter seasonal that could be in line with your tastes. It is awfully heavy, though, so best to enjoy it at home.

    I’m a sucker for some of those winter spiced beers, but like with pumpkin ones, it’s hard to find a nicely balanced one and can understand those who are put off by them. As a matter of fact, I’m working on my first post about my search for my winter seasonal replacement for Ohio’s Great Lakes Christmas Ale. Shall I say to look for this first installment tomorrow? Okay.

  9. Josh K permalink
    November 30, 2012 11:15 pm

    This area really is a beer lover’s mecca. Ommegang, Cross Roads, Evan’s Kick Ass Brown, Brown’s Brewing, Smoked Porters, Coffee Stouts, Oatmeal Stouts, Southern Tier 2Xmas…can’t really go wrong anywhere. It’s great that we can walk into bars and see these on type and debate over which breweries and styles are better.

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