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Taste of Empire: Harvest Ales

With summer almost gone, fall brews take the spotlight

At this time of year “Harvest Ales” begin to appear on shelves. The name suggests styles of beer made with freshly harvested malts and hops, perhaps with a tendency toward pale ales and IPAs. Ales such as these using local ingredients would be expected to start turning up more frequently as the effects of the Governor’s Farm Brewery Act begin to mature. This result will surely be seen more commonly around WNY as farm breweries like Old First Ward and Hamburg Brewing begin to use more local ingredients from NY Craft Malts, Niagara Malt, and from hopyards such as McCollum Orchards and East Prairie Hops. In fact, in May the Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association hosted a Farm to Pint event at which seven local breweries used NYS ingredients to craft six unique brews.

However, the reality is that the moniker, Harvest Ale, is less of a beer style than a collection of styles that come out around this time of year with harvest, or autumnal, themes such as Oktoberfest, Pumpkin beers, and beers made with various fruits and spices that evoke the fall and the coming holiday season. The main distinction between “fall seasonals” and “harvest ales” does seem to be that some harvest ales do in fact use fresh hops (the first dried hops of the season), wet hops (hops used freshly picked and not dried first), and fresh malts. Ironically, perhaps the best known fresh-hop fresh-malt beer is Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale which is sold as a Holiday Ale not a Harvest Ale.

Cheers to more fresh local ingredients and more local brewers using them to fill our shops and taprooms with locally sourced harvest ales. In the meantime, visit your local beer bar or retailer and try some of the delicious harvest ales from local and national breweries, these are well worth the trip. Thanks to Dan Syracuse of Pizza Plant and expert taster Evil for tasting along with the author to give you our collective points of view on these brews.

All brews are available for purchase at Premier Gourmet.

Brooklyn Oktoberfest, 5.5%—Classic Oktoberfest malty nose and chestnut color with fruity flavor notes. Excellent. This beer screams to be enjoyed with a Spars Bratwurst!

Victory Festbier, 5.6%—Very faint nose with required notes and color. A solid and very drinkable effort, bigger body than many O’fests.

Great Lakes Oktoberfest, 6.5%—This one defines the style with a classic Märzen nose and highly effervescent. While this bubbly aspect might be filling the flavor and aroma is worth the price of entry.

Firestone Walker, Oaktoberfest, 5%—This is a supremely drinkable Octoberfest that is made in a very traditional German fashion and served at an annual party in oak barrels (thus the name). Has a bit more hop presence than some of this style. Spectacular!

Harpoon Pumpkin Cider, 4.8%—This cider smells like Thanksgiving and tastes a bit like mincemeat pie. It’s an apple cider spiced with pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, clove and nutmeg. Fun and drinkable—would pair well warmed in a mug with Halloween Night!

Cape Ann Brewing, Fisherman’s Pumpkin Stout, 6.75%—Flavors of smoke, pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Would taste great with roasted chipotle pumpkin seeds or a butternut squash soup. Medium bodied and very drinkable.

Southern Tier Pumpking, 8.6%—Sit down and sip this—it’s a grand experience of complex pumpkin-spice aromas and flavors that are reminiscent of pipe-tobacco and holiday good times. This defines the style and is a must drink seasonal beer. Hurry before it’s gone!

Ommegang Sythe & Sickle Harvest Ale, 5.8%—Brewed with barley, wheat, oats and rye to showcase the malt harvest framed by a subtle hop character and the fruity notes delivered by Ommegang’s signature house yeast. Get this while it’s good and fresh!

Tröegs Hop Knife Harvest Ale (IPA), 6.20%— Awesome nose like being hit on the head with a hop pillow. Excellent malt and hops balance. Delicious.

Southern Tier Harvest Ale, 6.70%—Nice hoppy but balanced nose. A touch of citrus flavor and a complex hop profile that encourages the next sip and frames an excellent lingering bitterness. Marks the changing of the seasons like geese flying south. Yes!

Sierra Nevada Harvest Single Hop IPA Equinox, 6.5%—This beer was made with 100% Equinox hops...this is a light bodied IPA with a malt profile the educates the palate on this hop. It’s one of a five-bottle Harvest series, with single hop, fresh hop, wet hop, and wild hop beers. Worth the price of entry.

Willard Brooks is the Chairman of Buffalo Beer Week and president of the Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association.

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