With warm weather in the rear-view mirror like cars raced by Dominic Toretto, it’s time to look forward to fall. And more importantly, the beer cold winds bring.
Ah yes, fall brews are typically a little darker and heavier. With these babies, you don’t want to consume five or six of the same style, because generally they aren’t as light as their summer cousins. Pumpkin (sweet and not-so-sweet) and fall seasonals operate as the perfect in-between for fruity varietals on warmer days to porters and stouts as the leaves change color and the temperature drops.
We ventured out to ask retailers around the DMV what’s on their short list this fall, and they gave us 20-plus suggestions over the course of our mini-discussions. Read on for the inside scoop.
Julie Drews and Beth Helle
Owners, The Brew Shop
On Tap: What new beers are you looking forward to this fall?
Beth Helle: Within the last few years, it seems like some of the breweries have started shifting away from the pumpkin beers and begun reclaiming Oktoberfest, so it’s good to see a revitalization of such an old school, traditional style with each putting their own twist on it. The other thing is that it’s harvest time for hops, so we’re getting fresh harvest beers, mostly in draft form.
OT: What are your thoughts on pumpkin beer?
Julie Drews: I think it’s fashionable to hate on pumpkin beer, but people are secretly drinking it at their houses because we’re already selling it. I think it’s easily the top-selling seasonal style year-round. Pumpkin beats out all the others.
BH: We’ve created two Pumpkin Patch variety packs for people to try this season.
OT: How did you pick what’s in your pumpkin packs?
JD: Drinking, the reputation of the beers and the breweries, and what we remember doing well last year.
The Brew Shop: 2004 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.arlbrew.com
Commander-in-Beer, Craft Beer Cellar
On Tap: What beers do you enjoy during the fall, both as a retailer and a consumer?
Erika Goedrich: We try to provide and educate customers on what kinds of things they are looking for. We have a variety of pumpkin beers such as Two Roads’ Roadsmary’s Baby, aged in rum barrels, and [Southern Tier’s] Rumking, which is [their] Pumking aged in rum barrels. We then have varieties like the Pecan Pie Porter from Clown Shoes and a pecan ale from Abita. There are also some autumn IPAs like the Hop Knife from Tröegs and the Hopzeit from Deschutes Brewery.
OT: What fall seasonals would you suggest to folks accustomed to their summer palate?
EG: The Foxxy IPA from Union Craft is a good one to transition with, or even some of the more hoppy lagers from Stone. If people have been drinking the pilsners and the light lagers for most of the summer, they’re not too much of a departure from those. Oktoberfest beers are good too, but sometimes they’re a little on the sweeter side.
OT: What are some local breweries doing that you enjoy?
EG: I think the Ale Works Pumpkin beer is pretty good. The two Oktoberfests from DC Brau and Port City are both standouts.
Craft Beer Cellar: 501 H St. NE, DC; www.craftbeercellar.com
Manager, Total Wine Alexandria
On Tap: How do you select what pumpkin beers to showcase?
Ben Owens: Seasonal beers are in and out, so once we sell out, that’s it. If we’ve committed to 10 cases of Southern Tier Pumking, once those are gone, that’s it. You can sell pumpkin beers through Thanksgiving.
OT: What’s a good transitional beer for someone who’s still fixated on the summer texture?
BO: Instead of getting in the pumpkin stuff, I would say the Oktoberfest because they’re mostly amber ales. If you go straight to the barrel-aged pumpkin, you’ll never drink it again. Or you can just stick with craft beer lagers – something like Devils Backbone.
OT: What do you consider staples of the season?
BO: Hofbräu Oktoberfest, Paulaner, Southern Tier and Schlaffly.
OT: What are some popular local fall seasonals?
BO: Devils Backbone has a pumpkin beer that’s really good, and Port City has a really good Oktoberfest beer. Their winter seasonal, Tidings, is really hard to get ahold of – we never get enough of it.
Total Wine Alexandria: 6240 Little River Turnpike, Alexandria, VA; www.totalwine.com
Owner, Eye Street Cellars
On Tap: Is your fall selection based more on what you think people are going to buy, or what you really like?
Pankaj Malhotra: You want to stock up on the staples, but then people want to try different stuff. So you always want to make sure you have a little more than just the staples. You’ve always got to find a balance, but then there’s so much crazy stuff going on with craft beers now. Despite how much space we have, we’re running out of space. I’m actually planning more shelves over here, just to have more beers.
OT: What beers would you suggest to someone looking to try something new this fall?
PM: I tried Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin recently, and I was very impressed. Lately, I’ve been having a lot of porters and stouts. For somebody who wants something a little heavier, Anderson Valley’s Autumn Maple is excellent. It’s still a brown ale, so it’s not as heavy as a stout, but you still get the fall flavors. Then of course there’s the limited release stuff from Westbrook, like Evil Twin.
Eye Street Cellars: 425 I St. NW, DC; www.eyestreetcellars.com
Beer Director, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill
On Tap: How much wiggle room do you have when you compile your beer list?
Tristan Walton: Schlafly Pumpkin always sells really well, [as do] Southern Tier Pumking and Warlock – their stout is really popular. I stick with what works and try to bring in some new labels. Sierra Nevada always changes their Oktoberfest recipe, so it’s fun to bring in a few cases of that just to see what’s changed since last year. But as far as what I bring in, it’s a free-for-all – whatever I like, [and] whatever the customers want.
OT: What varietals do you suggest for people looking for something new?
TW: I think Weihenstephaner Festbier is a good one, as it’s still light enough and not very heavy. As far as something new on the craft side, all the harvest ales are worth drinking.
OT: What beers transition best from summer to fall?
TW: I will always say an Oktoberfest is a good move. You can go through the 30 different labels they have in the city, and I’m sure you’ll find one you like. I just find those not too hoppy [or] heavy, so you’re not going to get the stout and spice of a pumpkin beer, but just drinkable lagers. Some do the autumn IPAs, [but there’s a shift] toward the harvest, the lagers – more middle of the road. As far as profile goes, [they’re] not going to be too hoppy.
Schneider’s of Capitol Hill: 300 Massachusetts Ave. NE, DC; www.cellar.com