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Autumn Beer Suggestions From SF Brewmasters

Just as seasons vary from one part of the country to another, so do regional seasonal beers. In the east, the local brewpubs are all about pumpkin ales this time of year. On the west coast, we have the succulent orange squash as well, which is the subject of a future blog, but right now it’s the end of our hop harvest season and time to enjoy beer bittered with fresh or “wet” hops. We asked the experts for their tasty suggestions for autumn brews.

Dave McLean, brewmaster and owner of Magnolia and the owner of Alembic Bar, explained the concept of fresh hopped beers. “Hops are very fragile when picked and need to be carefully dried to preserve them for use throughout the year. Fresh hop beers eliminate the drying step and are made using just-picked hops that are taken from field to waiting brew kettle in as short a time as possible, before any degradation might occur. This usually means getting them from the grower to the brewer in less than 48 hours." He adds, "Since the hops aren't dried, the flavor profile manifests all of the hops. Essentially, none of the most volatile flavors and aromas are driven off during processing." Dave notes that Magnolia still has a limited quantity of their wet-hopped beer, High Time Harvest Ale, available, but expects that it, like the season itself, will soon be gone.

Sayre Piotrkowski, Certified Cicerone and Beer Evangelist at Monk's Kettle, gave me the lowdown on his current fall favorite. “Of what I have tasted so far this year, the Fresh Hop Mirror Pond Pale Ale from Deschutes has been the biggest revelation. The brewery partnered with Oregon State University to cultivate a single plot of Cascade hops sewn from Heritage vines believed to pre-date prohibition. The wet Cascades are alive in this beer with an aroma of tart fruit and tropical flora. The extra hop oil gives the body of the beer a bit more juiciness and less astringency than the regular version of Mirror Pond.” Sayre added that they expect to be tapping a keg very soon.

For a third and different take, Dave Hauslein, the Beer Manager at Healthy Spirits, likes the Biere De Garde ("beer for keeping") styles for the fall months, even though they are released year round. He recommends the light and complex Cuvee De Jonquilles from Brasserie Bailleux. “Slightly maltier than a saison, but with similar farmhouse characteristics, these beers remind me of autumn on the East Coast, when the leaves are changing and the temperature is starting to drop.” He also noted that his personal fall favorite is Stillwater's Autumnal, a spiced saison from a gypsy brewery (a subculture of the craft beer industry involving brewing beer on the go) operating out of Maryland.