The leaves have barely begun falling from the trees, yet it's already time to celebrate fall and welcome in winter with some seasonal beers. We're not just talking about styles of beer either. While summer is about lagers, session ales and blondes, in the fall, brewers take advantage of seasonal ingredients like pumpkin and fresh hops. And just as Oktoberfest beers start flying off the shelves, winter ales begin being stocked on them.
Washington State grows about 75% of the nation's hops. When they are harvested in late August and early September, area brewers take advantage of the fresh crop and add the freshly picked hops to their brews. The addition of fresh hops adds bright floral aromas and spiciness that are not characteristics commonly found in dried hops or hop pellets. Fresh hop beers must use the freshly harvested hops within 24 hours, and these beers have a shorter shelf life--just a few short months before that fresh hop flavor begins to fade.
Hopheads can sample fresh hop beers at The Fresh Hop Throwdown at The Noble Fir on October 15. From 4-11 p.m., you can taste and compare beers from 15 brewers from Washington and Oregon. Earlier the same day, judges will blind taste the lineup and choose a winner to be announced to the public that evening. Breweries include Washington's own Big Al's, Big Time, 7 Seas, and more. Oregon is sending up Laurelwood, Hopworks and Double Mountain, among others.
Pumpkin beer is another seasonal favorite in the Pacific Northwest that signals the beginning of fall. While it doesn't have the strict rules surrounding it that fresh hop beers do, using pumpkin while it is in season is the inspiration around these beers. Some brewers use fresh pumpkin, while others use canned. Many use herbs and spices associated with pumpkin desserts, such as ginger, cinnamon and cloves. My favorite pumpkin beers are the ones that use a light hand on the seasonings so just a hint of pumpkin flavor and aroma comes through in the beer.
Elysian Brewery's Great Pumpkin Beer Festival is coming up on October 8 and 9 at the brewery's new facility in Georgetown. There will be around 50 different pumpkin beers served--including 11 brewed by Elysian. There will be food for sale from trucks like Where Ya At Matt, Skillet, and Snout & Co., and the tapping of the great pumpkin happens each day at 4 p.m. Breweries include Allagash from Maine, Nøgne Ø from Norway, Iron Hill from Pennsylvania, plus Northwest favorites Black Raven, Schooner Exact and many more. Complete details and pre-sale tickets at elysianbrewing.com.
Snow Cap is both a noun and a verb in my house, ever since a friend had to crash on the couch after a few too many of the high-octane brews. He was "snow capped." Pyramid Breweries' annual contribution to the "winter warmers" style of beer is full-bodied with a little bit of herbal spiciness, a hoppy bite and around 7% ABV. It's the perfect accompaniment to rich, hearty winter dishes like braised short ribs and hearty stews. After a day on the slopes, I'm cracking open a Snow Cap, not pouring a glass of rosé.
Pyramid introduced Pacific Northwest beer lovers to Snow Cap in 1986, making this year the 25th anniversary of the beer. The annual Snow Cap Party at the Pyramid Brewery in SoDo promises to be even bigger to celebrate this milestone. The party begins on October 8 at 7 p.m. Get your tickets in advance at brownpapertickets.com.