Shorter days and cooler nights change more than foliage. Summer’s golden ales are giving way to red, brown – and darker -- beers, as local brewers launch their seasonal creations.
Most area brewers are working on harvest and Oktoberfest-inspired libations, which tend to back off on the bittering hops, allowing malty, roasted flavors to emerge.
Both Great Flats Brewing, which opened on Lafayette St. in Schenectady June, and Mad Jack Brewing on Union Street in the city brewed traditional Marzen/Oktoberfest lagers for the season – each launched during Oktoberfest-themed parties earlier this month.
Great Flats, which opened in June, is already experimenting with small-batch recipes alongside its year-round brews. The most recent is a raspberry farmhouse ale, brewed with raspberries picked by the brewers themselves at Indian Ladder Farms, in Altamont.
Owners Harry Whalen and Tom Owens also added an amber beer and a harvest ale to the mix – both brewed with hops they grew themselves -- for the season, Whalen said, adding that the new brewery is still playing around a bit with recipes.
“We’ve had good feedback,” Whalen said. “We’re starting to do cask ales and smaller one-off things [including the raspberry farmhouse].”
Pictured: Tom Owens, co-owner of Great Flats Brewing in Schenectady, transfers hops between containers in the Franklin Street establishment Sept. 2, 2017. (Peter R. Barber)
Brian Conley, brewer for Mad Jack, is also planning a traditional Oktoberfest-style lager, brewed with Munich malt and Hallertau hops.
“The other beer we’re making .. is a majority NYS ingredients beer,” Conley said. “At least 80 percent of the ingredients [will be New York-grown], with Mabee Farm … supplying us with some of their hops and pumpkins and butternut squash.”
Conley said the harvest beer won’t be overdone on the spice side, though – what he called a cinnamon/nutmeg bomb – though a little cinnamon will be added to counter the bitterness of the hops.
Druthers Brewing Co., Saratoga/Albany
George de Piro, chief brewing officer and founding partner of Druthers Brewing Co., has a plan for seasonal beers – a beer that features apple cider and an traditional Oktoberfest lager -- though wasn’t rushing things.
“It’s still summer, so apples aren’t in season yet,” Piro said earlier this month. “We will be getting apple cider to make the apple beer in a few weeks.
The Oktoberfest was coming sooner, and Piro mused over the popularity of the malty, seasonal favorite, considering the way summer taps were dominated by India pale ales, which are a lot heavier on hops.
“It’s fun to see something sell better than an IPA for a change,” Piro said. “All year long, people drink IPA. It’s our No. 1 seller, until the fall.”
That’s when people’s palates seem to prefer a more balanced beverage – at least for a little while.
“And then you forget that you like malty beer and just drink IPA again,” Piro said, with a laugh.
Druthers, which has locations in Saratoga Springs and Albany – and, coming sometime in the near future, Schenectady – will roll out the seasonal brews as they become available in those cities, since the brew schedules vary by each brewery’s batch-size capabilities and other needs.
Piro said the need to have a fall seasonal selection is secondary to just having new beers for people to try each time they come to a craft brewer.
“Our definition of seasonal isn’t quite the same as a bigger brewery,” Piro explained. “Especially in Saratoga, which is a relatively small brewery, we can put a beer on that we only make once a year, and it might be gone in two weeks. That’s a mighty short season.”
But the smaller batch sizes ensure fans of the brewery won’t get bored, either.
“There are a good number of people who really like beer and know about different beers, and they want to have something different every time they come in,” he said. “It’s also a heck of a lot more fun to brew something other than an IPA for a change.
Stump City Brewing, Gloversville
One of the region’s newest breweries, Stump City is working on their first fall seasonal ale: a traditional Oktoberfest lager, according to Nick Sherman, who together with his brother, Matt, his father, Jerry and Caesy Oar, founded Stump City in May.
The brewery is already planning an expansion, since its one-barrel capacity leaves it struggling to keep up with demand for its year-round beers, Nick Sherman said. It’s a good problem to have, though he’s looking forward to being able to add more flavors to the taps.
“We’re having a hard time doing specialties because we don’t have enough capacity – and too many customers,” Sherman said with a laugh. “They drink up our flagships before we can make more.”
As a result, the brewery will be expanding to a five-barrel system -- with vessels big enough to make beer in five-barrel batches (each barrel yields about 31 gallons of beer) – in the spring, Sherman said.
Chances are, readers will find seasonal beers on tap at whatever craft brewery they visit this time of year. Most are pretty active in posting their new offerings on webites or Facebook pages, so if you’re planning a drive do the mountains or along the Hudson or Mohawk river valleys to take in fall foliage, a little research could yield a taste of the other colors fall has to offer. Just drink responsibly, please.