My Favorite Time of the Beer (Fall Beers)

Fall Beer (Originally published in The Beach Reporter)

There is a change in the air, leaves are falling, the temperature is dropping and the beer aisle of your favorite bottle shop is showing off its fall colors.

Fall is one of my favorite times to drink beer, and fall beers, like the season itself, are darker, a bit more heavy and often have a higher ABV meant to ward off that fall chill that hits even Southern California. They also provide ample opportunity for brewers to show off their creativity, using fresh (sometimes called wet) hops, seasonal spices, barrel aging and yes even pumpkins, yams and other fall vegetables.


One of my favorite beers for the fall are the wet-hopped harvest beers. Normally beer is hopped with hops that have been dried and often pelletized, but beginning in 1996 with Sierra Nevada’s (Chino, Calif.) “Harvest Ale” (now called “Northern Hemisphere Harvest IPA”) American brewers began experimenting with fresh-from-the-vine hops. Working with growers, these brewers arrange for the expedited shipment of fresh hops and complete the brewing process within 24 hours of harvest. Like Sierra Nevada’s offering, most of these beers fall into the IPA/Pale Ale category, which perfectly highlights the earthy and, some say, herbal or vegetal quality of fresh hops.

To me, these beers offer a balance not found in many of today’s IPAs; the malty sweetness play a perfect counterpart to the more subtle less pungent hop flavors found in fresh-picked hops. Don’t get me wrong, the hops are ever present and quite delicious; they are just toned down. Many of these beers are also dry hopped, that is, fresh hops are added to the beer when it goes through its secondary fermentation. Dry hopping especially with fresh hops doesn’t add bitterness (you have to boil hops to create the bitter compounds), instead it adds wonderful hop flavor and aroma to the beer.

You can find “Northern Hemisphere Harvest IPA” and Deschutes’ (Bend, Ore.) “Chasin’ Freshies Fresh Hop IPA” in just about any well-stocked beer store; however the time and effort involved in fresh-hopped beer means supplies are limited, so call ahead. Locally Smog City (as of 10/19) still had their “Wet Hoptonic” pouring at the tasting room in Torrance, and if you can find a designated driver to cart you up the freeway, The Bruery (Placentia) is still pouring “Humulus Wet no.8,” their popular hoppy lager brewed with fresh hops.


These beers are best enjoyed now; the longer they sit in the keg or on the shelf the more their delicate aromas and flavors deteriorate. And since the hop harvest runs from late September to late October it’s time to get your hands on these beers now.

If fresh IPAs aren’t your thing, fall also brings out oktoberfest/marzens, porters, browns and stouts. These dark ales offer craft beer drinkers an amazing variety of dark and aromatic flavors. Many people shy away from dark beers believing them to be bitter, but I can assure you, most dark beers are relatively mild and often sweet and rich with chocolate, coffee and spice notes.


I’m a huge fan of these varieties during the fall, but my absolute favorite fall beers come from Henry Nguyen at Monkish Brewing in Torrance. Monkish specializes in Belgian style ales with a creative twist and Henry’s dubbels (rich amber to brown ales with lots of malty sweetness and very little hop bitterness) and tripels (not actually a dark beer, but a rich golden beer usually high in alcohol) are perfect for fall. My favorites are “Rosa’s Hips,” a Belgian dubbel flavored with rose hips, which offer a bit of floral tang to a rich and malty ale or “Shaolin Fist,” that same dubbel but flavored with sichuan peppercorns; here the malty sweetness gives way to a slow peppery finish perfect for a chill fall afternoon. But Monkish’s “Seme Della Vita” is my favorite fall warmer, a wonderful tripel flavored with pistachios and vanilla.  

If you really want pumpkin in your beer, now is the time. Pumpkin beers are everywhere. To my palate most pumpkin beers are too sweet and overwhelmed with pumpkin pie spices, but there are a few brewers who have a deft hand with pumpkin and other fall vegetables. My favorites come from Dogfish Head (Maryland, but widely available in well-stocked stores) and The Bruery. There aren’t too many people who would call Dogfish Head beers subtle, but “Punkin Ale” is just that. Rather than hit you over the head with the pumpkin and spice, Punkin is a full-bodied brown ale with hints of spice, pumpkin and nice brown sugar finish. The Bruery’s “Autumn Maple” is a fall beer for people who really like fall flavors. Using yams instead of pumpkin and finished with molasses, maple syrup, all spice, nutmeg and vanilla, the recipe reads as a sweet mess, but Patrick Rue and his team ferment this beer with their house Belgian yeast strain, a yeast that does very well with sweet fermentables, creating an incredibly aromatic beer redolent of Thanksgiving. If you want pumpkin/sweet potato pie in glass done with a subtle hand, this is your beer.   

Fall is only here for a few more months, soon the beer isles will be bedecked with Christmas and holiday beers, so while it lasts get out there and enjoy the fruits of the harvest.  

It's in the Canfest 2014

The beer we all love is finally getting the packaging it deserves. More and more brewers are canning their beers and its more than a passing fad or marketing gimmick, it’s actually good for beer, and craft beer enthusiasts should embrace this movement.

When the craft beer revolution began, brewers packaged their beers in bottles primarily for cost. The capital outlay for a canning line was an expense no craft brewer could justify;  small, often used bottling equipment or hand bottling was the only option. Bottling was also a means of distinguishing their product from the cheap canned ones they were competing with and adding an elegance that would justify the higher prices of artisanal beer. Bottling thus became for many consumers the de facto marker of craft beer and a quality product.

If bottles represented quality, the beer from cans was perceived as inferior with a slightly metallic taste. Without this poor reputation there would be no irony in the hipster consumption of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Yet, many of these misperceptions weren’t the fault of the can, but the product inside it. Bad beer is bad beer no matter how you package it.

Canning is actually better for beer than bottling. Beer in a can maintains its quality and freshness since it’s not spoiled by light or oxidation.

In glass bottles, especially green and clear ones, beer can become light struck, a condition caused when u.v. light breaks down hop derived isohumulones breaking them apart and allowing them to bind with sulphur atoms, creating skunky off flavor. I find this flavor most prevalent in mishandled Heineken. So common is this problem that many people think the skunky character is a normal flavor in some beers.

Oxidation is another problem for bottled beer. Bottle caps eventually allow oxygen to pass into the beer, and an oxidized beer is a stale beer. While millions of dollars have been spent creating oxygen-absorbing caps, they’ll never be as effective as an entirely sealed can. Cans are essentially miniaturized kegs, keeping light and oxygen well away from the beer inside.

As for the metallic flavors being imparted from cans, not to worry. Modern cans are completely lined and no raw metal touches the beer.

The Dude's Double Trunk IPA

Cans are also more portable; they don’t break. They can be chilled quicker than glass, and from an environmental standpoint are cheaper and easier to recycle. Cans are also lighter, so shipping them is economical and more fuel efficient. Really, there is no reason not to embrace the can.

Today there are more than 350 breweries canning their product. Nationally, craft brewers like Oskar Blues (the first to can craft beer in 2002), Anderson Valley, 21st Amendment, and Surly Brewing have all shifted much of their packaging to cans. Even larger regional brewers like Sierra Nevada and Boston Beer Company, who have spent millions on bottle and cap design and their bottling lines to ensure a quality and consistent product have, this year, started to release their famous Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Sam Adam’s Boston Lager in cans.

Locally my favorite canned beer comes from the Dudes Brewing Company in Torrance (who can all of their beers) and from Los Angeles Brewer Golden Road. You can find both The Dudes and Golden Road in groceries stores and liquor stores throughout Southern, CA.

The Dudes “Double Trunk” is a remarkably clean and drinkable Double IPA and the canning process really helps to maintain the hop aromas essential to enjoying a beer of this style. Their “Grandma’s Pecan” brown ale is one of my top 10 beers of this year, and again the nutty aromas are well preserved in the can and quite up front as one pours it into a glass.

Golden Road "Better Weather IPA

Golden Road has a beautiful and quite enjoyable tasting room not too far from the Autry Museum and L.A. Zoo. Their delicious “Cabrillo Kölsch,” “Point the Way IPA,” “Get Up Offa That Brown,” and “Golden Road Hefeweizen” are easy to find year round and worth checking out.

If you want to get hands on with canned beer you should check out this year's Canfest 2014 in Reno Nevada. There you'll be able to sample canned beer from across the nation and even more interesting is the addition of international brewers. So far they will feature beers from 21st Amendment (San Francisco, CA), Anderson Valley (Boonville, CA), Bomber Brewing (BC, Canada), Fort George Brewery (Astoria, OR), Fremont Brewing (Seattle, WA), Hanger 24 (Redlands, CA), Payette Brewing (Boise, ID), Santa Fe Brewing (New Mexico), Sierra Nevada, Southern Star Brewing Co. (Conroe, TX), Uinita Brewing (Salt Lake, UT), and more are being scheduled. Tickets can be had on their website or on their Facebook page

Bottled or canned? I think the answer is clear.

Review: Beachwood BBQ (Long Beach, CA) "Hops of Brixton"

Beer: Beachwood BBQ and Brewing (Long Beach) “Hops of Brixton”

Style: English Style ESB

English ESB (extra special bitter) is one in a category of English bitters (ordinary bitter, special bitter, and extra special bitter). Bitters were traditionally the standard bearers in any English brewer's repertoire with the ESB (as the name might suggest) being the brewery's flagship beer. Despite their name these beers are not bitter. In fact they are often very mild, brewed to be malty and slightly sweet/fruity with a subtle hoppy aroma and light hop bitterness. In today's vernacular these beers are "session beers." Lower in alcohol and medium bodied, bitters are meant to be drank in social situations where one might want to drink more than one and still be able to walk away from the bar.

American craft brewers have adopted the style but craft their ESBs to American tastes. Using domestically grown malt and hops the American ESB is slightly more aggressive in its hop profile, so a bit more bitter than its English cousin, but it’s also full bodied and rich in malt sweetness, which balances the additional hops. If you’re looking to introduce a reluctant friend to the world of craft beer, ESB is a great place to start.

Beachwood's version of the ESB Hops of Brixton bucks the American trend and tries to remain faithful to the British original. Hops of Brixton features a traditional British malt bill that including Maris Otter, and caramel malts with a bit of flaked barley added to the mash resulting in a medium-bodied beer that reveals rich aromas and flavors of toast, or fresh baked bread, a toffee like sweetness and a mild bitterness brought on by those quintessential English Kent Goldings hops, which provide the beer with a traditional "English style" hop finish. At 6.1% abv (alcohol by volume), I wouldn't call Hops of Brixton a session beer (though some would and I’ll admit the growler I bought went down quite easily this past weekend). It  is ultimately a delicious example of an English/American ESB.

ESBs are food friendly beers and, given their pub history, work extremely well paired with pub grub like fish and chips, bangers and mash, corned beef, but they are equally happy paired with BBQ, roasted meats (lamb and pork especially), grilled sausages, English cheeses (Cheddar, Stilton, and Costwold pair particularly well) and smoked and preserved meats.


Golden Road Brewing "Heal the Bay IPA"

Golden Road Brewing "Heal the Bay IPA." 

Golden Road Brewing "Heal the Bay IPA." 

As promised, I celebrated IPA Day with Golden Road Brewing's "Heal the Bay IPA." While not a fan of the cutesy rhyming that Golden Road employs in naming their IPAs (Point the Way IPA, Heal the Bay IPA, all brewed in LA, you get the idea), I have become quite enamored with their beer and Heal the Bay doesn't disappoint. Heal the Bay is a light-colored, near golden IPA with a hop forward nose and pleasant up front bitterness. There is just enough malt to balance the hops without being too sweet. Citrus hop flavors dominate throughout, leaving a enjoyable grapefruit/lemon after taste. Overall, a perfect beer for summer in LA. Plus, the more you drink the more you help the environment; a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this IPA supports Heal the Bay, an important and worthy organization who care for California's beaches, rivers and waterways.