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Seasonal Brews

March 23, 2010

I’ve often told people that I’m not a big fan of seasonal brews. I realize now that I was not really paying close enough attention to my preferences. I like a whole bunch of beer that is only released at certain times of year but I often don’t like beers that attach ‘spring’, ‘summer’, ‘fall’ or ‘autumn’ or ‘octoberfest’ and ‘winter’ to their names. Cynicism about to spew forth:  I often figured that seasonal brews were made because they would sell more beer. The reasoning being that an established brewery would have to produce brews for each season as well as their year round brews  so that they wouldn’t lose sales to breweries that produce a unique product for each season. I don’t discount this theory these days but I don’t put much stock in it either. I’m sure there are tons of breweries filled with people who love to make new and interesting beer for its own sake. Sometimes they will attach a season’s name to it and that’s just fine.

Recently I had what was to me the most improbable spring ale and it got me thinking about seasonal brews. They should appeal to me for at least two reasons. First off seasonal brews will often be fresh out the brewery. Freshness and preservation is something I obsess about too much but for good reason; bad storage can ruin just about anything. Second I am a fan of the changing seasons. Each offers it’s own ups and downs and demands our attention in different ways. It is a great idea to match a beverage to the unique aspects of a season. Wouldn’t I be missing out not to enjoy light and crisp beverages in the heat of summer and deep, strong, fortifying libations in the cold of winter. Spring and Autumn brews seem to have free reign in exploring a middle ground and it is frequently these styles that I find most uninspired, as if they couldn’t decide which direction to go and ended up too far one way or the other. It is perhaps the many disappointing fall and spring brews that had tainted the idea of seasonal brews for me. Newport Storm is a brewery that has surprised me with both their Octoberfest and Spring Ale. I’ve yet to try their year round brew (an amber ale) but will do so shortly.

Octoberfest is perhaps the definitive autumn beer and they usually drive me crazy. Maybe I don’t understand the style but I always find them to have a predictable maltiness that just doesn’t go anywhere. Every Octoberfest beer I had was well made but lacking something that would make me excited about the category. The best had a nice balance in a medium bodied style but none of them showed a wide range of flavors; they all seemed to focus on a solid middle ground. Last fall we got one case of Newport’s Octoberfest and I decided to give yet another one of these seasonal ubiquities a shot. This Octoberfest was a revelation. It was so much brighter than the Octoberfest beers I was used to. It was a little lighter than most but still showed a malty complexity. I couldn’t wait to try it again but our distributor ran out; next year I guess.

The other day someone handed me (the above mentioned improbable) Newport Storm Spring Ale. I thought it was great so I bought a six pack the next day. Tis an ‘Irish Red Style Ale’ and it is exactly the opposite of what I expect in a spring brew. Maybe I just don’t drink enough spring beer because I’ve never had one so rich and malty. It is a medium bodied beer with a crisp finish and it reminded me of roasted carrots. There were also hints of coffee and apples. It has a strange balance but it was eminently drinkable in the end.

Maybe I liked these beers because they surprised me. One was lighter than I expected and reminded me of summer when I thought it would weigh me down with the dreary anticipation of hunkering down for the cold. The other was surprisingly heavy and reminded me of  dank winter when I thought it might annoy me with thoughts of the caprice that seems to surface when the sun doesn’t just warm our cheeks at odd intervals. Don’t get me wrong I can’t wait to go to the knob to bask and bathe in all the Cape’s glory but when I’m there I hope I’m somehow reminded of the depths of  winter so that the heights of summer might be all the more appreciable.

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