Out of my Gourd for Fall Beers!

How DO you drink in this thing, anyway???

by BrewHead Ted

Ah, October… One of my favorite months of the year, when the evenings start cooling, those ghosties and goblins start peeking out from the shadows, and my taste buds start craving something to welcome in the season. What do you prefer, dear reader? An Oktoberfest-style beer (one of which I will write about in this post)? A pumpkin ale (which I will also be writing about)? Or, perhaps, the blood of your victims under the light of the full moon (I will NOT be writing about that, but you do you)?

You can’t tell from the silhouette, but this guy’s absolutely rockin’ the lederhosen.

The Best of the Fest?

BeachRock Bill wrote a great post here about the history of Oktoberfest, so I won’t retread that ground too much. But to start off my fall beer review, I do want to talk about the most popular beer at Oktoberfest. Only brewed for the festival, Munich’s own Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier has been brewed since 1818. Drinking it now, two centuries on, I can see why this is such a favorite.

Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier: A drink fit for both festival revelers and mad Shakespearean kings…

The Look

When I’m sampling a new beer I enjoy, I often break out my iPhone. I love to photograph the experience, both to remind myself later of new favorites to try again, and also to admire a beautiful glass well poured. But sometimes, a photo just doesn’t do the beer justice. Such was the case here. The beer pours with a delightfully foamy head and has a beautiful golden hue that, as with the various celestial phenomena that I’m always attempting (and failing) to capture with my phone, is best admired with the naked eye. The magnificent cap of foam had, alas, already settled by the time I’d aimed my camera at the glass. I found myself even pausing to admire the beautiful color of the beer before I remembered I needed to actually taste the beer as well.

The Taste

But I didn’t pause that long. Finding the beer smooth and malty, I was wishing for a pretzel or bratwurst, to accompany this golden beauty. The beer is incredibly drinkable. But if you take your time to savor them, you can catch the notes of bread, floral sweetness, and – oh – is that melon? I found myself surprised and pleased by the variety of flavors hitting my palate. This is a beer to enjoy at a table with friends while waiting for your turn on stage to wow the crowd with your flugelhorn skills. #lifegoals

I admit I’ve never much appreciated Oktoberfest beer, but I will definitely be on the lookout for this beer again. Just as I’m strongly considering a trip to Munich (after I take those flugelhorn lessons, of course)…

Pumpkin Ales are in (Spooky) Season…

Now, I know that that song with the lyrics “it’s the hap-happiest season of allllll” pertains to another holiday. But I always find myself humming the tune when the dancing skeletons and cackling witches start adorning peoples’ lawns, and when the vampire and zombie costumes are being hung in my local Rite-Aid. And what better beverage to enjoy while humming this tune? Why, the unofficial official beer of the season, of course–pumpkin ale.

But why isn’t it the Official Beer of the 4th???

To begin this post, I did some research on the origins of pumpkin ale. Being of a fantastical mindset, I imagined and hoped I’d discover that pumpkin beer was first concocted in ancient times, and enjoyed by ancient druids as they chanted among great stone circles, by convocations of spellcasters as they summoned dark spirits, but…

Druid’s Altar, Drombeg Stone Circle, Ireland

REALITY CHECK: …It turns out that the history of pumpkin ale, while not as appealing to my love of the supernatural and the macabre, is no less fascinating.

So if not in the land of the ancient Celts, where did pumpkin ale come from? As it turns out, pumpkin ale originated here in the good ol’ US of A. In modern times, Buffalo Bills’ Brewery, in Hayward, CA, bills itself as America’s First Brewpub, and the brewer of America’s Original Pumpkin Ale, first brewed in 1986. But the history of pumpkin ale in America goes back further…

Pumpkins aplenty at Descanso Gardens’ “Carved,” October 7-21
(photo by BrewHead Ted)

In colonial times, malt was not so readily available for making beer. But what was readily available was the pumpkin, native to the Americas, but completely unknown to Europeans of the time. In the first pumpkin beers, pumpkin ‘meat’ took the place of malt entirely.

This new tradition naturally made it into song, in what is known as the first English folk song written in North America–‘New England’s Annoyances,’ written somewhere between 1630 and 1643:

I sure hope they saved some of that pumpkin for their lattes…

We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it was not for pumpkins we should be undone!
For we make liquor to sweeten our lips,
Of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree chips.

Well, okay… That song may not exactly be a ringing endorsement of pumpkin beer. So let me offer one instead!

Night Owl

For my pumpkin ale selection, I went with Elysian Brewing‘s Night Owl Pumpkin Ale. Pouring a a beautiful amber color, I got an enticing preview of the beer’s taste from its nose. I immediately was taken back to Thanksgivings of the past, as the aromas of pumpkin, nutmeg, and cinnamon came to me. It’s like enjoying a slice of pumpkin pie in a glass but hold the whipped cream, please. (5-year-old me can’t believe I just typed that.)

This beer’s sure to please living and undead palates alike…

As with some other styles of beer, such as porters and stouts, the sweetness of pumpkin beer can sometimes be too much for me. (Again, 5-year-old me is aghast.) But I found Night Owl to be just the right amount of sweet, without being overpowering.

UPDATE: Congratulations to Elysian Brewing on winning the Gold Medal for Night Owl in the Pumpkin Beer category at this year’s Great American Beer Festival!

And the Award for Best Fall Beer Goes To…

Someone, please restrain 5-year-old me. I enjoyed Night Owl a great deal. But I found it to be somewhere along the lines of its caffeinated cousin, the infamous pumpkin-spiced latte. When I’m enjoying one, I know that my favorite season has arrived, and I revel in it. But the key part is, I usually enjoy one…and only one. Or two. Heck, who am I kidding, I’ll make it through the entire sixpack I purchased, with ease. But after that? I think I’m gonna have to find myself more of that Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier!

Whatever your libation of choice this season, I hope you enjoy.

Until next time, prost, BOO!, and cheers!

-BrewHead Ted

5 thoughts on “Out of my Gourd for Fall Beers!

  1. Teddy, I just saw that “Night Owl” won Gold in the Pumpkin Beer category last week at the Great American Beer Festival! You know how to pick ’em… BRB and I are working on a GABF 2022 post listing awards won this year by the breweries we’ve covered. Keep an eye out for it.


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