AS SUMMER begrudgingly gives way to autumn, a different breed of beers show up en masse on store shelves. If you're new to the craft beer world, welcome to the fall seasonal explosion.
Where six pack carriers emblazoned with baseball bats and the bright colors of sun-swept beaches once awaited your thirsty approval now reside all things pumpkin, harvest and spiced. The shelves are awash in orange, black and every shade of brown imaginable.
It seems that each year these autumnal beverages arrive weeks earlier than the year before. The phenomenon has been dubbed "seasonal beer creep" and I, for one, refuse to bow down to this menace.
In case you haven't noticed, it's still quite warm in Savannah and history tells us that our summer-like temperatures can last deep into October. When I last sat in the grandstands of Grayson Stadium in the early days of August, it was what can only be described as psychotically hot.
The lone craft beer cart by the front gate featured its usual roster from Red Hare, Magic Hat and RJ Rockers. New Belgium is always well represented at Grayson with several styles, but this game had added a label from them I had not seen before: "Pumpkick".
"Pumpkick" is billed as the Colorado brewery's new fall seasonal, despite being released to market in early July. If there had been the slightest nip in the air, or even a stiff breeze, I might have found the ability to appreciate the beer's combination of cranberries, allspice and nutmeg over a juicy pumpkin base.
Instead, it felt like I was being force fed Thanksgiving dinner in a sauna.
And "Pumpkick" isn't the only pumpkin beer offender taking up valuable package store real estate before I'm ready to drink it. My favorite fall seasonal, Southern Tier's "Pumking" is already stacked high in 22 oz bottles, tempting me in the oppressive mid-afternoon sun. Shipyard and Samuel Adams have orange laced bottles sitting right beside them.
And more, lots more, will be available soon, whether the South's notorious heat and humidity are ready for them or not.
Yes, most will have some cute variation of the word pumpkin in their names.
As a holdout to the coming onslaught of beers flavored with squashes and spices usually reserved for fruit pies, here are three beers available now that will quench your thirst and taste just right during the last days of Savannah's summer.
And don't feel too bad for "Pumpkick." I'm sure to try another bottle before the end of football season, when the time is just right for the warming hit of pumpkin and cinnamon. Of course, by then the stores will be re-stocked with licorice-tinted Christmas ales.
Red Hare Brewing / Valles Brewing Co.
The recipe for this Belgian blonde was developed by my friend and former Savannahian Andrew Valles. The beer won a home-brew contest and the grand prize was taking the beer to market with the help of Red Hare in Marietta. The Belgian blonde is a clean, classic style and this update stays true to those time-tested values by providing crisp refreshment tinged with the complexities of Belgian yeast strains. The hop character is still prevalent but subdued by tinges of banana and wheat. 6.5% ABV. Available exclusively at Beer Growler locations.
"Saison Dupont" represents the pinnacle of the farmhouse style. Many breweries have tried to imitate it or make "improvements" to this recipe; but the simplicity and expert craftsmanship demonstrated here hold those contenders at an arm's length. If you're looking for a beer that exhibits a spiciness that isn't reminiscent of grandma's Sunday dinner table, the delicate notes of black pepper and coriander found within are never flashy, stand-alone statements. Instead, they support the major qualities of the beer's effervescence, highlighted by a fluffy carbonation and slight blend of citrus. It's also the rare beer that is as enjoyable after mowing the lawn as with a gourmet meal pairing. 6.5% ABV. Available in 330ml and 750ml bottles.
Green Flash Brewing Co.
Green Flash does not play around when it comes to their IPAs. They're constantly pushing the envelope and developing new, surprising takes on the popular style. This variation combines the best qualities of American IPAs and Belgian tripels. From the IPA side you're getting fresh, resinous, spicy hops. The tripel component provides cloves and candied fruit. The finish leaves you with a tart but lively flash of lemon. The high alcohol content is expertly masked, so take your time with this oversized bottle. 9.2% ABV. Available on draft and in 22oz bottles.
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