The changing of the seasons is usually accompanied by a changing of the palate. As we leave sunny days behind us, and see cold darkness ahead, we let go of our light lagers in favor of the cozy comfort of some rich, roasted malts. The trajectory from light beers to dark beers is as predictable as it is enjoyable. With Oktoberfest underway, we can continue to expect the usual barrage of marzens. And, love it or hate it, Halloween brings us pumpkin ales and stouts.
All of that is well and good, because it’s beer. But we saw some really fun trends this past summer, and I’m equally as excited to see how they evolve throughout the fall. On top of all that, it’s still fresh hop season. This may very well be the most wonderful time of year for beer.
Some time last year, the haze craze swept across the entire west coast. Portland was no exception. Brewers have been somewhat reluctantly churning out unfiltered New England-style IPAs and pale ales that use almost twice as many ingredients as a standard ale. The sheer amount of ingredients, along with the lack of filtering, provides for a smoother, creamier, and cloudier ale. Showcasing the fruitier and more tropical notes of the hops, these ales are a far more approachable, accessible variation of their respective styles than, say, a typical northwestern IPA. As the oppressive heat of the summer continued for what felt like eternity, Portland beer lovers were downing hazies left and right. They can still be found on tap just about everywhere.
It was only a matter of time until brewers began experimenting with imperial iterations of the hazy. The imperial hazy is, of course, highly alcoholic, clocking in anywhere from 8 to 11% ABV. It’s tough for the lighter, fruitier hop flavors of a typical hazy to stand up against the overwhelming flavor of the alcohol itself. However, when brewers achieve the right balance between the tropical bouquet of the hops, a subtle but hard-working malt backbone, and voluminous alcohol, the imperials drink just as easily as their lower ABV brethren. If hazies are here to stay, so too are imperial hazies.
Another fun trend this summer was the re-emergence of the brüt IPA. While brüts are nothing new, it’s hard not to view their comeback as a direct response to the prevalence of hazies. This particularly crisp IPA is fermented with champagne yeast, a very aggressive yeast that eats up every last bit of fermentable sugar. The resulting brew has the mouthfeel of champagne, the clarity of a pilsner, and the familiar hop profile of a northwestern IPA. Much like the hazies, it’s a very approachable variation of the style for people who don’t normally enjoy IPAs, but unlike hazies, it’s for the opposite reasons. We can also probably attribute the re-emergence of this style to the stronger relationship that beer is developing with wine, as beer becomes more sophisticated, and vintners and wine drinkers alike begin to show beer more respect. However, that’s another topic for another day.
What do I want to see this fall and winter? More Cascadian Dark Ales. Bring ‘em on. They’ll be the perfect convergence between the traditional seasonal preference for dark beer, and the newfound hop curiosity of otherwise non-hop heads (hopless heads?) that brewers are becoming more comfortable with catering to.