As autumn descends on Lower Alabama and the mercury dips below 90, “Fall Collections,” “Oktoberfest” lagers and the dreaded pumpkin-infused brews appear in local bars and grocery stores. A recent stroll through the beer aisle of my neighborhood market turned up no fewer than six different brands (Shock Top, Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, Sweetwater, Dundee and Blue Moon) offering fall variety 12-packs.
I am a sucker for these collections, and I always end up purchasing a couple of different varieties during the fall months. Most include four different varieties, and, invariably, there is always one totally unpalatable brew (usually tainted with some kind of fruit and/or spice) that sits in the bottom of my refrigerator’s beer crisper for weeks (or months).
To remedy the problem of stray beers you don’t want rattling around in your fridge until you can pawn them off on someone at your next party, but still be able to be adventurous enough to try out some different flavors, a number of local stores (including Publix, Rouses and World Market) now allow you to create your own six-pack from a collection of singles they have for sale (don’t go in and start breaking up six-packs).
This is a great way to try something new, or get just the beers you want from those collections without being stuck with the ones you don’t want. At some places you can only get certain brands by buying the singles, so it is an opportunity to try something unique.
As part of their fall lineups, a number of breweries produce an Oktoberfest beer in honor of the German beer festival, so when I put my six-pack together at my local Rouses I found five different “Oktoberfest” selections — from Sierra Nevada, Shiner, Abita, Sam Adams and Leinenkugel — and grabbed them all. Against my better judgment, but in order to stay with the fall theme, I chose one of the seasonal pumpkin beers to round out my six-pack, and penciled in an evening with my bride for a tasting party. Each beer was $1.49, so my six-pack set me back less than $10, which wasn’t too bad for some craft beers.
Four of the beers turned out to be Märzen lagers, which is the traditional beer served in Bavaria during Oktoberfest. All had a light amber, almost copper, color and good flavor — not heavy or too hoppy. We enjoyed all of them, but my wife liked the Shiner best, which was the lightest tasting of the bunch, while the Abita, which was a bit bolder with more bite, was my favorite. The Sam Adams and Leinenkugel versions were both stronger, with more malt flavors than the first two.
The Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest was much lighter in color and tasted sweeter than the others; it reminded me of a high-end German or Dutch lager. Sierra Nevada developed it in conjunction with the German beermaker Mahrs Bräu, in its annual practice of teaming with a different German brewery to develop a distinctive Oktoberfest beer. In addition to the single, it comes in its own 12-pack (not just in a collection!), and I’d highly recommend it.
Finally, we tried New Belgium’s Pumkick. Now, I am a great fan of New Belgium Brewing; Fat Tire is one of my go-to beers at home or at a bar, and I love a number of their other varieties, but this pumpkin beer was, unfortunately, as bad I had feared, and neither of us could even finish it. It was an overpowering mix of spices and pumpkin juice that just had no business being in a beer glass. So go ahead and make yourself a fall six-pack at your local grocery store, but leave the pumpkin for the pie.