Fall into the foam

Local beer hot spots get ready for their busiest season with fall-themed brews

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published September 11, 2013

Move over, mojito. And as for you, eggnog, you’ve got a ways to go yet. With fall right around the corner, it’s time once again for the hearty, spicy and oh-so-comforting flavors of fall beer to step into the spotlight.

Over in downtown Ferndale, One-Eyed Betty’s beer bar is still reeling from its big summer win at the second annual Detroit Burger Brawl, taking the top prize of “Detroit’s Best Burger of 2013.” But it’s quickly switching gears and getting ready for autumn, according to Betty’s chef Emmele Herrold.

“The pumpkin beer is huge, alone. It’s a huge category. We’ll have 8-10 fall beers on tap,” she said, noting that Betty’s has 44 beers on tap total. “Each of those (pumpkin beers) has a distinct spicy, pumpkin flavor. I think it just kind of tastes like fall in a glass.”

Flavor notes like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and even maple lend themselves to the cozy ambience of fall — and that makes the season a true time to shine for innovative brew masters. One crowd favorite is the Southern Tier Pumking, brewed in Lakewood, New York.

“The flavor profile in the fall and winter is easier; you can be more creative, as opposed to the summer with the light, citrusy wheat beers. In the fall, you can play around with the flavors and the malts. There’s more ways for the brewers to be creative, and so they are,” she said.

As the temperatures outside begin to drop, Herrold fully expects business inside to rise, thanks to the customers who will come looking to sooth the chill with a tasty fall brew, accompanied by some equally comforting munchies.

“Some people have threatened that they wouldn’t come back if I didn’t put my pumpkin soup back on the menu,” she said. “It’s the same thing with the beer. It’s comforting, and it reminds you of the season.”

Over in Warren, Erik Harms, head brewer at Dragonmead microbrewery, said that he’s just about done preparing the famous pumpkin ale that customers clamor for each autumn.

“We use a little pumpkin in the mash with the grain. Then, we incorporate into the boil process pumpkin pie spices, like ginger and nutmeg,” explained Harms. “It’s mild in bitterness to little or no bitterness, and usually more malt forward and spice forward.”

Harms got his start brewing beer years ago while he was studying chemistry in southern Ohio. On Sunday afternoons, he would whip up a few batches of beer with his pal Bret Kuhnhenn, of Kuhnhenn Brewing Co., also located in Warren.  

Over the years, Harms learned that fall is the premiere season for beer lovers. He’s already cooked up three batches, or about 18 kegs worth, of pumpkin ale. At around 4 or 5 percent alcohol by volume, it’s the robust flavor and heavier sip of fall beer that makes it the perfect antidote to the crisp seasonal air.

And it doesn’t stop there. Harms said he’s already started working on batches of Oktoberfest — to be debuted in the first week of October, of course.

“It only takes a day to brew it, but it takes about a month or a month and a half to age and condition,” he said. “I know people really look forward to the pumpkin ale a lot, leading into the Oktoberfest beer. A lot of people associate fall with going to the cider mill, drinking Oktoberfest and carving pumpkins.”

Believe it or not, the fall beer craze goes well beyond the chilly state lines of Michigan. Dan Rogers is the brew master at the newly opened Griffin Claw Brewing Co. in Birmingham’s Rail District. But years ago, he helped to open Holy Cow’s Brewery in Las Vegas, the first-ever brewery in the Nevada hot spot. Even there, in the sizzling desert temperatures, customers clamored for the distinctive flavors of fall beers.

“They’re maltier brews; heartier brews. They’ve got a bigger, bolder flavor than the lighter ones for the summer,” said Rogers, who has won countless awards for his beer creations.

This will be Rogers’ first fall at Griffin Claw, but he’s bringing with him his famed Screamin’ Pumpkin Ale, an amber ale brewed with roasted pumpkin and spiced with ginger, allspice, nutmeg and cloves. He’s already created about 600 kegs of it.

“The Oktoberfest, the pumpkin ales and different beers like that — as it gets colder, people like to drink a heartier beer,” he said.