There's a reassuring feeling seeing the medium-bodied brown beers appear in the fall. Just as the leaves change, so do my tastes in beer, as I look for slightly heavier and sweeter brews.
Leinenkugel's Fireside Nut Brown
It's comforting to find long-standing Wisconsin brewing icon Leinenkugel's releasing a new beer in the English-style nut brown tradition. Fireside Nut Brown Lager seems to fall between the current Oktoberfests and the expectations of bocks and doppelbocks that arrive in late winter.
Fireside Nut Brown is brewed as a bottom-fermenting lager and was inspired by the English-style nut brown, which is more commonly brewed as an ale. Overall, the style is known for its maltiness with little or no hop aroma. The malty tones and light sweetness may also have hints of nuttiness or toasted flavor. Brewing the nut brown as a lager may suggest the brewery is hoping for more balance and cleaner flavors. This Fireside Nut Brown offers big robust maltiness. It's made with English two-row barley and American Cluster hops with 4.9% alcohol by volume.
The assertive sweet caramel tones go well with the warm comfort foods of fall. This is a beer to try with roasted meats or long-simmering stews.
Nut browns are one of my favorite beer styles, especially this time of year when temperatures are a little cool but not quite freezing. Fireside is ideal for a crisp fall sunset with enough sweetness to offer some warmth and lots of flavor. However, I found it just a bit too malty, with a long lingering sticky, syrupy consistency that made one of these enough in single sitting.
New Glarus Alt
New Glarus Brewery owners Deb and Dan Carey say their latest creation, a German altbier, is an early holiday present to their customers. Collect yours soon, as the brewery made just 600 barrels and Carey doubts it'll last through December.
The traditional altbier is a German brown ale. Altbiers are fermented at warm ale temperatures but conditioned at colder temperatures and for longer periods, which is more similar to a lager. Alts range in color from deep bronze to a hazy ruby brown with a thick head, faint fruity tones and biscuity or toasted flavors. The finish is commonly dry and lightly hopped, but overall clean.
Dan Carey loosely based New Glarus Alt on the Düsseldorf style. A heavy malt bill for this beer, along with a three-hour boiling time and additions of turbinado sugar all combine for strong caramel flavors with assertive toffee tones. The beer is aged in open-top oak fermentors and then bottle conditioned. It's a beer that should age very nicely, maybe up to a couple of years.
The caramelized malty flavors will go well with roasted meats, especially ham basted in brown sugar. That sweetness will also blend with grilled salmon and crab cakes. Overall this is a very versatile beer for food.
The beer style police might find fault with the aggressive caramel sweetness of New Glarus Alt. But I liked it for its distinctive toffee notes and smooth warmth. I'm stashing a six-pack of this for the 2009 holidays. It'll be interesting to see just how well it ages.
These reviews are excerpted from Robin Shepard's beer column "Beer Here," which appears regularly on TheDailyPage.com.