Monday, October 5, 2009

The 2009 Fack Youk Fall Beer Review

It's been a while since we talked brews around these parts, but judging by comments on previous posts, I can tell that there are a decent number of you out there who share my love for great beer.

I personally enjoy fall beers more than any other seasonals. A big part of that are brews like Oktoberfests and pumpkin ales which add dimensions that Winter, Spring and Summer brews just don't have. I find Winter ales to be over-spiced. Summer brews to be enjoyable but they aren't usually complex enough to achieve Great Beer® status. Spring ales are few and far between.

Something about beer and the Fall just seem to pair exceedingly well. It's just starting to get cold and the leaves are turning, setting the stage nicely for a darker, heartier brand of brew.

On to the review:
  • Three of us (my buddies John, Frank and I) tasted 13 different beers, divided into 4 categories: 4 Oktoberfests, 2 Fest Biers, 3 Harvest Ales, and 4 Pumpkin Ales, in that order.

  • As for ratings, we used a 1-5 scale with 1 being "I would never drink this beer again" and 5 being "I'm definitely buying this the next time I see it", or something to that effect.

  • Two of us drank out of goblets like this one, and the other out of an oversized wine glass of roughly the same shape, which I always recommend in an effort to maximize your beer experience. We weren't too anal about rinsing them our or cleansing our palates so it wasn't the most scientific of tastings.

  • The beers below are listed from least to most enjoyable by category and the ratings are based on the average of our 3 scores.

  • Each beer is linked to its respective place on BeerAdvocate so you can get a good look at the bottle and some other (more expert) opinions if you'd like.

Oktoberfests - We tasted the this group first, which was probably the right move since they were the most straightforward of the bunch. The scores are lower than almost all of the other beers because they are simplistic, but as far as session beers go, these and the two Fest Biers are probably your best bet.
  • Blue Point Oktoberfest - 2.50 -Extremely light and drinkable, the Blue Point lacked any sort of depth of flavor and had a sharp biting amount of carbonation on the tongue. It's a good session brew, but not highly recommended if given the choice between this and other Oktoberfests.

  • Stoudt's Oktoberfest - 2.67 -Pouring out a copper colored hue, Stoudt's offering was simple and easy going down. It had the mildly skunky notes of a typical lager and slightly less carbonation than the Blue Point.

  • Saranac Octoberfest - 3.33 - The flavors in the Saranac were immediately more apparent than either of the above two beers. It had a nuttier, breadier taste to it with a smoother mouthfeel. It was notably hoppy as well, balancing it out pretty nicely.

  • Harpoon Oktoberfest - 3.50 - The Harpoon poured the darkest color of any of the four in this category - nearly garnet red. It had the recognizable flavors of Harpoon's signature yeast strain along with sweet notes including dark fruit (dates?), hints of butterscotch and caramel, and a nice amount of hops. Really well-balanced and the most enjoyable of the crew.
Fest Biers - We were originally going to lump these in with the Oktoberfests but they didn't quite fit; they aren't very similar to each other (aside from the name), but neither belonged in the previous category. Both of these came out with relatively higher ratings mostly because they weren't really playing by the same rules as the Okt's, hence the separation.
  • Weihenstephaner Fest Bier - 3.67 -With a beautiful straw-colored pour, it was apparent that the Weiheny wasn't really comparable to a typical fall beer. It had a somewhat skunky nose but the taste was much sweeter, with hints of honey. It was soft on the palate and an ideal choice if you are going to kick a whole six pack by yourself.

  • Victory Festbier - 3.83 - Holding this brew up to the light gave it to color of an orange gummy bear. The character expanded and had a deliciously long finish. It was rich and malty giving way to some spicy and hoppy notes. You might miss the complexity of this one if you are downing a whole bunch of them or drinking out of a bottle, but if you pour it into a proper glass and savor, it's well worth the effort.
Harvest Ales - The cool part about these beers was that each took on the character of their respective region. As you went north, starting with the Southern Tier, on to Redhook and finally arriving at Long Trail, the beers got steadily heartier and, in our opinion, more enjoyable.
  • Southern Tier Harvest Ale - 4.17 - In a blind taste test, I'm not sure I could distinguish this from an IPA, which is probably a good thing. It was a gorgeous golden color with citrusy flavors backed with bright, hoppy notes. More of a late summer than fall beer maybe, but delicious nonetheless.

  • Redhook Late Harvest Ale - 4.17 - The Red Hook sat roughly between the other two in this category. It had some of the hoppy and citrius elements of the Southern Tier and also a bit of the malty character of the Long Trail. A good beer in its own right, this one still comes with a sincere recommendation.

  • Long Trail Harvest Ale - 4.33 - A rich ruby-color once emptied into a glass this baby was nutty with notes of hot cocoa. It was strong, roasted and malty with a warming, almost whiskey-like character. In our eyes, this is was a great execution of a Harvest Ale and the epitome of what a fall beer should be.
Pumpkin Ales - The pumpkins had the widest variance of any of the groups, spanning the spectrum from pretty bad to mind-blowingly good.
  • Saranac Pumpkin Ale - 2.17 - With all due respect to Saranac, this one represented the mistake a lot of breweries make when attempting a pumpkin beer; just dumping in a whole bunch of spices in a ham-handed attempt to give it the expected characteristics. You might as well get a medium-bodied ale and shake some pumpkin pie spices in it yourself.

  • Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale - 3.33 - The Smutty had some of the same problems as the Saranac but not nearly as bad. The spicing was overt and almost separate from the beer itself. It was enjoyable, but left something to be desired.

  • Dogfish Head Punkin Ale - 3.83 - The Dogfish Head did the best job of the typical pumpkin ales at subtly blending the spices and the beer. There were some notes of semi-sweet chocolate, coffee and mocha to balance out the cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice that overpowered the other ones. DFH rarely disappoints and this one did not either. Probably not worth the money, but the best one short of the...

  • Southern Tier Pumpking - 5.00 - Being an imperial ale and checking it at 9% ABV, this one was already on a different level than the other three, but it went above and beyond expectations. That was apparent from the first whiff of this deep copper gem. You could smell the creamy sweetness as if you had just opened a box of pumpkin pie topped with fresh, home-made whipped cream. If you have had their Creme Brulee Stout, you'll recognize the amazing, ephemeral sweetness of the beer packed with caramel and vanilla. I kind of hate that we all gave this a 5, but it was the last beer of the night and stood out so far and above everything we tasted, we had no choice.

There are some notable omissions to this list and we are currently preparing a second round of tasting to come sometime this week. Stay tuned.


  1. Try the Redhook Belgian TripelHook (limited release )... it is awesome...
    As well I liked the Widmer Brothers W 09

    Cheers !

  2. Is there a PBR hiding out in the back of the top picture? Was that the palate cleanser?

  3. Anon - I actually had that one a while back and thought it was excellent. Might have to pick another 22oz'er of it though...

    Steve - Good eye, man. One of my buddies not involved with the tasting came over with it. Not a bad idea for the palate cleanser in all seriousness.

  4. I don't know if you ever get a chance to pop over to Fairfield County, but Connecticut just became the first state in the Northeast to get Stone Brewing beers, and I have been taking full advantage. I have had their Arrogant Bastard several times on Western trips, and loved it, and have been availing myself of their Levitation Ale and IPA lately. I'm going to try their Oaked Arrogant Bastard, Smoked Porter and Imperial Russian Stout next chance I get.

    The Levitation is a great example of a Pale Ale, and has a lot of character, but isn't as in your face as the other Stone brews tend to be. I like how "big" the other beers are, but the Levitation was more of a refreshing session-beer which seems like it could be paired with a wide variety of foods. I'd give it a 4/5 on your scale as a PA.

    The Stone IPA (not Ruination) was not my style. I'm a huge fan of India Pale Ales, and hoppy beers in general, but this example didn't suit me at all. I had to chug the bottom half of the pint just to avoid wasting it. It has very strong, perfumy citrus flavors that, when mixed with the strong hop characteristics, turn the beer foul and very sour. That may work in a Flemish sour ale, but it's just not a good flavor to go for in an IPA. Very disappointing.