Published: August 27, 2014
The summer sun may be blazing but Colorado brewers have fall and winter on their minds.
Brewers are on the hunt for holiday spices like pumpkin, pecan, orange peel and coffee and readying for warm, big, winter flavors.
Already released: New Belgium's Tour de Fall and Left Hand Brewing Co.'s Oktoberfest; Bristol Brewing Co.'s Red Baron Octoberfest is scheduled for release Thursday.
Over at Pikes Peak Brewing Co., this year's German-style Oktoberfest beer is "lagering away in fermentation," said Chris Wright, founder and head brewer. It will be released at the brewery's Oktoberfest party Sept. 13.
"It's a classic märzen lager, made in Munich tradition," Wright said. "It's copper colored, brilliant and clear with a slight malt note and crisp clean lager finish."
Fall beers can be a little trickier and take longer to make, said Emily Armstrong, spokeswoman for Longmont's Left Hand Brewing Co. That makes advanced planning a must, she said. Left Hand started making its Oktoberfest in late spring.
"When it comes to our German lager, we have respect for those traditions," she said. "A lot of American craft beer is about the experimentation. This is one area where we let tradition be exactly that."
Left Hand's head brewer Ro Guenzel learned the German bier-making ways when he brewed for Prinz Luitpold of Bavaria, Armstrong said.
Left Hand's Oktoberfest is brewed with the decoction mash process: The brewer boils portions of the mash, 40 percent at a time, and then adds it back into the whole batch. It takes twice as long to brew.
"It's the key to the flavor and aroma of Oktoberfest," Armstrong said. "Most people who produce Oktoberfest love the style, the tradition. It is a labor of love."
Some Colorado brewers have been known to tweak their fall recipes a bit from year to year, said Jon Stringer, beer specialist at Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom. Some keep a two-year life on a seasonal beer recipe. And some will stick with tried and true beers that will have you waiving your mug in the air and shouting "Prost!"
Fort Collins' New Belgium is one, for example, that changed its raspberry brown ale, Frambozen, and made it a little more tart last year than in years past, Stringer said.
Bristol, on the other hand, has not altered its Winter Warlock oatmeal stout since the winter of 1995, when it made its first appearance, said Mike Bristol, Bristol Brewing Co. owner.
"We haven't tried to change it," he said. "It's really focuses on the roast and the malty character. There is substance to it."
Winter beers are among Bristol's favorites, he said. Four years ago he personally made changes to the recipe for Red Baron Octoberfest to better follow the German traditions of the brewing process. He also lowered the alcohol by volume, saying the great thing about the seasonal beer is that it's festive and it shouldn't be over the top.
"I'm a big fan of different beers at different times of the year," he said.
Pikes Peak Brewery's big fall seasonal is AdAmAn Ale, named for the group that hikes up Pikes Peak on New Year's Eve and sets off fireworks. The beer is dark maroon, with orange peel and cinnamon.
It's Wright's holiday tradition.
"We start at the end of October," he said. "It gets the whole brew staff in the Christmas spirit. Then we have to jump back into reality and put our feelings on hold until it comes out."