Last week, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewing sent me a few bottles of its first-ever fall seasonal. Hopzeit is a heavily hopped rendition of a märzen, the traditional German style American drinkers know best as Oktoberfest beer. I have soft spots for märzens, hoppy beers, and free samples, so I admit to being biased in several different directions, but I’m confident that Hopzeit will please any open-minded beer lover.
I was figuring Hopzeit would be a red IPA gussied up with some seasonal marketing, but the hops aren’t quite as assertive as all that; they’re strong enough to provide a welcome layer of citrus and light pine resin, but they don’t overwhelm the Vienna, Munich, and pilsner malt. This is a hoppy märzen rather than a muted IPA, if that makes any sense. And if it doesn’t make any sense, well, I have a good excuse. It’s hard to type straight through the blind rage induced by the hashtag Deschutes hung on this otherwise delightful beer.
Deschutes wants us to #SayNoToPumpkinBeer, but I think the beer world would be a more pleasant place if we all said yes to whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted it, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. (Yeah, I know I told you not to drink beer in the shower. But I’m a jerk with mercifully little influence. Deschutes is a company full of nice people who make the eighth most craft beer in the country, so we need to hold them to a higher standard of civility.) Does this mean I like pumpkin beer? Christ no! I hate most of it. I like Tröegs Master of Pumpkin, a saison made late in the season with fresh pumpkin, and Boulevard Funky Pumpkin, a “spiced sour ale” in which most of the cinnamon bullshit is hidden by brettanomyces. Avery Rumpkin is 18 percent ABV and aged in rum barrels, which is classy. Other than that, pumpkin beer’s not really my speed.
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But it brings so much joy to so many people and doesn’t do the haters any real harm in the process. Yes, it comes out comically early in the year, but so what? I’m tired of the red-herring argument about it taking up shelf space from other, more deserving styles of beer. I’m no fan of having to wade my way through a 30-brand pumpkin patch on my way to the good stuff, but it’s not as if there aren’t still 200 varieties of IPA waiting back there to reward my struggle. Early arriving pumpkin beers don’t crowd out more traditional styles; they simply replace whatever micro-seasonal had previously been holding down the theme-drinking aisle.
Some seasonal beers have legitimate ties to earth’s path around the sun, and I will concede it’s more fun to drink them as the calendar originally intended. I don’t want wet hop IPAs in April, and getting comfortable with 10-percent ABV Delirium Nöel in July would be delicious but also a bit desperate and expensive. But for the most part, beer seasonality has morphed into a marketing exercise more than a brewing one, and that’s fine by me. Yeah, it’s weird to see snowmen on beer bottles before there are dead leaves on the ground, but at least no one’s trying to restrict our saison appreciation to just the harvest season anymore.
Seasons are somewhat mythical when you’re an adult, anyway. With school long gone for most of us, there is no radical lifestyle change heralded by Labor Day’s approach. In most of the country it’s still going to be hot as hell for at least another month, and the good stuff is just starting to peak at the farmers’ markets. So it’s summer. Except football’s starting soon and it gets dark before midnight, so it’s fall. And it rained the other day, which made it spring. And last night I had too many Rumpkins and passed out with the air conditioner set to “morgue,” so this morning it was winter in my house. If you’re not a student, a teacher, or a farmer, the passing of the seasons doesn’t need to mean too much.
Of course you can celebrate the coming season, mourn the passing one, or vice versa, or a bit of both, as you see fit; I’m not trying to take anyone’s weird witch rituals away from him or her. I just ask that the self-appointed defenders of the “traditional” beer calendar reconsider their hardline stance against my wife’s right to enjoy a late-August pint of Shipyard Pumpkinhead (with a cinnamon-sugar rim when she’s lucky!). Seasonal creep is real, but it’s also harmless.
It’s worth noting that the world’s most famous seasonal beer ritual is called Oktoberfest despite the fact that it takes place in September. So, the next time you’re inclined to rail against fall beers showing up before we set the clocks back, maybe stop and ask yourself: do I really want to be more uptight about beer than the Germans?