There’s much to love about fall in New England, not the least of which is the allure of a seasonal beer.
For budding craft beer drinkers, there’s nothing sweeter than that first pumpkin lager, or the aroma of a well-crafted dark wheat ale.
Having already tried and bartered a slew of selections from the local liquor store, a picky eater and I set our eager autumn eyes on something even closer to home — the best fall beers that South Shore breweries had to offer.
The adventure began at Blue Hills Brewery in Canton, which was launched in 2009. Taste buds buzzing, we were surprised to find a hopping operation in an unlikely industrial building.
According to owner and brewmaster Andris Veidis, by the end of the year the brewery hopes to be distributing in three states.
In its short history, the company has developed an impressive collection of beer, most of which is shipped within days after being kegged or bottled, employees said.
Fall selections are limited to two, both of them flavorful and enjoyable. The Okto Brau is an even-bodied Oktoberfest beer with a rush of malty flavor that settles and simmers.
The Pumpkin Lager has many of the same flavors as the Oktoberfest beer, as it is based on the same recipe. But pumpkin spices add a smooth, subtle pumpkin pie taste that lingers beyond the malt.
“I try to design the beers themselves to be true to style but unique in characteristics,” Veidis said.
The bar set high, we ventured to Plymouth’s Mayflower Brewing Company.
Though brewing only since 2008, there’s an air of experience on the premises. Perhaps the sense of history stems from the traditionalism of the beers. Mostly ales, without any fruit or spices, make the cut for this South Shore brewer.
“They may not be the trendiest in the world, but our beers are classic and people like them,” said owner Drew Brosseau.
The classic realm was the initial draw for the brand. Combine that with Brosseau’s finding a story of beer on the Mayflower, learning that he was a descendant himself, and discovering space in Plymouth, and “it all came together at once,” he said.
Brosseau now oversees an 7,000-barrel-a-year operation.
The steady hand of the brewery has produced one fall seasonal beer in its portfolio — the Autumn Wheat Ale.
Unencumbered by a pumpkin component, the ale stands apart. A favorite of the picky eater, it is darker and heavier than a typical lager, but not as filling as a stout. A drinkable sweetness leads into a dry finish.
Mayflower also offers a Thanksgiving Ale, but sadly, it can be found only in November. We took home a sampling of other beers to make up for the loss.
It was down to Westport soon thereafter. Hidden among fields of corn and past rows of grape trellises, Bill Russell’s Buzzards Bay Brewing operation rises from the unexpected.
The company started making beer in 1998 as an expansion of the Westport Rivers Vineyard and Winery, also owned by the Russell family. By 2007, the company’s direction started to falter, with the use of European malts and tensions with distributors.
The brewery has had a reawakening since. Shedding its old name, the company began anew as Buzzards Bay, and dedicated itself to using only North American ingredients.
Despite a sizeable 6,000-barrel-a-year brewing operation, Russell and brewer Harry Smith are still having a blast making beer.
“We’re doing a lot of fun ways of just engaging beer again, and we haven’t stopped,” Russell said. “That creative attitude of naming beers, thinking about beers, having fun with our local territory, and being locally oriented has raised the grade of the entire company.”
The company continues to experiment, a constant dance governed by the length of the days and the warmth of the weather, as Russell likes to joke.
Long forgotten are pumpkin ales like one called Boo, which retained its name even though it was switched from a porter to what is now a nutty, robust brown ale with a creamy finish.
The Swamp Yankee is a surprisingly bright-tasting, hoppy-scented beer, with a bitterness up front that melts into roasted malt.
We were practically dizzy with the selections by the time we ventured to Hingham Beer Works on the first day of October.
The local outpost of the statewide chain of Beer Works brew pubs offers an impressive four-beer seasonal selection, which all will be available through October.
“It’s a juggling act,” general manager Jim Callahan said of the brewing process, which plays out like musical chairs in offering 20 beers on the menu every day.
At a brewery characterized by a willingness to try anything, the fall beers were a mixed bag.
The Red October was creamy, dark, and smooth with an unexpected though welcome hoppy finish. Equally enjoyable was the Pumpkin Works. Available since September, the beer is perhaps my favorite pumpkin brew, flavorful with expected sweetness that does not overwhelm the palate.
The Octoberfest Lager is good and light, but the flavors do not linger and tastes do not stand out. I would skip the Kenmore Kölsch altogether. Generic and light, it tasted plain.
The variety of the region’s breweries is no coincidence, said Rob Martin, director of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild. Fresh ideas lead to success.
Regardless of the differences, local brewers all have one thing in common, Martin said.
“The people that get into this business and are successful currently, they all share a passion for beer,” he said.
I’ll say cheers to that.