published Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Chattanooga microbreweries debut darker, sweeter beers for autumn

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    McHale's Double Brown ale from McHale Brewhouse
    Photo by Jake Daniels.
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McHALE’S DOUBLE BROWN

• Brewer: McHale’s Brewhouse and Pub, 724 Ashland Terrace.

• Style: Double brown ale.

• Alcohol content: 5.2 percent.

• What it tastes like: Toasty with coffee overtones balanced by an abundance of earthy English hops.

• Try it if: You enjoy other English brown ales but want something that has more flavor and a slightly higher alcohol content.

• Available: Through mid-October.

• On tap at: McHale’s Brewhouse.

• Coming soon: Mudslinger, an experimental oatmeal brown India pale ale (mid-October).

CHATTANOOGA BREWING CO. OKTOBERFEST

• Brewer: Chattanooga Brewing Co., 109 Frazier Ave.

• Style: German märzen-style lager.

• Alcohol content: 6.3 percent.

• What it tastes like: A traditional German style that is sweetly malty without a strong hop presence.

• Try it if: You want a craft beer that is sweeter than most American domestics.

• Available: Through early to mid-October.

• On tap at: Brewhaus, Tremont Tavern, O’Heiney’s and The Foundry.

SMOKY MOUNTAIN PORTER

• Brewer: Moccasin Bend Brewing Co., 4015 Tennessee Ave.

• Style: Americanized German rauchbier.

• Alcohol content: 5.8 percent.

• What it tastes like: Full-bodied, robust beer with a hint of smoke and chocolate notes for barbecue sauce-like sweetness.

• Try it if: You enjoy beers with more body and a higher alcohol content for a warming quality.

• Available: Through mid-December.

• On tap at: Moccasin Bend Brewing Co.

• Coming soon: A bacon-infused porter, pumpkin-seed pale ale, pumpkin-spice ale and a sweet-potato-spiced ale (all by mid-October).

HELLBENDER HEFEWEIZEN

• Brewer: Terminal Brewhouse, 6 E. 14th St.

• Style: Traditional German hefeweizen.

• Alcohol content: 6 percent.

• What it tastes like: Mild, neutral beer with subtle hints of banana and clove and almost no hoppy bitterness.

• Try it if: You are transitioning away from domestic beers to craft beers and want something mild and unthreatening.

• Available: Through early October.

• On tap at: Terminal Brewhouse.

• Coming soon: Terminal’s first lager-style beer (late 2012) and a return of the altbier on the brewery’s rotating tap (early October).

OKTOBERFEST

• Brewer: Big River Grille & Brewing Works, 222 Broad St.

• Style: Amber lager.

• Alcohol content: 5.5 percent.

• What it tastes like: Medium bodied with caramel-like malt flavors balanced by subtle hop bitterness.

• Try it if: You like smoother, more rounded beers with less sharp, spicy bite.

• Available: Through late October.

• On tap at: Big River, Urban Stack, The Local 191, Bar Louie and several locations in Knoxville.

• Coming soon: A small-batch India pale ale (late October) and pumpkin ale (mid-November).

As the weather cools down, it’s natural to want to bulk up a bit, and at local microbreweries, the beers are no exception.

For brewers of craft beer, the changing of the seasons provides an opportunity to roll out new brews. In the summer, they tap refreshingly light and citrusy summer witbiers and pilsners. In colder months, thick, sweet lagers and stouts make their appearance.

Last week, local microbreweries began tapping kegs of autumn brews that are bigger and more decadent, including ales that taste like bottled pumpkin pie and traditional German Oktoberfest lagers with overtones of caramel and toffee.

Sweeter and heavier are the predominant qualities beer lovers expect at this time of year, said Chris Hunt, the owner and brewmaster at Moccasin Bend Brewing Co. in St. Elmo.

“Fall is kind of the time for the comfort-food beers to come out,” he said. On Friday, Moccasin Bend released a line of experimental brews that play off the heavier cuisine of fall, such as ales infused with the flavors of bacon and roasted pumpkin seeds to a sweet-potato-spiced brew Hunt said is hugely popular whenever he has it on tap.

Brewers usually begin preparing their fall beers well in advance of the season. Lagers, for instance, are an autumnal and winter standard that take their name from the German word for “condition” and require a month and a half or more to age.

Tony Giannasi is a past president of Chattanooga’s homebrewing association, the Barley Mob, and one of only five Tennesseans to be certified as a cicerone, a beer expert similar to a wine sommelier. In a brewery set up in the garage of his Signal Mountain home, Giannasi typically makes beers from October to March, when the groundwater is still cold enough to be used straight from the tap or hose.

Giannasi said the first cold snap of autumn is his sign to start planning out his drink menu for the rest of the year. Right now, he’s planning to start a honey porter recipe recently released by the White House and an English barley wine that won’t be ready until 2013 due to a long conditioning period.

When people are driven into bars by colder weather, the sweeter, fuller-bodied beers they crave probably were being made back when their future customers were still downing summer ales. Timely brewing is about thinking ahead, Giannasi said.

“You have to unplug yourself from your taste buds and what you want to drink right now and make the beer so it’s ready when the time comes,” he said.

And if microbrewers’ pumpkin ales and Oktoberfest lagers are a little more expensive than their perennial tapmates, they tend to be all the more exciting because they won’t always be available.

“[A seasonal beer] is a special thing,” Giannasi said. “It will only be around for a couple of months. You’re paying for a ride for your brain.”

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @Phillips CTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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