As Oktoberfest celebrations come to a close, area brewers have been busy brewing some exciting fall and holiday beers. One of the most anticipated offerings of the season among craft beer aficionados is the pumpkin ale, and you can find fresh pours at several Loudoun breweries.
At Dirt Farm Brewing, which celebrates its first Oktoberfest this year on two weekends (Sept. 27 and Oct. 4), they’ve been serving a version made with fresh pumpkins from their sister business, Great Country Farms.
“We actually use neck pumpkins, it’s an off-white pumpkin with a long trunk in the shape of a J almost,” said Wes Schoeb, head brewer. “They contain a little more sugar and so we use those for the beer. … You don’t really get a ton of pumpkin flavor out of it. A lot of (the flavor comes) from the spices that we use: fennel, cinnamon, vanilla and a few other spices in there that really bring out the flavor of the beer.
“That’s our most popular fall beer and that’s one we make the most of because demand does get pretty high once October hits, as you can imagine,” Schoeb said. To give you an idea of the demand, each 10-barrel batch requires 150 to 200 pounds of pumpkin—and Schoeb estimates he’ll be making about 30 barrels of the beer this season.
Besides the pumpkin ale, visitors are enjoying another familiar favorite, the Coconut Milk Stout. Described on Untapped as full-bodied with a “sweet, fresh coconut finish,” it comes just under 8 percent ABV. “We weren’t really sure how it would turn out and it ended up being delicious. So people are excited to have that one back on tap,” Schoeb said.
New to the Dirt Farm taps this year is that Oktoberfest staple, a Märzen lager. “The style traditionally has many different variations; some are a little on the pale side and some are little heavier and darker. … The one we made is a little on the paler side. It’s a pretty light malt flavor, not much hops characteristic at all.” And later in the season, Schoeb plans on introducing another new release, a honey dunkel ale that will be made with local honey. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for availability, likely in late October or early November.
Locally sourced ingredients also figure prominently in Wheatland Spring Farm + Brewery’s lineup, including their first estate grown beer, Weizenland. Brewed with 60 percent product from their 18 acres of wheat, the Hefeweizen was released at their Sept. 20-22 Oktoberfest celebration. They went further afield for the grains for their other Oktoberfest beers, but remained committed to their support of small, local agriculture: both the Festbier and Bavarian Helles lagers were brewed with single-origin barley from a family farm in Bavaria.
The farm just outside Munich also provides barley to two of Bavaria’s most renowned breweries, Ayinger Brauerei and Augustinerbrau, according to Wheatland Spring Farm owners John and Bonnie Branding. “We really go out of our way to make sure we’re expressing the region in the beer, along the lines of terroir. A lot of people are familiar with the concept for wine, but this is analogous for beer because grains of course impart a lot of flavor,” John Branding said.
Their modern interpretation of a European small farm brewery in the 1800s includes old-world brewing techniques such as using a large open vessel known as a coolship to cool wort and allow for spontaneous fermentation—resulting in their Coolship Saison, which is infused with farm-grown basil and rosemary and honey from Lovettsville.
An upcoming Brett Saison that has been aging in oak barrels for months uses another traditional method—the addition of a wild yeast known as Brettanomyces. “Sometimes it’s a little bit tart or funky or earthy … it creates additional complexities of flavor,” John Branding said.
The Brett Saison will be one of two limited edition bottle releases coming in early November; the other is an as-yet-unnamed smoked sweet potato beer with sage and brown sugar that is lagering (conditioning) in oak barrels. For this brew, the Brandings took 200 pounds of sustainably grown sweet potatoes from a neighboring farm and had them smoked by Market Table Bistro using apple and cherry wood. “It’s a version of a smoked beer they do in northern Bavaria, but instead of smoking the grains, we smoked the potatoes,” John Branding said. “It tastes like the holidays to us.”
For updates on their seasonal offerings, go to their Facebook page.
OTHER LOUDOUN SEASONAL BEERS
Notaviva Craft Fermentations is planning a pumpkin ale and a Märzen for mid-October release. Go to their Facebook page for details.
Black Hoof Brewing’s flagship beer, the Full Quiver Märzen, is actually available year-round. You can ask for it by its other name, Oktoberfest. Go to their Facebook page for details.
Bear Chase Brewing released their Oktoberfest at their Sept. 28 beer fest, and in mid-October will be releasing Pumpkin Patches, a very approachable beer made from Great Country Farms pumpkins that were roasted with brown sugar. Go to their Facebook page for details.
Lost Rhino’s lineup of seasonal brews was released last month and include their RhinO’fest Märzen Lager, Dachshund Dunkel, and Tmavy Dark Czech Lager. For the latest in their seasonal lineup, go to their Facebook page for details.
Old Ox Brewery will be offering a barrel-aged version of Oxorcist II, an Imperial Pumpkin Ale, this month. Also this month, look for a sour and red rye IPA – for details, go to their Facebook page.