Pumpkin beers are among the most polarizing beers of fall. These gourd-based beers divide drinkers into two camps, lovers and enemies, and (like current politics) a few moderates in between. 3 Sheeps Brewing of Sheboygan took their popular Belgian barrel-aged quadruple called Veneration and spiced it up. Introduced via a small batch last year, Spiced Pumpkin Worship has now hit Madison store shelves for 2021 in boxes of four 12-ounce cans ($ 16 to $ 18). Brewery owner and master brewer Grant Pauly takes Veneration (made with figs and molasses and aged for nine months in casks of Heaven Hill Rye Whiskey) and adds pumpkin spice. “It took a little while to get the flavors where we wanted them to be, so they weren’t too clove and pumpkin loaded,” says Pauly. This beer is a full bodied, big and boozy pumpkin ale. The underlying fruitiness of the quad pairs well with the pumpkin spice, but it’s the rye whiskey undertones with the cinnamon and cloves that really create the spicy dryness and mellow warmth of this beer. This is a scary strong beer that will surprise you at 12% ABV. I suggest saving some Pumpkin Spice Veneration to accompany future holiday meals for dessert in a glass.
As fall sets in with shorter days and longer nights, Dark skies from Door County Brewing to Baileys Harbor is one of my top picks for the season. I got a taste of it at the Thirsty Troll Brew Fest in Mount Horeb on September 11, then rushed to buy a six-pack (when it hit Madison’s shelves about a week later). It has a deep black color – like a starless night – but don’t let the misperceptions about heavy, strong dark beers keep you from enjoying this one. He is much lighter in body and strength than his appearance suggests. At 5.2 percent BAC, it has a medium body and well-balanced flavors and is easy to drink. It shares characteristics of German schwarzbiers and Czech brown lagers known for the sweetness of malted chocolate, with hints of light toasted caramel notes. Its name is a tribute to Door County’s Newport State Park, one of the few “dark sky parks” in the country that draws astronomers looking for breathtaking views of the cosmos.
Hops bragging rights go to Raised Grain Brewing for Lonesome Citra IPA. The beer was crowned best IPA in the state at the fifth annual Wisconsin IPA festival held on August 28 at Third Space Brewing in Milwaukee. Over 50 breweries competed, some bringing in multiple entries, to be ranked by their fellow brewers and a handful of special guest judges (including me). Lonesome Citra is part of Raised Grain’s Lonesome Hazy IPA series that features unique hop recipes. This hazy IPA is bursting with juicy orange and tangerine flavors and deserves the attention it gets. A few days after winning the title in 2021, the beer sold out in the reception hall in Waukesha. But don’t despair, the brewery’s Nick Reistad says it’s back on the brewing schedule. Watch for it later in the month in boxes of four 16-ounce cans ($ 11 to $ 13).
Giant Jones Brewing’s newest beer is a Belgian dubbing. The brewery already produces a number of Belgian styles including a golden strong, a triple and its American-Belgian Double IPA. Brewmaster Jessica Jones also intends to add a dark strong in early 2022. “We’re a niche brewery anyway, and people are crazy about Belgians,” Jones explains. Like all of the brewery’s beers, the dubbel is certified organic. Jones does this with Munich malts and Belgian candy sugar for those expected dubbel characteristics of rich dark fruit and warm sweetness. It is fermented with a strain of yeast used by the Rochefort Brewery in Belgium. At around 8% BAC, it fits well among the great beers this little brewery likes to make. Look for its official release around October 21 in the tasting room ($ 6 / glass) and local stores in 500ml bottles ($ 6 to $ 8).
During a recent theft of four beers from the Hop Haus Brewing Company in Fitchburg, Group Text Champion emerged from the sample tray with its lighter weight and easier to use qualities. This pale ale contains Citra hops and sweet orange zest. The added orange amplifies the tropical sweetness. It has a dry, crunchy finish and at 5.9% BAC, it’s great on its own or with a meal. Group Text Champion emerged from pilot batches that master brewer and owner Phil Hoechst was using to develop a light hoppy beer for next summer, one that will complement the brewery’s year-round Yardwork Crushable IPA. “People look for beers that are around 5 percent that are good for outdoor activities like camping, boating and golfing,” he says. “They want something refreshing, crunchy, and with a hop flavor that isn’t bitter.” Group Text Champion is available for $ 6 / glass or $ 13 / crowler at the Fitchburg and Verona locations.