Friday Froth: Take Your Own Advice (Southern Tier, Two Roads & Victory Breweries)

James Gribbon

Ernest Hemingway told us to always do sober what we said we'd do drunk. "That will teach you to keep your mouth shut," was his lesson. I don't get space here on Fridays for keeping my metaphorical mouth shut, and a few weeks ago I could be found pleading with you to hold off on All Pumpkin Errthang, and take the limited time we have at summer's end to enjoy the brief grunion-run of harvest ales. 

The same day Froth published, I went out, slapped my modest gains on a counter, and walked out, brown bottles with orange labels in my hands. I've found some good ones for you, so here's a sampler.  

Southern Tier Harvest special ale is an Extra Special Bitter, and pours with a golden ruby color. Decent head foams up at first and settles into thickish ring. The first whiff is bready malt, bouncing with hops. Rich and bitter, but mellow, Harvest is a hedge fund divorcee on xanax. It is also terrifically easy to drink, which means the robust 6.7%ABV tends to sneak up on you. The world is not exactly full of beers which aren't heavy, or beset with fruits or lactose, and still manage to feel like a treat, but Harvest is the exact recipe. It is decadent despite a deceptively simple formula, and a prototypical autumn beer. You have a full dose of lightly roasted barley and wheat, brewed with  four types of hops to step up the aroma, bittering and flavor.  The brewers call it "a deeply comforting ale to usher in the sunset as the evening get cooler," and recommend pairing it with stews, roasted game, and cheeses. 

Two Roads has hosted their Ok2berfest party and outdoor beer hall for three years now, with music, food trucks, and German-style half liter glass mugs for everyone, and I've missed it every. single. time. But don't worry, carry me not to the soft embrace of your dirndl-clad bosom, however [actually, no - no I'd be fine with that. -JG], because the Stratford brewer's Ok2berfest marzen is still available on tap at a few places around the state - including the brewery's tasting room, as of this writing. 

Ok2berfest is the standard caramel color you'll find as light passes through mugs in Munich this time of year, and its tall, resilient head stays fixedly on top like the swing cap on a growler. There is a bit of sweeter hop aroma to the otherwise biscuity scent. Take a drink, and you'll notice it is quite a bit sharper than many O'fest beers, and dry. So dry the finish is more aptly referred to as "parched." The body's rounded grains have been so worn down by hops and lagering they're almost concave, like the dips in the center of an ancient staircase. I came in expecting a chewy marzen, but ended up with one I could drink half a pint of while thinking how to describe the aftereffect of my second sip. Ok2berfest is supremely easy to drink large volumes of in a short time, which makes sense for a style designed to be sold by the liter. 

Victory Festbier is made from all Vienna and Munich malts, plus whole flower German hops, to make a marzen the label says is all about friendship and camaraderie. The important part is buried a little deeper in the happyspeak: "decoction brewed." Decoction is a venerable method, commonly used in the making of Oktoberfest beers and other dark lagers, wherein a portion of the mash is removed and boiled on its own before being added back into the original boil. To put it simply, what this does is super convert a significant portion of the grain starches and almost make a concentrate of them, with the result being like the Maillard reaction on the crust of bread. 

Festbier pours a crystalline red in the glass, with a medium head dissipating into a thin ring. There is a delicious, bready aroma, clearly detectable from about four inches away. Drink it, and the hops are nearly unnoticeable in a feast of roasty, caramelized grain. This last is the heaviest of the three beers in this review, but the least vociferously carbonated (when poured from a 120z. bottle, anyway), which keeps it from being filling. Festbier, a Pennsylvania-brewed amber lager/marzen/Oktoberfest beer, is delicious. 

The active starbirth region of the American craft beer scene continues to produce many offspring worthy of lust. Juicy, drippy IPAs, exotic and eye catching sours - they abound in youthful multitudes. Festbier, though, is love. It is warmth and a slow smile, held in glass. 

These beers, all three of them, are precisely why I want, I desire, you to drink a September seasonal. So maybe skip the fall-back Oktoberfest from Sam, wait a bit to get your cinnamon and spice fix, and get yourself a different kind of smile. See you out there.



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