Friday Froth: Half Full Brewery, Oktoberfest & Other Fall Beers

James Gribbon

You may have noticed we've been playing around with the structure of Friday Froth for the past several months. This space has been everything from event coverage, to brewpub openings, to a travel diary, but this week we're going back to something more like a classic Froth. I began writing this column way back in ye olden days of 2009 with the idea of expressing a renaissance. 

The growth of American craft brewing was every bit as compelling as the culinary scene in terms of new ideas, personalities, and dedication to ingredients and flavors, but most people were still pretty lost when it came to picking out something new to try. Glance at the patrons in front of the craft case at the rare well stocked liquor store at the time, and they'd be wearing expressions like someone at MoMA trying to decide if what they were looking at was the intentional work of an artist, or construction debris. I started Froth just to give people a heads up. So, without going on too long I hope, that's what we're doing today.

I'm not a huge fan of "pumpkin" beers both because most of them taste like digging your way out of a tragic spice factory explosion, and my bone-deep loathing of seasonal creep is a matter of extensive public record. Pumpkin beer is second only to Christmas decorations for crimes of the latter. Despite those two factors, and receiving this beer as a sample during a scorching hot first week of September, I felt compelled to write about one.

Half Full's Pumkin Ale is mahogany colored, with a medium head which lingers in flat white plane across the top. The beer gives off a mainly nutmeg aroma, with maybe a bit of cocoa. On first taste, allspice and maybe a bit of ginger join the party, and the flavors mellow and melt together as you make your way through a 12oz. serving. This, to me, is a good thing, and I was 3/4ths through a can before I knew it. I can't say the spices are subtle, but they're definitely not a tongue curling glitter bomb either. It's a little hazy in the glass, but this spiced ale isn't unctuous or heavy. Half Full's Pumpkin Ale seems to have been made with enough spice flavoring to appease drinkers specifically going for this kind of beer in the fall, but with a little restraint, and an idea of focusing on quality instead of just keeping up with seasonal demand. 

This is something I've seen a lot more of from the Stamford brewer since they announced the hiring of Tom Price as their new head of brewery operations. Tom had formerly spent six years as the quality control manager at Brooklyn Brewery, where spent a lot of time overseeing the lab in Williamsburg. I was on hand at an event at Half Full this February where everyone got a chance to see Tom's immediate impact in the form of the first Sensible Decision series beers (an IPL and a Baltic Porter), plus Half Full's new DIPA, Liquid Hoptimism, which I enjoyed. I've had a chance to reexamine some of Half Full's beers in the ensuring months, and I've continually thought even the previously existing styles - I didn't always think the recipes were quite dialed in, and some of the beers tasted underfermented and grainy - experienced a significant bump in quality in 2016. If I can actually enjoy a pumpkin beer not named Pumking, Half Full may be worth a second look from the drinkers in the CT beer scene. 

Every year but this one I ignore beers like the above, because best of the fall seasonals are always the harvest ales, and Oktoberfestmarzens. It's kind of like the way Japanese culture values the cherry blossom: the brevity of their existence makes their beauty all the more valuable. The glut of pumpkin spice beers means some will linger on shelves for a year, but harvests and Oktoberfests just aren't made in the quantities which would even make that possible, so it makes sense to get in while the getting's good. A few ideas:

 - Two Roads hosts Ok2berfest, featuring the beer of the same name, every September, and every year I miss it. This weekend, don't be like me. 

Aspetuck Bew Lab will launch their first ever BlackRocktoberfest Alethis Saturday at 1:30p.m. It's a neat space, and tiny, so you may want to get there early if you'd like to check it out. 

- Farther upstate, the Small State Great Beer fest is going on in Hartford, and it's all Connecticut breweries, so you can drink your way around the state without experiencing the existential agony of dealing with our highways. Try the Firefly Hollow Moonrise amber, if you get a chance. It's like an ESB with a more American hop profile, and I particularly like it this time of year. Their Lord Photon is also excellent.

There will be more to come in future Froths, but let's not go on too long. I hope this may have gotten some wheels turning. See you out there.