The bounty of the fall harvest offers countless prospects for brewers. Fresh flavours of in-season fruits, vegetables, and flowers offer possibilities that are unique to the season.
“Fall is the most exciting season in cider making,” says Melanie Eelman, cider maker at Annapolis Cider Company, the newest addition to Nova Scotia’s cider scene. “Some apples don’t store so well. We’re really excited to be working with the great diversity of apples that we can play around with at that time of the year.”
Annapolis Cider Company offers two ciders year-round: Juicy & Sweet, and Crisp & Dry. Additionally, the company releases what it calls the “something different” cider, a seasonally inspired one-off batch. Starting in September and throughout the fall, the company will craft ciders with the early-season varieties like Gravensteins, Galas, Paula Reds, and Vista Bella apples.
“Gravensteins, they have this nice floral aroma and taste, they taste a little bit brighter,” says Eelman. “We’re going to travel around to some of the fruit farmers and ask to try their apples, get samples, and do trials and try to come up with the nicest blends.” She sites the importance of blending seasonal apples with other, more tannic apples that are crucial to the cider making process in order to balance the sweetness with crisp, tart flavours. Find Annapolis Cider Company products at its tasting room and cidery in Wolfville, N.S., and at NSLC locations.
Autumn often triggers thoughts of pumpkin-flavoured beers. Picaroons Traditional Ales in Fredericton, New Brunswick, brews a more interesting and interactive option. The Picaroons Harvest Ales program typically begins in September, after hop farmers from all across the Maritimes harvest their crops.
Dennis Goodwin, Picaroons’ marketing director, says the campaign started as a way to support local farmers. The company brews several different batches of its Harvest Ale, using hops grown by a variety of local farmers. Each label features a batch code, so consumers can log on the Who’s Your Farmer website at . “You go on and you see what hops are in your beer,” says Goodwin, “and you find our about your farmers.”
The Harvest Ales are a golden, amber ale featuring fresh, local hops. “It can taste a bit greener,” says Goodwin. Some hops will add a floral taste or aroma, while others affect the beer’s bitterness. Hop heads, those who seek out the hoppiest brews, will enjoy the Harvest Ales for their high hop levels and opportunity to taste the difference between hop varieties.
Picaroons typically releases five to eight batches, but the final number depends on the hop season and the harvest’s yield. The malt base and all other ingredients stay exactly the same across the series. “It really gives a drinker the ability to experience what different hops taste like,” says Goodwin.
Picaroons tries to distribute the bottled Harvest Ales to the hop farmers’ home provinces. You can find bottles at liquor stores in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and P.E.I., plus its Fredericton and Saint John stores, and on tap at New Brunswick restaurants and bars.
Another way to enjoy autumn brews is by choosing beers that pair well with seasonal foods. In Halifax, Josh Counsil, co-founder of Good Robot Brewing, describes the brewery’s autumn saison as pairing well with turkey, offering “big fruity and spicy aromas and a very sweet, yet balanced and complex taste that gives it lots of depth.”
This strong Belgian ale, named Awesome Beer, Great Job! offers a creamy body and sharp finish. The joke around the brewery is this beer is a rich, spicy autumn saison that was released six months late, in May. Given that it’s a perfect autumn sipping beer, Good Robot will reprise it at its North End brewery this autumn in growler refills and pints in the taproom, or bundle up for a visit to the patio seating area dubbed The Gastroturf.
Seasonal creations are a common thread in craft brewing and cider making. Small batches are a never-ending source of inspiration for brewers. P.E.I. Brewing Company in Charlottetown, releases a number of seasonal beers year-round. It uses its Gahan House brewpubs in Halifax and Charlottetown as incubators for customer feedback.
“That’s what great about the craft brewing industry, there’s so much experimentation that can take place and you can get really good feedback when you do a beer,” says P.E.I. Brewing Company president Jeff Squires. “It allows us to be nimble and flexible and really meet consumers’ changing demands. I think it’s a real advantage for craft breweries to have that opportunity.”