Autumn Ales

Sommerset Newsletter, Autumn 1999

By Adrian Tierney-Jones

What is an autumn ale?

Traditionally, autumn is a time for reflection as the leaves drop and we speed on to the end of the year and Christmas. In the beer-drinkers' world, the time of summer beer festivals has gone and golden ales are not really what you want anymore. In Germany they have their Oktoberfests, but here I'm of the opinion that it should be time for warming and characterful ales which will hint at the stronger flavours of Christmas ales and barley wines without blowing your head off. I want beers which make my palate comfortable, beers which are tasty and smooth without carrying enough alcohol to power a steam train. I'm not ready to sip a barley wine by the fire just yet. On the other hand, the last thing I want when it's raining outside and the barometer is pulling a face is a cool summer ale which did the business in July but is totally redundant now.

Autumn is also the time of the new harvest of barley and hops and a few enterprising brewers release ales which take advantage of this fresh new crop - the beers have a freshness and tanginess which set taste-buds quivering.

But autumn ales have not gained the seasonal niche in the same way that summer and winter ales (or even beers for the eclipse) have. Sure, there's Ushers Autumn Frenzy which is a decent and interesting beer. While Michael Jackson recommends Heather Ales' Fraoch, Alba Scots Pine Ale or Grozet Gooseberry and Wheat Ale. But apart from beers which put autumn in front of their names, I'm not so sure that autumn beers exist in great numbers. It's more of a sales gimmick than a great tradition. You can correct me if I'm wrong but Cotleigh's Harvest, which is brewed with freshly picked hops, seems to be the sole local standout for this season and is a superb seasonal beer, in tune with the changes of the year. It's a deliciously hoppy ale which is fresh on the palate and leaves your mouth tingling and ready for more. It's beer to refresh yourself after a bracing walk on the Quantocks or a hop-happy social beer which clearly draws a line beneath the season of summer ales.

Big Book


Adrian Tierney-Jones