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.