Whether you've a palate for hearty grain, apple or pumpkin flavors, this time of year, you can get it in a beer glass. Seasonal suds of all kinds flowed freely last Saturday at the annual Berktöberfest in Pittsfield, tapped by both local and regional brewers.
But with a variety of beer offered by shops and bars all year round, why celebrate autumnal styles in particular?
"Fall beers are big because of the flavor," said Brendan O'Leary, Samuel Adams brewery representative for the Western Massachusetts region.
He poured a sample of "Samuel Adams OctoberFest," the brewery's top-selling seasonal beer. "It goes with the changing leaves, it goes with this region. See, you've got the copper, amber colors.
"I call this beer Western Mass in a glass," he said, adding, the New England fall ambiance creates a mood for fall beers. "This isn't going to taste the same in Florida."
A fall beer can be in the style of a lager, a stout or an ale. The distinction comes with the use of certain hops, yeasts, spices and other fall harvest ingredients to create a cornucopia of colors, aromas and flavors that represent the season.
Lee resident Bob Bockmann is a member of the Berkshire Homebrew Association, which featured "Bob's Bavarian Dampfbier" on tap at Berktöberfest.
Bockmann looked to his family roots in Germany, where the 180th Oktoberfest was held Sept. 21 through Oct. 6. With roots as a matrimonial celebration for Bavarian King Ludwig I and his wife Theresie, the contemporary celebration attracts thousands of people worldwide in the name of music, rides and games, and of course, drinking good German beer.
Bockmann explained that German brews date back to the Bronze age. To be considered a true German beer, it has to live up to Reinheitsgebot (aka the German Purity Law or the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516), which means it's been brewed with only water, hops, barley and yeast, no extra spices.
For his Dampfbier, Bockmann uses an 1850s "poor man's beer" recipe using a Hefeweizen yeast, to create what he describes as a "medium-bodied, gently hopped, all barley" beer. Once phased out, the Dampfbier recipe was revived by the Erste Dampfbierbrauerei (First Steam Beer Brewery) in the small of town of Zwiesel, Germany. Bockmann said he's glad to contribute, and pay tribute to his great, great grandfather.
"These festivals are an exchange of culture, and for me, family. Brewing's a way to get back to my roots," he said.
On Oct. 26, the Old Forge in Lanesborough will also be holding its own Octoberfest with plenty of German styles to try on tap.
Fall beers are a great transitional beer, neither as light and citrusy as summer nor as dark and smoked as winter beers. Instead they have a crisp taste and feel, like crunching through autumn leaves.
"It's hops season," said Bethany Cox, a representative from Barrington Brewery of Great Barrington. She and Sylvia Dario of Pittsfield poured samples of the brewery's Oktoberfest, an ale recipe based on the classic Marzen style. The brewery is also making an "R" Hop Ale this season.
"It's getting colder, so you want a beer that's warm and fuzzy," said Dario, "Not that it's served warm, but it gives you that feeling."
"You also want a beer to go with seasonal foods. You want something that will stand up to pulled pork and pair nicely with butternut squash," Cox said.
Siblings Paul and Jennifer Boulais each have their own favorite local seasonal.
Paul raised his glass to the "Okto Bock" from Big Elm Brewing in Sheffield. "It's robust without being insistent," he said.
His sister cheered for the "Red Oktober" by Wandering Star Craft Brewery in Pittsfield. "It looks warm in color and tastes delicious. It makes me happy," she said.
These days, it also seems like you can't pass a beer board or package store that doesn't herald brews flavored with pumpkin.
"I'm a huge fan of pumpkin beers," said Jame LeClair of Dalton. While sampling a Barrington Brewery Oktoberfest, he told The Eagle Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale is his favorite. The Dogfish Head website describes it as a "full-bodied brown ale with smooth hints of pumpkin and brown sugar."
Multiple Berktöberfest guests said they favored Shipyard Brewing Company's Pumpkinhead Ale; it often gets served with cinnamon-sugar either dusted on the foamy beer head or rolled around the rim of the glass it's served in.
"Anything pumpkin is good to have around this time of year," said Bob Bertolino, new general manager of The Shamrock Pub in Dalton.
In addition to Shipyard Pumpkinhead and Post Road Pumpkin Ale from Brooklyn Brewery, The Shamrock is currently stocking seasonal brews from locals like Big Elm Brewing and Wandering Star Craft Brewery to regionals like Samuel Adams and Wachusett Brewing Company.
Though technically not beer, Bertolino said hard ciders like Woodchuck Hard Cider and Angry Orchard Hard Cider are popular alcoholic fall beverages as well.
In New England, fall may be the most festive of seasons, and seasonal beverages make for ideal guests for a party or just chilling out by a fire.
"I love fall beer. I love the flavor of it and the combination of fall foods and weather," said Danielle Trumbull, who attended Berktöberfest. The festival benefited her family's charitable organization, Moments House, as well as the Elizabeth Freeman Center and Berkshire Brewing Heritage.
During the festival, she paired a Harpoon Octoberfest sample with some corn and ale chowder from Dottie's Coffee Lounge.
"I just love the fall, the look and feel of the season paired with the food and beer. I think it has a lot to do with where we live," she said.