Like any good grocer knows already, seasonality means everything.
A heavy porter in the summer coats like a parka in July, just like a quart of strawberries in January isn’t as sweet as they could be in June.
Brewers, for the most part, know this already and offer a bevy of rotational brews that capitalize on the season like freshly picked fruit.
But the popularity of seasonal beer has turned from a once-in-a-while experiment to a fully grown, popular industry. With each passing year, there are more choices, and with each year there are more varieties on a heavier rotation.
The standbys are still there: heavier, darker beers in the cold seasons; and lighter, more refreshing flavors in the spring and summer.
Navigating your selection and knowing when the time is right to load up on the best of the seasonal beers is a science now. The right beer at the right time can make all the difference when it comes to entertaining and food pairing.
Kevin DeLange, owner and founder at Aurora’s Dry Dock Brewery can help.
He’s been making seasonals for more than a decade, and like a true pro, he can’t stand how many pumpkin beers come out too soon.
“It’s annoying. And it’s getting earlier and earlier in the year,” he says.
Here’s our short list for what to look for and beers that can make a big difference when the temperature rises (or drops) in Colorado.
Dry stouts, Maibocks and sours
Straddling the line between big, malty beers and sessionable ales for warmer days, spring has the unenviable task of being the season with the fewest well-defined seasonals.
Maibocks, a staple in Germany and Bavarian countries, may be the sleeper pick this season.
Give this a try: Dry Dock’s Tripel — if it’s around. DeLange said his taproom on Hampden and Chambers can turn out a seasonal in just a few weeks, so if you beg, plead and scream, he just might do it.
Wheat beers, Helles, freshly hopped IPAs.
Summer brews are the king of fresh. Fully removed from winter and colder months, summer beers are lighter, more refreshing and typically involve some sort of fruit.
Copper Kettle Brewing Co., near Aurora, offers a wide selection of Helles that range from their fruity watermelon Helles to their crisper, award-winning Bavarian Helles.
Fresh-hop beers — beers that have hops added shortly after the flower has been picked — are usually more subtle in their bitter flavor and aroma. (Most IPAs are hopped with concentrated pellets that infuse the beer with more of the flower’s flavor.)
Give this a try: Copper Kettle’s Watermelon Helles — it’s just weird. It’s not as sweet as you might think, but it is refreshing.
And for a brewery that’s made a name for its lack of hoppy beers, its watermelon brew is a delightful break from so much hops.
Pumpkin beers, Oktoberfest,
Anyone who has meandered the aisles of their local bottle shop knows that fall seasonals seem to arrive sooner and sooner each year. It’s not uncommon to find a pumpkin ale sitting in the cooler in August, and for good reason: they’re the biggest seasonal seller by far.
But dig deeper into fall’s menu of beers and you’ll find traditional German-style pilsners that were built for fall. Anything labeled as an Oktoberfest is a pungent pils that shows off a craft brewer’s mettle. DeLange says Oktoberfests are usually overshadowed and underrated: a brewer’s term for a “must buy.”
Give this a try: Dad and Dude’s Chile Beer — spicy and bold, the small Aurora brewer’s beer is one of the best late summer beers we can remember. Chile beers are good for about a pint, but you may find yourself ordering another here. Plus, it’s not another damn pumpkin ale.
Stouts, porters, spiced ales
When the mercury drops, flavors typically go up. Winter beers are the brass section of any orchestra: unmistakably loud and potent. And while you can find yourself in a perpetual slumber with just a few stouts and porters, there are options for holiday beers that most people don’t think of. Rye ales and spiced beers are frequently overlooked and viable “sessionable” brews for dreary holiday parties.
Give this a try: Great Divide’s Hibernation Ale — a piquant blend of spice and subtle malts, Hibernation has plenty of heft for a cold night.