By Julia Burke, Beer Editor
More fall seasonals are trickling into my local shops, so the search for the best examples continued this week with another opposite-ends-of-the-state comparison: Blue Point Oktoberfest and Southern Tier Harvest Special Ale. I’d heard raves about both from beer friends, so it was amazing to find them as different as they were.
Southern Tier harvest pours clear amber into my awesome Old Toad Pub tulip glass from an epic dinner there on Wednesday (stay tuned for that story!) with a delicate head and minimal lacing.
The nose is hops. Yup, hops. No nutmeg, no clove, no cinnamon -- if you’re shopping for pumpkin pie spice you’re in the wrong aisle. This is the musty, resiny, grassy essence of primal lupulin -- apparently in Jamestown, “harvest” refers to plants of the not-quite-legal variety.
Ready for a big chewy gulp of fall? Think again. A palate-scraping mouthfeel of hop bitterness, unchecked by significant malt sweetness, suggests that this baby has more IBUs than the dustbuster at Lagunitas. There are whispers of nuttiness from courageous malt hints attempting to sing through the chaos, and God bless the little buggers for trying.
A harvest ale? Nothing about this beer, besides perhaps the appearance, suggests the style -- but does it matter? Hopheads don’t turn in their cards on Labor Day, and if picking gorgeous cones off your hop vines has made you crave their sweet nectar, this is the “harvest ale” for you. IPA haters, back away slowly.
I had to eat a meal in between the beers to cleanse my palate (wild boar -- somehow a great pairing for hoppy ales!). The Blue Point pours a color just a shade darker and with a slightly puffier head into the same glass. Once it hits your lips, though, it’s the polar opposite of Southern Tier.
The nose is sweetbread and toffee malt, with hints of Clementine peel and nutmeg. The palate is big, thick, sweet, bready – just the faintest kiss of hops, but no more. To speak in pet store terminology, because that’s what popped into my head, this beer is the cuddly golden retriever to Southern Tier’s annoyed hedgehog.
This Blue Point offering, while perhaps just a hair too sweet, sits contently in the Oktoberfest mold while Southern Tier Harvest runs arms-aflail in the other direction like a Ritalin child at Grandma’s house.
Do you hold your beer to the requirements of the style it claims to emulate? I tend to, but as “harvest” is more an attitude than a style per se, let’s embrace the originality. Both efforts get a thumbs-up.