Summer would win by a healthy margin if beer’s popularity were measured sheerly by cumulative volume consumed.
True aficionados of America’s favorite adult beverage, however, know that fall is the best time to find some of the tastiest craft suds to hit the mass market.
The dynamic duo in beer’s brewing process is barley and hops, and both are at their peak harvestability in the late summer and early fall. That trend gives way to many autumn-inspired beers that are more hearty, spicy, full-bodied and flavorful than those available the rest of the year.
South Jersey’s unofficial king of craft beers, Wingcraft Kitchen & Beer Bar in Atlantic City, has a revolving slate of 40 brews on tap at any time. Currently a cross-section of newly released and time-tested fall brews are already in place on Wingcraft’s beer menu. More are on the way as the midpoint of the season arrives, according to owner Nick Ballias.
“I’ve got spiced cider, various pumpkin-style beers on tap, Oktoberfests, IPAs, double IPAs — people start asking for these toward the end of September, and then we start loading up on them,” Ballias says.
“Since we have 40 on tap we try to vary the styles, and not double up too much on any one brewery so that as many as possible get represented,” he adds. “We try to avoid giving anybody a tap takeover by accident, and we also want to keep the seasonal and more in-demand beers available at all times.”
Some suggestions for fall samplings at Wingcraft, says Ballias, include Troegs Master of Pumpkins — a pumpkin-style ale with hints of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and honey; Evil Genius Trick or Treat — a porter brewed with pumpkin and cocoa; and Two Roads Roadsmary’s Baby — a pumpkin ale aged in rum barrels.
Five New Jersey breweries have fall/early winter specialties on tap at Wingcraft. They include an Oktoberfest lager by Kane Brewing Company called Bierhalle, a chocolate-malt stout by Ludlam Island Brewery called 547, Ship Bottom Brewery’s Barnegat Lager, Glasstown Brewery’s Clash of the Pumpkins, and Cape May Brewing Company’s Mop Water 5-Spiced Ale.
Around the bend from Wingcraft and adjacent to the Atlantic City Convention Center, Tun Tavern Restaurant & Brewery typically has at least a half dozen of its brewed-on-the-premises craft beers available on tap at any time, including takeout in growlers.
Brewmaster Brad Judge, a 35-year-old South Jersey native who came on board at Tun over the summer, has a Belgian saison on tap — a spicy and fruity pale ale that is generally only available through artisanal producers, and palatally appropriate for this time of year.
By mid-November, Judge will have Tun’s Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout ready, which will be a combined effort between two local creators of artisian adult beverages. The stout — a dark, hearty brew popular during the colder months — will actually be aged in whiskey barrels provided by Atlantic City’s small-batch craft spirits purveyor Little Water Distillery.
“That will give the beer an an oaky, whiskey flavor that will come out on the back end, and will meld well with the big, bold flavors of a stout,” says Judge, who co-owned a brewery in Nicaragua for eight years before civil unrest prompted him, his wife and two young children to return to New Jersey. One of his creations from that Central American nation was beers aged in Flor de Caña rum barrels — one of the premium rums in the world.
“We also have what we’re calling our (Tun) Fall Fest Bier, which is an Oktoberfest-style beer or German lager that’s very popular around this time of year,” Judge says. “It has to sit in the tank for a couple more weeks to let everything meld together, develop and clarify, so that it looks nice and pretty.
“Once it’s ready,” Judge says, “I’m going to talk with our head chef about maybe putting a couple of German-style items on the (food) menu at the bar that would pair well with this one, like brats or sausage-and-peppers.
“If you’re going to do an authentic Oktoberfest-style beer, you might as well have the food that pairs well with it.”