Come November, fresh hop IPAs and pumpkin ales start to wane in number on the local taps, as the heavier, darker beers move in.
This month I visited our county’s smallest breweries — North Fork, out in Deming, and Menace, out of Ferndale — looking for some fall seasonal offerings before they’re gone, and I took these notes.
North Fork Fresh Hop Pale Ale. Pours pale gold, topped with a loose, off-white head. What this ale lacks in depth and complexity, especially in the hop profile, it more than makes up in spark and snappiness. Upfront you get the highlight of the beer, a dart-like hop attack, less juicy than a lot of fresh hop ales but no less palatable. Taking a stab, I’d guess the defining variety here is Cascade or a close relative: flowery aroma, with lemon-grapefruit citrus on the palate. And it’s drinkable much in the same way as good old Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, with twice the hop punch. On the back end I felt the malt was just slightly raw and uneven, but a honeyed sweetness saves face. In the end the hops — fresh, local, as in Acme — are the focus, and taken as a whole this beer accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. B+
North Fork Pedro’s Pumpkin Ale. It’s rare to find an aggressive pumpkin ale. This one, however, takes pride in being mellower than most. It’s a ruby-orange beer that glows purple in good light; head’s a milky off-white; the aroma heady with fall spices and, more faintly, pumpkin meat. The so-called pumpkin beer is almost always a misnomer, of course, since you’ll taste far more spice — cinnamon, allspice, et cetera — than squash. Here, those spices come out on top, backed by a rich creaminess underneath, with more spice notes resonating in the background. The body’s deep and sturdy in texture, with flavor wavering from caramel date-like notes to a zing of clove, nutmeg and cinnamon. Those frills started to grate on me by the bottom of the first glass. C+
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Menace Summer Wheat. Still technically a seasonal, this summer holdover was on tap at The Local in early November, for whatever reason. It’s a mellow wheat beer, yellow-gold with mild haze, one finger of bubbly white head, and minimal aroma. Fruity sweetness on the back end overtakes the flavor profile, de facto, as there’s no hop bitterness to speak of. As expected! Overall it’s par for the course for a summery American wheat ale, no more, no less, and not much to write home about. You might squeeze an orange slice into it, when no one’s looking. And why not? What could it hurt? (Disclosure: Tried it, didn’t die.) C+
Menace Irish Red. On nitro this ale is creamy in the extreme, with a third of a pint of tan head, thick and rich as milk. Depending on the pour, that can be excruciatingly slow to dissipate. Break out a copy of Dubliners to kill some time. The body’s a deep ruby, a strong regal color, and the full look is reflected in the mouth-feel. On the tongue are medium-dark roasted malt flavors. Somewhat toasty, too, but nothing’s over the top here, just an authentic rich warm vibe for a red. B
In other brews …
— The folks at Structures Brewing, 1420 N. State St., hope to have a tasting room open by the end of November. The brewery’s founders, James Alexander and Ryan Miller, have long-term ambitions for their barrel-aged beers, and in the meantime expect some styles that can be brewed up on a quicker timeline, e.g. pale ales, IPAs, etc.
— Stones Throw Brewing Co., meanwhile, creeps ever closer to an open date for its brewpub at 1009 Larrabee Ave. This month co-owner Tony Luciano blogged on the brewery’s website about the hang-ups they’ve faced while building a brewery, literally, from the foundation on up.
— How do you know winter’s coming? One telltale sign is what’s being served at our local breweries: Aslan Brewing’s cold-fermented 542 Winter Warmer; Boundary Bay’s potent Cabin Fever; Chuckanut Brewing’s smoky Rauch lager; Wander Brewing’s decadent Global Mutt Baltic Porter.