There’s a legit case to be made for why just about any season is great when it comes to seasonal brews. For this dude, however, Fall is about as good as it gets. The summer ales are great, and the winter warmers are perfect for those icy nights where the city seems to be shut down, but dang it if the ingredients that are fall staples don’t make a mean stein of lager.
For this north-Texas dweller, Fall beer season officially begins with the opening of Addison’s Oktoberfest. Even if I don’t actually go and partake of the admittedly limited marzen-flavored offerings, it’s just a good time-marker to leave the lighter pils and ales on the shelf and start spending some quality time with brews that get a tad darker and typically don’t require a lemon or lime to accompany it. Perhaps the various Oktoberfest brews and fall seasonals are the long-sleeve T-shirt that bridges the gap between summer tanks and swim trunks and the sweaters that enrobe us all in the winter months.
As you might’ve guessed by now; I haven’t exactly begun my Oktoberfest drinking season by hitting the Import section of the local beer depot. I’ve begun my seasonal celebration on the “Made in Texas” end of the aisle. Of course, we all know about Shiner Bock’s dependable ability to produce quality seasonal brews that often eclipse the greatness of the original style that made it’s name. While their Oktoberfest is surely a worthy one to grab, it’s not the best of the Texas lot, and by now, Shiner has become such a big deal in so many parts of the country, outside of the state, that it might be more of a stretch than any of us ever imagined to simply call Shiner a “Texas Beer”. Don’t get me wrong, of course it’s still an icon of Texas pop-culture and still very much a Texas creation, but it’s not just ours anymore, you know?
While I’m certainly leaving some out, there are three Texas-brewed Oktoberfests that are pretty available for just about any Lone Star resident that can help any beer lover ring in the season of Baseball playoffs, NFL regular season and raking leaves off of the lawn, once they’ve fallen from their trees.
St. Arnold Oktoberfest (Houston) – Perhaps the richest in flavor of the ones we’ll discuss, it’s a full bodied brew that has a heavier mouth feel than the others as well. I wouldn’t call it refreshing, but I would call it a great beer to sit and enjoy casually when you have the time to actually give some thought to what’s in your stein during that first slight, sub-75 degree “chill” in the air.
Rahr & Sons Oktoberfest (Ft. Worth) – The resilient brewer has certainly made a major comeback from the winter storm that collapsed their roof and crippled their operation during the icy weather of last winter. While not as rich as St. Arnold’s, it has a cleaner finish with every bit of flavor in it’s Marzen-styled, deep amber glory as its counterpart from Houston.
Real Ale Brewing Oktoberfest (Blanco) – With the cleanest finish of these three choices, it also might be the one that casual beer drinkers might prefer, thanks to a less aggressive overall flavor. It’s a good beer, and will still rank higher than your Sam Adam’s Oktoberfest’s and other larger breweries versions, but it isn’t likely to pass the test when pitted against the brewers who want to really make a strong point with perhaps the most famous of all seasonal styles. But, hey, it’s still good.
For those (like me) who also like to give a number of brews a try, give this list from the recently-defunct D/FW QUICK a try. It’s from last year, but it gave me a wonderful tour of beers that fit perfectly into the season.
On Saturday, the 14th, the city of Plano got straight-up sudsy, thanks to the North Texas Beer Festival, hosted at the Plano Centre. Tons of beer vendors from all over the country sharing samples of their latest and greatest brews.
There were some nagging issues through the course of the afternoon, however. Long lines that ran up and and down the trade-show style rows of beer booths made it impossible to simply grab a cup from a specific brewer that might be in the middle of the aisle. So, rather than being able to easily sample something from Mendocino Brewing, one had to head to the back of a long line that forced you to spend time in-front of vendors and brewers that you may or may not want to get to know better. Also, while there were great craft-brew stars – both regionally and nationally - represented, there weren’t many lesser known breweries there, ready to surprise the throngs that arrived looking for a buzz. Maybe that wasn’t the goal, and perhaps that’s all relative – who knows. Southern Star Brewery, out of Conroe, TX isn’t exactly a household name, but thanks to their stellar Buried Hatchet Stout and Bombshell Blonde, the brewery that makes the finest canned Texas beer is well-known to us around here. In fact, Southern Star’s ProAm Smoked Porter was my favorite brew of the afternoon, with Austin’s Jester King Black Metal Stout ranking a close second.
So, there were a couple of issues, but overall, this was a very cool event and I can only imagine that it went about as well as anyone could expect from a first year’s offering.
As I’ve hinted already, Texas beer lovers were in heaven. St. Arnold had their excellent beers on hand, and Franconia, out of McKinney, wowed with their authentic, German-style lagers. Even Shiner Bock managed to bring something that was surely a surprise to most. Their new Shiner Ruby Redbird blended the classic bock taste with bright hints of ginger and grapefruit to make a refreshing and surprisingly even drink. It was easy to expect something that came off as way too fruity and sweet, but the ginger evened things out pretty well.
For the drinkers looking for out-of-state goodness, there were several options, perhaps most notably was New Belgium Brewery. Offering their brand-new Somersault seasonal (in stores very soon, we were told), Colorado’s hippest brewery is clearly continuing their streak of offering perhaps the country’s best beers for the sunny seasons.
Hey, what else is there to say, but that we’re already looking forward to next year’s fest!
Man, oh man. There are certain afternoons where I am convinced that I couldnt be experiencing what I am at experiencing at that given moment in any other state. Sure, that’s a bit shallow, perhaps. There are many unique locales that boast myriad opportunities, unique to their perspective areas that we, as Texans, may not be privy to on a regular basis. Regardless, last Sunday afternoon (and many other previous Sunday afternoons, for that matter) was one such moment where I felt especially Texan.
For eight spring and summers running, I have made a point to attend at least a few Shiner Sundays at the Plano, TX location of Love & War in Texas. For a couple of dozen Sunday afternoons each year, the best and biggest names on the Texas Country scene share the stage with the most promising newcomers, while all of it is broadcast live on KHYI 95.3, The Range. Personal highlights from the past, for me, have been due to solid, and perhaps rare parings of talent. In 2004, Jesse Dayton and Dale Watson carried out a marathon set, with Dayton and his band playing for literally hours beyond the two hour broadcast portion of the show. Last year, Darryl Lee Rush and Jason Boland packed the Hill Country-style patio to its absolute capacity and turned the time into their own mini-Red Dirt festival.
As I prepare to head on over for this weeks boffo bill, featuring Charlie Robison and John David Kent as the opener, I cant help but wonder how tough it will be for today’s acts to top the show from last week, featuring a prodigal Texan, Zane Williams, fresh off of his return from writing hits in Nashville and one of the finest writers to ever come out of the heralded tradition on the Brazos, Hal Ketchum.
Looking more grizzled than suave with his glorious mane tamed by father time, Ketchum professionally worked through his catalog of solid, radio hits from the 1990′s. Truthfully, I had forgotten how many great tunes the man has in his considerable portfolio. Few need reminding that the simple-life classic “Small Town Saturday Night” is his, but I’ll be darned if “Sure Love”, “Hearts Are Gonna Roll” and “Stay Forever” werent every bit as enjoyable to hear again. Ketchum brought the reverent crowd to their feet, and to tears (literally, in many cases that I personally witnessed) with an acapella rendtion of “Yesterday’s Gone”, a song that he wrote in honor of and about his Grandfather. Simply beautiful.
It really was an amazingly Texan afternoon. For most Sunday’s, Love & War in Texas is all about the love.
Kelly Dearmore is a freelance writer, mean pot of chili maker and opinionated music lover. To read more about what Kelly is listening to, visit him here on The Squawker weekly or daily on his personal music blog, The Gobblers Knob