Beer Sherpa: Brews for the Colder Weather

When the weather starts to change, sometimes you just need something dark.

It was August, but I had fall on my mind. Maybe it’s because one morning, when I woke, the sun just coming up, I opened the window to find the first scent of late September in my nose. I love fall: the leaves, the brisk nights full of stars, the dark-brown ales and porters and stouts.

That afternoon, food shopping, it was all summer again—melons and eggplants and tomatoes and zucchinis—until I got to the refrigerated beer section and saw Sierra Nevada’s Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale. (These days good beer can be found even at the supermarket.) I put the 12-pack in, and took it out, of my cart three times. I guess I wasn’t quite ready to surrender crisp lagers, biting IPAs and the citrusy summer ales that are especially refreshing after mowing the lawn. It feels like a failure of the imagination to drink brown ale this early in the season. Or worse, wishful thinking. Or worst, betrayal. Shouldn’t I be grateful for the long days, the warm weather and the fruit flies in the kitchen?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s the opposite of betrayal to be looking forward to fall. Maybe it’s no worse than feeling excited when your wife comes home with a new haircut and you remember why you fell in love with her in the first place. Maybe wanting to be holed up in a cozy room before the flames of a wood-burning stove, enjoying a tankard of Bombardier Premium Bitter or Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, is a triumph of the imagination—that here in the middle of all this sunshine and bird noise, my heart yearns for something autumnal.

I’m not alone in this, because today I saw bright-red berries clustered on the tips of one of the crazy vines that winds through the boxwood hedge in the front yard, where one late-fall afternoon I watched an old song sparrow die. He knew death was coming, and I couldn’t help but stare. Dusk fell, and that little bird watched like he was watching the end of the world.

I went back to work today, three weeks early, to advise students eager to start the semester. It’ll be awhile before the campus gets busy and crazy, and I start counting the days first to Thanksgiving then to Christmas break. But for a moment I felt like: yes, this is right. I am back, and summer is done. A long summer can do that to you—make you eager even to return to work, if you teach at a community college and like what you do. The halls were empty, but I imagined them filling with the noise of backpacks settling on shoulders and shoe soles squeaking on newly waxed floors. In the quad, I listened for a duet of acoustic guitars strumming pop songs and one lone voice singing along.

Last year Superstorm Sandy wiped out my man cave, where before the storm hit, I could be found on a fall evening. It was there I first learned which ales to call mine. I like something sweet but not too sweet. I don’t go in for the pumpkin ales, and last year when the beverage center I like had (no joke) three pumpkin ales on tap at the growler station, I almost boycotted the place. But I love my beverage center. I couldn’t stay away long.

In cooler weather, I prefer to taste malt upfront and maybe raisins and dark fruits to contrast the lighter flavors of summer. I don’t like a chocolate stout, but something hearty, smoky, creamy, smooth—something with the hint of coffee bitterness on the backend. I like a dense head, two fingers or more so if I swing the pint glass a little—to some song I like, a real sing-along song, maybe “Molly Malone,” maybe the heartbreaking “Green Fields of France”—runnels of foam overspill the glass and trickle down my hand.

When the weather is right and the sun low, I like Fuller’s ESB and Fuller’s 1845, too. (Canterbury Ales in Huntington offers these on tap sometimes.) There’s always Guinness, but if you’re going to have one, it’s best to leave the pulling to a professional. My favorite pub is Buckley’s in Center Moriches, and Austin serves a mighty fine pint. Of course, when I visit him and the Guinness flows, there’s probably a shot of Bushmills in my future and, if it’s Sunday, the traditional Irish breakfast with white and black pudding, or the shepherd’s pie and brown sauce, which is my wife’s favorite.

I should be celebrating what I have now cold in my refrigerator: Spider Bite, pale ale; Sierra Nevada’s Hoptimum Imperial IPA; and yes, the trusty and now hipster-approved American adjunct lager PBR. It’s too early for stouts and porters and brown ales. At least, it’s too early for me. For me, it’s still August. But for you, Oh, you, reader of the autumnal future, it is the perfect time for fall beers. The shelves thicken with the darker more mysterious ales. Your nights are prime for the glow of open flames and heavy sweaters and boots. The stars are more pronounced, and the moon reigns over the trees. Pour a draft, toast her and think of me, your poor beer Sherpa, doing the same and thinking of you.

Adam Penna is a poet living in East Moriches. He teaches at Suffolk County Community College and keeps a blog at adampenna.com.

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