The autumn of the year has its pleasures, even down here in coastal Carolina, where the summer seems to go on until Thanksgiving. During my childhood in northern Illinois and northern Ohio, autumn meant apples and apples meant cider.
Cider has been made on the Almar Orchard farm in Flushing, Michigan since the 1850's. During Prohibition, people came for miles for the "Special Farm Cider." It was "Special" because it wasn't pasteurized. You could add a little yeast to it and let it ferment, just like they do today to make J.K. Scrumpy's Garden Gate Gold Hard Cider. The Koan family grows the apples in a ruthlessly organic way. A large flock of guinea fowl wander through the orchards eating all the bugs. Fallen apples that might harbor insect pests are cleaned up by the farm's Berkshire pigs. Then the cider is made with only two ingredients - apples and yeast. No sulfites, no preservatives. They slowly ferment the cider until it reaches a moderate alcohol level of 6%, with lots of natural apple sweetness left. This stuff is truly delicious and in a world of mass produced, artificially flavored junk, a glass of JK Scrumpy's Hard Cider takes me back to an earlier time when we had family farms and in the fall you could buy cider direct from the farmstand at the side of the road. To read more about the Almar Orchard tradition and some great ways of serving Garden Gate Gold, check out the excellent J.K. Scrumpy website.
Another fall pleasure is Oktoberfest beer. The Oktoberfest celebration in Munich, Germany originated in 1910, and the beer served there is called "Märzen," brewed in March and allowed to slowly ferment all summer in a cool cellar. It was ready to drink in...Oktober.
We're featuring two of these Oktoberfest style beers, and they're not from Germany. They're both from small domestic producers. The first is Festbier from Victory Brewing in Downingtown, PA. The Victory brewers, who trained in Germany, use all German malts and European whole flower hops. It won a Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festiveal in the Oktoberfest category. I'd say it's about as close to a brew from the sidewalks of München as you'll find around here.
Our second selection is Clawhammer Oktoberfest from Asheville, NC's Highland Brewing Company. This is a seasonal brew that we had here last year and it was so good that one of our brew maven customers has asked us to get a case for him as soon as it comes in. Well, it's here now. Clawhammer Oktoberfest is a hoppy lager, as you would expect, and it's very smooth and clean. Dare I say, "Crisp as an October afternoon in the Blue Ridge"?
Hard cider and Oktoberfest beer...I can already hear the geese honking across the full harvest moon.