What’s the scariest thing in the bar scene this time of year? This: Canton’s Hudson Street Stackhouse had 20 pumpkin beers on tap—over half its draft offerings are given over to the god-awful gourd. Indeed, most bars sport plentiful jack-o’-lantern tap handles.
Put me amid the burgeoning backlash against the pumpkinification of autumn. John Oliver said Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte “tastes like a candle.” He was being generous. But it’s pumpkin brews that really rattle my pint glass. They contain the flesh of the foul orbs and/or the spices associated with their cookery—nutmeg, cinnamon, and other pantry crap ruinous to beer taste.
But rather than just rant about the Orange Menace, I’m here to offer an alternative: smoked beers. Fall, after all, is the season of bonfires, of parties around patio firepits, and, if you dwell deep enough in the boonies, the pungent perfume of burning leaves. To varying degrees, smoked beers capture this earthy essence, a byproduct of fire used to dry the malts.
The ultimate smoked beers are Germany’s Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier line, or as I call them in English, “liquid bacon.” It’s available in bottle at better beer stores, and Nickel Taphouse had Schlenkerla’s märzen on draft recently. I just missed it at Max’s Taphouse, but Max’s 151 taps offer a few other smoky delights, including Evil Twin’s The Cowboy, a smoked pilsner from Denmark with a crisp, fireside nose.
Closer to home, Heavy Seas seems to have stopped making its Smoke on the Water beer. Oliver Breweries’ Stephen Jones is a smoker, however. Its Pratt Street Ale House usually has something home-smoked on tap, such as The Sentinel, a bourbon-barrel-aged smoked red ale, and Last Train To Satansville, a smoked black ale. Forthcoming is something Jones is calling Smokin’ in the Ladies Room, exact recipe still undetermined.
“I’m a fan of smoked beers though I tend to keep the smoke subtle,” Jones wrote in an email. “Smoked beers are definitely a niche market—but let’s face it, everything that isn’t an IPA is sort of a niche market.” Except this time of year, when Big Pumpkin rules. Gross.