While I am certainly a fan of some pumpkin beers, notably Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale, there’s a wider variety of Halloween-appropriate craft beers worth seeking out. No doubt Rogue sees an uptick in sales of their Dead Guy and Double Dead Guy Ales, and both are fine beers indeed (although I’m partial to the DDG), but I usually prefer something a little more subtle for Samhain. With that in mind, there are some fine British beers I like to seek out at this time of year – and many of them are very sessionable indeed, so it’s a good excuse to sample a few.
One of my favorites is Nightmare from Nick Stafford’s Hambleton Ales, an independent brewery in North Yorkshire – the beer is smooth, malty goodness, perfect for an autumn evening. Moving over to Lancashire, another north of England brewery with regular US exports is Moorhouse’s – and they have a number of perfectly-named beers for the holiday: Black Cat, one of the best milds available anyway (yes, it’s only 3.4%, but it’s full of flavor) and Pendle Witches Brew, a slightly heftier beer with sweet malt notes. Both brews commemorate the ‘Pendle Witches‘ – a group of women tried for witchcraft in 1612 (most of whom were imprisoned and subsequently hanged at Lancaster Castle – which was still a prison when I lived there in the 1990s). Perhaps because the history is more well-known in the local area, their labels have never generated the sort of controversy currently engulfing Lost Abbey’s Witch’s Wit – but more on that later.
Heading south, Oxfordshire’s Wychwood Brewery famously exports its Hobgoblin around the world; their Scarecrow can also be worth seeking out if you prefer something a little less malty (but really, shouldn’t most fall beers be malty?), though it still has some nice biscuity flavors. One word of caution with Wychwood beers (and perhaps this problem arises because some stores stock up on them) – they are all outstanding when they’ve been properly looked after, but I’ve had more than one bottle of Hobgoblin that had clearly been sitting around a while – make sure you get it reasonably fresh from a good distributor or beer store so you know you’re getting the real flavor of the beer. Even better, try one of them on cask near the brewery – they are lovely that way.
Of course, there are plenty of quality beers made in the US that are Halloween-ready. Colorado’s Avery Brewing produces a Demons of Ale series: Mephistopheles Stout is not brewed until December, but Beast, a Belgian Grand Cru should be ready just about now – although it’s definitely not something you’re going to have many of at one sitting – ditto for the other in the series, Samael’s, an oak-aged ale hovering rather close to the 15% ABV mark. For something a little more low-key, Gritty McDuff’s makes a Halloween Ale that makes its way out of Maine every year, and if you’re in more of a lager mood, there’s always Dixie Blackened Voodoo, originally from New Orleans (though still brewed elsewhere, post-Katrina).
Heading to the Midwest, Great Lakes Nosferatu also fits the bill (though I cannot comment on it specifically yet – it’s sitting in my fridge, waiting), Founders contributes their Devil Dancer, a Triple IPA and Bell’s Hell Hath No Fury…Ale is always tasty.
Out on the West coast, the aforementioned brouhaha over the label for Lost Abbey Witch’s Wit has certainly given the beer some publicity, if nothing else (although it seems to have also knocked the brewery offline) – while I’d have to agree I’d prefer to see something more along the lines of the Pendle Witches Brew approach, the beer itself is tasty indeed. Moving up the coast to Seattle, Black Raven Brewing has a full lineup of potential Halloween beers – Morrighan Stout is just one that sounds thematically-appropriate, and ideal for a chilly night.
Of course, you can still enjoy a pumpkin beer for Halloween – but why not save that for Thanksgiving? In any event, happy Halloween!