(and a few lighter ones as well)
By Matthew Rudnicki
Vermont's award-winning breweries are known around the world - a Green Mountain distinction rivaled only by the state's legendary fall foliage. As autumn swiftly takes root, Hello Burlington had the opportunity to speak with some of Burlington's leading beverage and hospitality experts about their favorite Vermont beers for this stunning time of year. One thing was made clear by all three professionals we queried: fall is the perfect opportunity to try something new - especially a darker brew! Here's a list of their favorite fall beers with inspired suggestions for culinary pairings. Dust off your flannel, throw some chili on the stove, and work your way through the best dark beers (and a few lighter ones) of the season.
Sas Stewart, a serial entrepreneur whose projects have been featured in publications like Martha Stewart Living, Food and Wine, and Better Homes and Gardens is the creator of Adventure Dinner, a collaborative event company that creates and hosts secret dinners in unexpected places around Vermont. "What's cool about fall is that it has a visceral and powerful connection to who we are as humans," she muses, a fan of the warmth and comfort invoked by the season. "When I think about how we can harness those feelings and put them into food and drink, it makes me really excited." Here are a few of the beers on her radar this fall:
Wunderkammer Biermanufaktur - Found Object No. 1
Though it's a lighter and more pristine brew, Stewart raves over its complexity and adaptability. "It's brewed with pine needles!" she exclaims, adding, "It's got this fresh, resinous quality to it." Tart and golden, with a softwood and lemon-ginger lift, this oat-based beer pairs perfectly with grain salads and lighter roasted meats.
Switchback Brewery - Humo
Inspired by the smoky, spicy flavors of chipotle, Humo is an imperial stout brewed with beechwood smoked malt and fresh jalapenos. "It's savory. And the heat is delicate in it," says Stewart, who plans to offer it as part of an upcoming Scandanavian-themed feast. "It's really well balanced and food-friendly."
Switchback Brewery - Smoked Oyster Stout
This dry and refreshing Irish-style stout is brewed with New England oyster shells, and has a gentle smokiness tamed by roasted barley. It's a particularly inspiring beer for Stewart, who can't wait to pair it with shellfish. "This is actually the time of year that oysters are really good."
Ryan Chaffin, director of marketing at Farrell Distributing, has played an integral role in Vermont's beverage industry for the past 20 years. He's a big fan of the seasonal change and sees it as an opportunity for beer fans across the state to explore some bold new flavors. "It's a fun opportunity to branch out," he says. "It really feels like the best time to go out there and try something you traditionally wouldn't try on a 90 degree July afternoon." Here's what he's excited about this autumn:
This smooth stout has a soft, malt backbone and hints of burnt toast and cacao. Pairing well with heartier foods and smoked meats, this beer is available year-round, but comes into sharper focus as the leaves begin to fall. "It's a tremendously good beer," says Chaffin. "You're going to see an uptick in a style like this when maple syrup and campfires are on everyone's mind."
"Once fall comes, this is one of the first beers I think about," says Chaffin, referencing Queen City’s interpretation of a classic English dark ale. It's rich, full-bodied, and well-balanced with an understated hop bitterness and a malt profile accentuating its chocolate and coffee-like character. "When you think of fall dishes, you want beers with more body and complexity. This one is perfect for that."
This full-bodied American Porter is easy to drink, while remaining dark and robust with a lingering finish. "In the fall, when you feel that first chill in the air, it's your chance to try something with a heavier body," says Chaffin. "Cook with it and drink it at the same time!"
Matt Canning, the assistant general manager at Hotel Vermont, has helped create a renowned beer tourism program that's brought multitudes of beer enthusiasts to the state to taste local brews available only in Vermont. His passion for fall is expertly expressed through the richer beers he's curated for guests of the hotel's restaurant Juniper, complete with creative food pairings. Here are his favorites for the season:
The world-famous brewery makes an assertive porter with decadent notes of coffee and chocolate. Crafted from American malted barley, the beer pairs amazingly well with rustic, heavier foods. "Something bone-in and braised with new potatoes and root vegetables," offers Canning. "That combo of malt, bittering hops, and something that's fallen off the bone - that's where I want to be."
This attractive amber pour is a medium-bodied ale with hints of maple, licorice, and smoke, and works remarkably well with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, according to Canning, who claims it's one of the greatest food and beverage unions he's come across. "The aged cheese is so distinctive. With all that umami and sharpness, when paired with the sweetness of maple, is an all-time high."
Zero Gravity - Russian Imperial Stout
You won't find this beer...anywhere. Except at Hotel Vermont, where Canning and his team worked with the brewery on crafting an exclusive stout offering. After pouring through a limited run of local Vermont corn whiskey, Canning sent an empty 50-gallon barrel to Zero Gravity, who brewed a unique, velvety stout for the hotel and aged it in the barrel for 18 months. The beer tastes as remarkable as it sounds, and pairs perfectly with dessert. "With our housemade chocolate truffles," says Canning, "it's a perfect ender to the night."