This week, I thought we’d take a close look at some seasonal beers. It’d be boring, though, if we just drank some beer and said “Wow, those are yummy,” so Morgan and I set up a little series of beer showdowns. In my travels, I’ve found that the only way for me to truly see the difference between two very similar things is a side-by-side comparison. I’ve had plenty of wheat beers, but it wasn’t until I had Blue Moon and Shock Top side by side that I was able to articulate which I really prefer and why. So, we went to our local Total Wine and built us a six pack from their selection of loose bottles: two coffee porters, two Oktoberfests, and two Imperial Ales fashioned after cinnamon pastry desserts. Here’s what we learned.
Round 1: Oktoberfest Smackdown
We’ll start with the seasonal flavors of the season that’s ending. Blue Point’s Oktoberfest is a textbook example of the style it represents. I have an issue where I want to love everything and everyone; it’s made my chosen career as a sort of critic challenging when it comes to being honest about things that don’t succeed in what they set out to do. BP’s Oktoberfest doesn’t fail to count for its style, it’s just uninteresting. With so many Fest Beers to choose from, the only thing I can say about this one is that it’s pretty light, so it wouldn’t be difficult to put six of them away, though at 5.5% I’m not sure how worth the work that would be.
On the other hand, Oktoberfish (by Flying Fish) pours darker and tastes fuller. Oktoberfest beers all follow a pretty standard template, and between the two of these, Flying Fish’s offering was the more palatable edition (Morgan and I agreed). All that being said, Oktoberfest is one of my favorite styles. Malt might be my favorite quintessentially beer flavor, so fall beers are a shoo-in to my good graces (and I’d never turn down a pint of the Blue Point).
Round 2: Coffee Clash
Some months ago, Harpoon released a beer in collaboration with Dunkin’ Donuts. We got a keg of it on tap at my old restaurant and I tasted a sample of it, but I’m not exactly a connoisseur of coffee, so it tasted to me like exactly what it said on the label. It was a limited run, so I was just a touch confused when Total Wine had singles still in stock. Morgan was really a fan of this clash. She said Harpoon’s Dunkin’ Porter reminded her of an iced coffee on a summer morning, and though the competition was fierce, Harpoon and Dunkin’ won the day, at least in her eyes.
Dunkin’s coffee was pitted against that of the Vigilante Coffee Company (they have locations in the city of Washington, both inside and outside the District of Columbia). Flying Dog is a Maryland-based craft brewery not known for their subtlety but absolutely known for unique and interesting (and delicious) beers. “Kujo” is—you guessed it—a coffee porter, though it specifically says “cold brew coffee,” which I totally believe. However, in both aroma and flavor, Kujo excelled in actual coffee character and reminded us both of a good, hot cup of fresh coffee. For that reason, I called it my winner of this round. If, in the future, I’m looking for a flavorful coffee beer that tastes like the freshly roasted beans I’m after, it’ll be this beer I reach for. Flying Dog has developed a reputation for strong beers, and this is no exception.
Round 3: Pastry Pummel
After looking back with the Oktoberfest theme, we wanted something symmetrical, so when we saw Dogfish Head’s “Suddenly Comfy,” we had to find it a sparring partner just for an excuse to try it. The bottle boasted cinnamon, vanilla, and apple cider flavors, which upon further examination justify its distinction as an imperial cream ale: vanilla from Madagascar, cinnamon from Saigon, and apple cider undoubtedly pressed in the New World. It’s a lot of flavors to pack into a single beverage, and to be honest it doesn’t quite live up to these claims. I didn’t realize until I was doing research for this article that they were aiming for apple pie (though it’s obvious in retrospect). Dogfish beers are always a delight to drink, but I couldn’t help but feel as though this one missed the mark a bit. Morgan agreed with me: she said it had a “lame, apple juice quality to it.” I could see what she meant; the inclusion of apple cider in the recipe caused Suddenly Comfy to have a quality reminiscent of Juicy Juice (which is mostly apple juice mixed with other flavors). On its own, this wouldn’t have been a huge setback, but its sparring partner in this little competition entered the ring with fire in its eyes.
Or, well, maybe not its eyes, but its recipe. Southern Tier’s Cinnamon Roll Imperial Ale comes out of its bottle swinging, and leaves nothing to the imagination (it’s the one on the left). If you’re a fan of its namesake (like Morgan), you’ll be all about it. If, however, it’s beer you’re more about, this may not be the brew for you. It’s flavorful without a doubt, but as Morgan described, “It’s like drinking a molasses cookie.” It’s incredibly rich and plenty sweet, so it’s not a beer to be chugged. A neat idea, but not exactly a beer I’ll be reaching for again very soon. Cinnamon Roll got Morgan’s vote, but Suddenly Comfy got mine.
And There You Have It!
Of the beers we sampled, both Morgan and I recommend Oktoberfish over Blue Point’s Oktoberfest, Morgan recommends the Harpoon Dunkin’ Porter and the Southern Tier Cinnamon Roll, and I recommend the opposites (Flying Dog’s Kujo and Dogfish’s Suddenly Comfy). Taste is a magical thing, as it’s completely subjective. What you like and don’t like is totally up to you, so don’t let us steer you away from something that sounds good; try it for yourself! If you disagree with our impressions, let’s talk about it down in the comments. Or perhaps there’s another beer we should have included that we didn’t. In any event, I’m confident this wasn’t the last time we’ll stage a face-off of this nature; we’re already planning the next one.