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The Buzz

A Beerfly's view. If you see anything here that seems crazy, click here.

Fresh Buzz

Vintage Buzz

2006 Buzz

Oct. '06: Just Because You Can

Sept. '06: It's Worth It

August '06: Messin' With Us

July '06: Break the Chains

June '06: Viva El Hefe!

May '06: Just Like Wine

Apr. '06: Mixed Messages

Mar. '06: We Print the Truth

Feb. '06: The Fairer Sex

Jan. '06: Best of 2005

2005 Buzz

Dec. '05: Look at Me Drink!

Nov. '05: Malt Monsters

Oct. '05: Sweetness

Sep. '05: When to Fold

Aug. '05: Little Nightmares

July '05: American Spirit

June '05: Miller Time 

May. '05: Breathing Beer 

April '05: Now It's Personal

Mar. '05: 7% Ain't Enough

Feb. '05: Down to 18 

Jan. '05: Best of 2004 

2004 Buzz

Dec. '04: Joys of the Dark 

Nov. '04: The Next Store 

Oct. '04: Beer's Image 

Sept. '04: Clearly Insane 

August '04: Love of Lager

July '04: Speak Up!

June '04: Get Drafted

May '04: Shedding Tiers

April '04: Keg Party

March '04: Ultra Madness

February '04: Case Law

January '04: Best of 2003

2003 Buzz

Dec. '03: Wine good!

Nov. '03: Say Anything

Oct. '03: Shots at Saveur

Sept. '03: Pay For It!

August '03: Subtlety

July '03: RIP, Corner Bar

June '03: Screw 'Em!

May '03: Extreme Beer?

April '03: Liquor Taxes

March '03: St. Patrick's

February '03: Coffee

January '03: Taxes


November, 2006 

Cold November Rain

The weatherís turned. Fallís solidly in the air, crisp and cool, and sunsets last forever as the sun slides sidewise across the evening sky in its shallow autumnal curve. The leaves fly on the wind, a promise of wider winter views through nervously twitching stick-like trees. Rain is no longer something I lift my face to, a warm patter or a cool bracing splash; it is now a cold lash, soaking the fallen leaves into a heavy, greasy mass, and I pull my hood tight against its sting.

November has come, and the time for summer beers is finally gone.

I sat out on my front porch tonight, sipping a Victory Festbier as the trick-or-treaters trooped up for their chocolate extortion. The moon rode high in the dark sky, and the breeze whistled in the dogwood tree by the corner of the house. The temperature was dropping, and while the Festbier still tasted good, I know itís going to be time for something else soon. Something more substantial.

I start to look forward to this time about mid-October. Earlier in the month, Iím still enjoying Festbiers without a care in the world, grabbing their amber bodies as I grill sausage and onions for my dinner. Chicken roasts with abundant rich aroma in those early days of my most-beloved month, and I may salute its sacrifice with a brisk frisky Allagash White. A tall glass pipe of weissbier still tastes pretty much perfect in the afternoon sun, and IPA is the king of all we survey together.

But when the first frosts appear... When the pine needles drop with an almost audible whump... After Columbus Day sails by with its welcome day off for the kids... I look around, and realize that the year has turned once more. We're into the swift slide to Hallowe'en and Thanksgiving. It's up with the car windows, on with the fleece vest again, shift the summer clothes to the boxes in the basement and greet old flannel and wool friends as they emerge from summer hibernation. 

For a guy like me -- even a Weight Watching guy like me -- it's time for heartier foods and fuller beers. I've got a pot of cabbage and roots cooking on the stove right now, flavored with a juicy chunk of Hatfield ham. There's a long, crusty, whole wheat bastone from Calandra's Bakery in Newark, NJ, one of my favorite breads: dense, chewy, flavorful (and low in WW points, thanks to a ton of fiber). I'll use that to soak up the good broth, flavored with the ham and turnips. This is sweater-wearing food.

I've also got some porter chilled -- Butte Creek Organic and Geary's London. You know I love porter, and it's great beer in these shorter-lit days: dark as the night, just a bit heavy, and never cloying because of roasted, tangy notes that brisk things up like a whistling near-winter wind. Even November looks better when you've got a pint of plain in your fist (and it's even better when you're looking at that cold, cold rain from behind double-glazed windows, wrapped in layers of clean, warm clothes).

Why do we go for bigger beers in cold weather? Why is lighter beer summer fare? You drink to go with what you eat, and we eat lighter food in summer largely because it's available. We are still locked into the turn of the seasons that our ancestors knew: summertime is the time for fresh vegetables and fruits, fresh-slaughtered meats, and cold meals with light, crisp, crunchy character. When winter comes, we turn to the food that will be available all winter long, storable food: grains, roots, cabbage, potatoes, sausage, smoked hams. 

What are storable beers? Big lagers, weightier ales. I'm thinking about big lagers this week as I'm working on a bock article for a local magazine. November's rushing the season a bit for bock -- the piece won't be out till January -- but it turns the mind to the food that makes beers like this sing. Big malty bocks, solid porters, old ales and strong ales, these beers yearn for fall and winter food, the delayed fruits of the frenzied harvest of September and October.

Maybe your great-grandfather brought in that harvest. He may have gathered grain -- wheat, corn, barley, rye, oats -- reaped, stooked and shocked, stacked, and stored for threshing and milling. He slaughtered pigs and beeves, skinned and butchered them, smoked the great hams and grilled up the organs and bits as he worked, stoking the fire under the puddin' cauldron. 

Think of your great-grandmother, grinding meat and stuffing sausage all day long, from can't-see to can't-see, hanging it in the smokehouse, and getting up the next day to chop cabbage for sauerkraut. She ground corn for scrapple while the bits and scraps of the last trimmings of the pig boiled to the smooth softness scrapple requires.

Work like that needs a bigger beer; food like that needs a bigger beer. That's why we swing to the seasons' cycle, and that's why we move to bigger, brawnier beers as the cold comes down from its home in the north. The days get shorter, and the longer darkness calls out to darker beers: deep copper old ale, whiskey-colored in its malt density; coffee-brown porter, the roasted ale. And the chestnut fire of bock, slippery smooth from the long rest it has taken in the tanks, sleeping since the leaves began to fall in mid-October, since the cold rains of November began to fall.

November has come, and the time for bigger beers is finally here. I welcome it, and give thanks for the cold November rain.

Copyright © 2008 Lew Bryson. All rights reserved. 
Fee required for reprints in any commercial media.
Revised: December 01, 2006