Article by Ryan Gallagher
“Crispy boys” paired with crisp Autumn air… Is there any other time of year more suited to drinking craft beer? Fall in New York and New Jersey makes up the busiest period for specialty or seasonal craft brews.
Many beer drinkers (to the delight of brewers) have strayed from seasonal pumpkin spice suds. Instead, many beer drinkers are reaching for the festbier style— a traditionally light, pale lager. This change in taste has ushered in a pervasive trend for local brew operations, each with their own take on the most popular style of the season.
In America, the Fall season falls second in sales to Summertime, according to 2019 estimates from Bart Watson, Chief Economist for the Brewer’s Association.
However, “different regions of the country are more seasonal, some less, and some even have reverse seasonality. Winter is actually a great sales time in Florida, for example. And some seasonal beers often do a bit better in the Fall.”
In the greater NY and NJ area, Autumn’s seasonal brews gain popularity after a hot Summer of drinking lighter ales and sours.
“Fall has always been a busy season for East Coast breweries. The weather is in that Goldilocks zone, friends are back from vacation, and after the dog days of summer, a pint out in the sun is actually enjoyable again,” said Dan Bronson, GM for Singlecut Beersmiths in Astoria, New York.
Bronson broke the news that pumpkin ales were waning in popularity. But he didn’t seem to be too distraught. “As consumers have fatigued on pumpkin spice and have rekindled their love of lager brewing—our traditional festbier has become a major fan draw the past few Fall seasons,” said Bronson.
While a true festbier can only be made by breweries in Munich, Germany (a formality), Singlecut Beersmiths’ version is a medium-bodied, German Oktoberfest style brewed with toffee malt and spicy hops. The resulting “Inexplicably Used Umlaut” is a light amber lager with a higher than average (for its class) ABV of 6%. Whether it’s the traditional festbier from Germany or a NY brewer’s take on the classic style, this type of beer is geared to be reasonably malty but less filling in order to appease a larger crowd.
South of the big city, NJ breweries are experiencing some of the same customer trends this October. Last Wave Brewing Company in Point Pleasant, NJ is popular among the Summer crowd. However, they’ve turned to new, seasonal brews to keep the Summer excitement alive this Fall for shore locals and those who are still stopping by for weekends at the beach.
“Once upon a time, [the most popular beer was] the pumpkin ale, which I’m not ashamed to say I’m glad to see fall off,” said owner Nick Jiorle. “It’s allowed traditional marzens and festbiers to take center stage. Our “Stoke Harvest” Oktoberfest beer outsold every other [Last Wave] beer this year for a month straight. And that includes IPAs, which almost never happens. It has a rich copper hue, notes of toasted bread crust, and a touch of floral hop bite at the end.”
Jiorle has personally noticed many a local brewery making similar festbiers—no wonder this has been the pour of choice for the Oktoberfest festival since the 1990s. Last Wave’s Stoke Harvest Oktoberfest is only in its second year being sold and was modeled after classic Bavarian Marzens like Hacker-Pschorr and Pauleaner.
“Festbier lagers are very nuanced and have strict guidelines. But they have the perfect balance of malt character and earthy, noble hop presence that craft beer aficionados and newcomers can both appreciate,” explained Jiorle.
The rise in popularity has to do with the vast audience who enjoy festbier. Even people who don’t like beer (Bronson says they don’t exist) might enjoy one of these local brews with a meal or while visiting the brewing establishments. So, leave the pumpkin spice to your coffee and baked goods—this Fall is the season of American-made festbiers.