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
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
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
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
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.