When I heard the brewery’s name, Southern Tier, I was of course expecting a brewery in the South. After all, as a Louisiana, New Orleans area native, I am interested in craft beers that come from my neck of the woods. But as it turns out, the Southern Tier Brewing Company is based in Lakewood, New York. It was founded in 2002 by Phineas DeMink and Allen “Skip” Yahn. The company produces nine standard beers, twelve seasonals, four beers which they call blackwater, and and four limited editions. After carefully looking through the company’s website, I still have no idea why they call themselves Southern Tier. Perhaps some more obvious information would be helpful.
Southern Tier’s Harvest Ale (6.70ABV%) is a seasonal beer. It is brewed with English hops and cracked barley, and four varieties of hops (which they do not enumerate). It is an ale that is brewed and released in October, in a special tribute to that magical time of year when the weather turns cool, the nights turn short, and sitting by the fire with a good ale and a good book, opens up almost supernatural possibilities of the imagination. An ale that claims to match these rather high expectations, should be willing to deliver. Does Harvest Ale meet these expectations?
Bottle: The bottle is a standard-size bottle, but the glass is only a light brown. The reason that breweries bottle their beer in dark glass is so that the ultraviolet rays of the sun do not chemically and physically degrade the beer. I would prefer that all beers come in very dark glass. The label is a subtle orange with an image of wheat and white lettering. It is acceptably serious, but with the color orange, there is always a lovely whimsical element, that is also present here.
Pour: The ale’s color almost matches that of the label: orange-brown. And because brown and orange are indeed colors associated with the harvest season, I find it an appropriate match. The head is about one finger thick, off-white, and very creamy, almost stiff. It dissipates slowly, leaving behind moderate lacing.
Aroma: I believe that this is an underrated ale. It receives above-average reviews by most experts, but I have to say that the aroma is wonderfully complex. I detected yeasty bread, brown sugar, caramel, with pears and apricots. But lest you think that this ale is cloying, there are also some very noble elements of green wheat grass, black pepper, bitter hops, nutty-floral aromas, and even a trace of saltiness (!). I find this aroma to be one of the better aromas that I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.
Flavor: The attack is grassy and pleasantly bitter. The main flavor is that of light fruit and citrus, a yeasty malt element, with a floral saltiness that needs to be experienced to understand. The finish is hoppy but full-bodied. There is a great complexity that, to me, represents the bittersweet complexity of Autumn and October: Halloween, cold nights, nostalgic regrets, lost loves, the supernatural, ghosts, intellectualism. It is just that sort of self-contradictory flourishment that I find in this ale.
Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel is the one element of this beer that I find imperfect, and not completely representative of October. The overall mouthfeel is astringent, dry, and tart — these are certainly representative of Autumn. But to me, October also carries with it a sense of blanket thickness, a sort of insulation against the world outside dying, and the renaissance of the internal. And though this ale is medium-bodied, it still lacks that depth of insulation that I am craving. The carbonation is moderate, which is acceptable.
Structure: This is a well-balanced, solid beer, although it does lean just a tad on the light side. I would not subject this ale to aging, but it is suitable to stand up to a hearty evening among friends.
Food Pairing: This ale begs to be paired with winter squash, rich gamy meat like venison or lamb or even rabbit, and sharp cheddar cheese.
Overall Rating Out of 5 Possible Beer Mugs: