Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Hoptober Golden Ale

New Belgium Brewery, Inc.
Fort Collins, CO

Style: Golden Ale
ABV: 6.0%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

As has been noted numerous times in the past on this very web site, craft beer discovery can come in the unlikeliest of places. Be it the microbrewery you discovered while stopping for dinner just off the interstate, the brewpub located in the heart of a Northwoods city of 600 people, or the local grocery store in Anytown, USA that stocks a surprising amount of local creations, you never know what types of new discoveries you might find at any given moment.

A situation like that happened to me recently, though admittedly not to the extremes that I just described. For one, it was a beer from New Belgium, one of the largest craft brewers in the country that is now distributed in most states. And I wasn’t completely in the middle of nowhere, or in a town of 600 people. Instead, I was at one of my favorite stops, a sports bar in West Bend, Wisconsin, located about 30 miles north of Milwaukee, with a population of about 35,000. Not large by any means, but not exactly an isolated locale that you wouldn’t expect to see any type of culture.

I call this one of my favorite stops for one simple fact: freakin’ awesome American pub grub (the multiple HD plasmas showing every game imaginable doesn’t hurt either). Have I had better chicken wings anywhere? I think not. The half order of nachos comes on a 12-inch pizza pan, the full order on a 16-inch pan, both of which are heaping with cheese, beef, peppers, onions, and tomatoes, and baked fresh in the oven. It’s a Wisconsinite’s dream come true, to say the least. As for the beer menu, there’s the usual macro swill on tap and in the bottle, but there’s always a couple of Leinie’s on tap, Spotted Cow and New Glarus seasonal, Sprecher seasonal, and a small variety of standard craft selections in bottles from Sprecher, Lakefront, New Glarus, Capital, Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, and Goose Island. Nothing spectacular, but at least enough for a beer dork to enjoy a few drinks with his monster wings while watching the Brewer game.

A recent Sunday visit to watch my Niners get pounded by Atlanta revealed an “autumn sampler,” which contained four seasonal brews: New Glarus Staghorn, New Belgium Hoptober, Abita Pecan Ale, and some piece of crap from Hook and Ladder (not sure the exact brew, but it doesn’t matter … they all suck). I didn’t get the sampler, as I’m very familiar with the wonderful Staghorn and have no interest in Hook and Ladder, but the Hoptober caught my eye for obvious reasons. So I got one. And it was good.

The bartender was knowledgeable about beer, not something you usually find in a sports bar. He said he hadn’t seen Hoptober in stores, and I could vouch for that. He said it was a crisp, smooth beer that he really enjoyed, hoppy and spicy but still refreshing and perfect for the season. Shit … he might as well have written this review, because that description was right on target. Both the girlfriend and I were blown away, she being an amateur hophead whose palate is becoming increasingly refined, and me being a veteran nophead who enjoys a hoppy bite, but also a nice, balanced beer.

What I most like about Hoptober is that it really is a beer that captures the season. As a golden ale, there’s plenty of room for experimentation. New Belgium uses five hops (Centennial, Cascade, Sterling, Willamette, and Glacier), as well as pale and wheat malt mashed with rye and oats. The resulting brew is exactly as the bartender described: a crisp, pleasant initial hop bite followed by some spice that tingles the tongue, and an underlying earthy creaminess that is balanced, refreshing, and, well … autumn.

Hoptober pours well, with a huge creamy head that slowly dissipates, leaving a thick lace at the top throughout and quite a bit of residue on the sides of the glass. The color is as you’d expect from a golden ale: golden brown, almost light enough to pass as a macro, without much sedimentation and huge amounts of carbonation. The bubbly dance from bottom to top throughout keeps that monstrous lace alive and well, regardless of how long it takes you to finish your glass.

Aromas are where Hoptober really begins to separate itself from the crowd. While checking in at a modest (though decent) 40 IBUs, hops are the clear aromatic king here, with the Northwest Centennials and Cascades grabbing your nostrils by their protruding nose hairs and beating them into submission. For a non-IPA, the hop aroma here is possibly the strongest I’ve ever detected. Sure, some of the grainy elements come through in the background, particularly a hint of rye, but overall this is a hoppy aroma that is fruity, spicy, vibrant, and absolutely wonderful.

The flavor doesn’t let down after the initial aromatic jolt, though the hop flavor does become more subtle as the session progresses, unlike the aroma. As for that initial hop bite, it’s a wallop for sure, with huge amounts of light Northwest hops coming through, giving Hoptober a pleasant taste of light bitterness, citrusy zest (grapefruit and orange peel), and a touch of evergreen. After that introduction, the malts come into the fore, giving Hoptober excellent balance. I always feel that rye blends well with American hops, as they have similar “zesty” characteristics. The pale and wheat malts keep the body light while giving a nice toasted grain quality to the zesty hops. And to top it off, the oats impart a nice amount of creaminess, and also aid in taking away some of the spiciness that could potentially overwhelm. This truly is a tasty beer: fruity, spicy, grainy, hoppy … a little bit of everything that captures the harvest and is still light and refreshing. Light- to medium-bodied and relatively smooth on the palate, Hoptober has a mild hoppy aftertaste and is a perfect candidate for a session brew with balanced flavors and a tolerable ABV (6 percent).

To be honest, I typically don’t get too excited over New Belgium, probably because everyone goes ga-ga over the tame Fat Tire, and other well known brands of theirs, like Mothership Wit and 1554, are nothing special. But the fact remains that New Belgium got to this point by brewing quality, unique brews, and Hoptober is a prime example of that. This one has shot to near the top of the list of Nigel’s favorite autumn brews, and is a welcome change of pace to the typical seasonal märzens, etc. offered during October. I’ve since seen it in a few stores, so should you stumble upon it, give it a shot … don’t wait till next fall to discover it!


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on November 10, 2009.
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