Spooky Brews: the best Halloween beers

By Emily Brightman

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The weeks leading up to Halloween are always my favorite of the year, and not only because they mark the one time I can get away with being a certifiable weirdo. October and November herald the release of all manner of strange and exotic beers, from corporate and independent breweries alike. In honor of the year’s spookiest holiday, this season also brings with it the release of Halloween-themed beers that tantalize both the palette and the festive proclivity for the dark and deranged. Amid the surplus of pumpkin beer that floods the liquor store shelves at this time of year are the occasional dark horse seasonal beers that drift away from the pumpkin frenzy and instead cater to the creepy spirit of Halloween. Here are a few of my favorite Halloween brews to help you get into the spirit of the season.

 

Cerveza de los Muertos

If you think Mexican beer begins and ends with Dos Equis, think again. Cerveza de los Muertos, otherwise known as “Day of the Dead” beer, has been creeping onto American craft beer shelves and making a bold statement with its vibrant packaging and cagey names like Pay the Ferryman Porter and Death Becomes You Amber Ale. My tastes drove me towards the Hop On or Die IPA, a surprisingly well-balanced English-style IPA that was neither too heavy on hoppy bitterness nor overly watery. Though its aroma was heavily floral and the carbonation considerable, the beer itself was surprisingly flavorful and left a pleasant aftertaste reminiscent of stronger hops.

The only downside to this beer is its price. Brewed in Tecate, Mexico, at the third largest brewery in the country, Day of the Dead doesn’t come cheap: a six-pack runs about $12 at the right liquor store. In the spirit of all things dead and creepy, however, the members of the Day of the Dead family are all worth a taste for their south of the border sensibilities. And, if you’re on board with the sugar skull fad, this brewing company’s packaging is right up your alley.

 

WychCraft English Pale Ale

The Wychwood Brewery, located deep in the heart of Oxfordshire in the United Kingdom, is best known for Hobgoblin Dark English Ale, the staple of its craft selection. Wychcraft is a newer beer in its catalog but comes in the ornate packaging characteristic of the Wychwood brand. This delicate English ale is worth purchasing simply for the brief but spooky story printed on its label, a perfect complement to a night spent howling at the full moon or otherwise indulging in eerie activities.

Pouring out a soft golden color with an effervescent white head, WychCraft is not terribly heavy on hoppy taste, but the carbonation in the body makes for a pleasant drinking experience and gives it a consistency similar to sparkling cider. Nonetheless, this beer is an enjoyably lighter fare than its heavier ale counterparts. If you lean toward maltier complexities, Hobgoblin is another substantially tasty brew made in straight English brewing style.

Alesmith Evil Dead Red Ale

Being a die-hard fan of the Evil Dead trilogy (and the recent remake, to an extent), I was drawn to this beer on the superficial basis of its name alone. Though disappointed that the label did not boast the glorious visage of Bruce Campbell, I was willing to make a compromise. Lo and behold, in spite of its celebrity cameo shortcomings, Evil Dead Red was actually quite delectable.

When AleSmith says “red,” they don’t take it lightly: Evil Dead pours out absolutely crimson, giving the illusion of filling a pint glass with, appropriately, blood. The nose of this beer consists almost entirely of roasted coffee and caramel with hints of sweet citrus underneath, and the brew has a foamy head that dissipates gradually. The light carbonation leaves a pleasant sensation on the tongue amidst a heavy aftertaste of burnt toffee subtly laced with malt. Though it does fall on the pricier side, running roughly $12 for a six-pack, the price is worth the delectable mastery that comes with any AleSmith brewery product.

Flying Dog “The Fear” Imperial Pumpkin Ale

I am a huge fan of the Colorado-based, Maryland-brewed Flying Dog Brewing Company, which offers a hefty selection of bizarre and delicious beer year-round. Although I am highly skeptical of most pumpkin beers, Flying Dog’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale is a refreshing reprieve from the overabundance of watery pumpkin lagers and light ales that flood the beer market with the first turning foliage.

The Fear pours out a murky dark amber, much darker than other imperial ales, with a nose that swells with malt and notes of roasted spices that mingle with a pumpkin aroma – and yet, surprisingly, doesn’t overwhelm. Malt and cloves dominate the taste at first sip but settle quickly into an aftertaste highlighted by roasted pumpkin and hints of caramel. While it certainly packs a punch at a 9% alcohol content, The Fear is not as fright inducing as it name (or schizophrenic label) suggest. If you’re looking for a Halloween beer that will knock your orange and black striped socks off, The Fear is patiently awaiting your adherence.

Great Lakes Nosferatu Red Amber Ale

The gruesome face of the ghastly, iconic vampire decorates the label of this dark gem from Ohio-based Great Lakes Brewing Company. Though Nosferatu is classified as an amber ale, which typically fall on the lighter side of ale brewing, this beer is surprisingly heavy on flavor. In terms of aroma, Nosferatu is all about the mix of caramel malt and piney hops augmented by an underlying scent of fruit.

Pouring out a shade of dark ruby, the bubbly head on this beer fizzles quickly but leaves a considerable amount of lacing. The taste is largely made up of sweet malts and caramel, but an in escapable bite from the hops reveals itself in the aftertaste. The bitterness of this beer is staggering, but not to an unpleasant extent; in fact, the bitterness is a delightful complement to the piney sensation leftover from the hops, creating an overall pleasant drinking experience. Nosferatu is only available during the Halloween season, so if pre-Twilight vampires are your obsession, grab some Nosferatu and watch its eponymous movie – you might be surprised at how much it creeps you out.

Halloween is upon us once again, kids, and it’s time to go forth and get weird. While your parents always warned you to “be safe and make good choices” on Halloween, I only ask you to make one good choice: your beer. For the sake of authenticity, forgo the cliché Shipyard Pumpkinhead on All Hallows Eve and instead go for something a little more adventurous. Halloween is that eerie time of the year when all of our darkest, most fiendish nightmares seem to have the possibility to become reality, so ease the existential torture of Halloween with some high quality beer. And don’t get Budweiser – werewolves hate that stuff.

Emily A. Brightman can be reached at [email protected].