Food Feature: Winter is brewing

Local breweries warm bellies with seasonal beers

With the cold winter months comes cold beer. But not the light, refreshing beer you're used to in the warm days. Goodbye, Pete's Summer Brew. See ya, Hoegarten. It's time for heavier fare. Just as it's time to store the shorts and tank tops and dust off the winter coats, it's time to pull out the beer with more substance. Between the many Oktoberfest brews and Christmas creations, there's bound to be something easy to swallow.

It seems almost every brewery has a seasonal beer: Sam Adams Winter Lager, Pete's Wicked Winter Brew, Harpoon Winter Warmer, Paulaner Oktoberfest-Marzen and so on. But we're keeping it close to home. Here's what's in store at various Atlanta breweries and microbreweries. Hurry to catch the last days of the Oktoberfest brews, while awaiting the darker days to come.

ATLANTA BREWING CO.: Hitting the taps Oct. 31 is Red Brick Winter Brew from the Atlanta Brewing Co. This hearty porter combines Curacao orange peel and ginger into the kettle before the beer settles on a bed of Tettnag hops in a lagering tank. This technique produces a beer with coffee and chocolate flavors and a white creamy head. It's perfect for hearty meals such as steaks. 1219 Williams St. NW, 404-892-4436.

DOGWOOD BREWING COMPANY: Dogwood's Octoberfest uses German pilsner and Munich barleys to cultivate the slightly toasted malt character the beer is known for. The German-style lager is brewed to celebrate the traditional Oktoberfest season. A bold, hearty ale, Dogwood Winter is brewed with seven different grains, including barley, oats, wheat and rye. The crew at Dogwood also adds a smoked malt — which they smoke themselves nonetheless — and dry hop the beer (that means they add whole leaf hops directly into the fermenter) for a spicy hoppiness. This tasty ale is available in bottles and on tap during the peak winter months. 1222 Logan Circle NW, 404-367-0500. www.dogwoodbrewing.com.

FIVE SEASONS BREWING: When asked about seasonal brews, the man keeping down the phone fort cheerfully informed, "Well, we brew for the season, which is why we call ourselves Five Seasons."

Head brewer Brian Buckowski says upcoming winter brews include a porter and a Belgian dubbel — "You can call our Belgian dubbel our winter beer." According to Buckowski, the dubbel, which will be ready early- to mid-November, will be very complex, spicy and earthy — a plethora of flavors. "Belgians have a unique style of brewing. Their yeast strains, brewing process, fermentation temperatures and ageing are quite different from the German brewing process. ... We're running it through the first fermentation process right now with a Belgian yeast strain."

The darkest offering in the works is a porter, which will be out in about a week. It runs dark to black — sort of a dark ruby-reddish and is chocolatey. "It's similar to a stout, but without the roasty flavor. Porters are usually brewed without roasted barley, and stouts are brewed with it." 5600 Roswell Road, Suite 21, The Prado. 404-255-5911. www.5seasonsbrewing.com/brew.html.

GORDON BIERSCH BREWERY RESTAURANT: Gordon Biersch is following in the footsteps of the local breweries in Germany with Festbier, a full-bodied, rich and moderately hopped lager. This beer is made especially for Oktoberfest celebrations. Another seasonal offering, the Winter Bock, was good enough to make the Bavarian monks fast more and more often. In the 11th century, they brewed large vats of the strong malt to help sustain themselves during fasting. The Winter Bock's dark creaminess and sweetness has helped this tradition continue. Along with the Festbier and Winter Bock, the brewpub CL readers picked as the Best Of 2001 plans to release Vienna. The bronze-colored beer with medium body will be brewed for the first time this winter. 848 Peachtree St., 404-870-0805.

MAX LAGER'S american grill and brewery: There's a reason CL critics chose this brewhouse as the Best Of Atlanta 2001. Take a peek at all the concoctions they've got going on this winter. Keeping with tradition, Max Lager's brewed their Oktoberfest in March and let it age through the summer. The beer is ready to be served during the celebration in the early fall. This German-style lager has a toasted malt character with a clean, dry finish.

Making its appearance in mid-November, the Max Abbey is a Belgian-style dubbel. The nut-like malt flavor is produced by using almost twice the malt of Max Lager's standard beers. Brewers added dark Candi sugar to increase the deep amber color of the beer and offer a sweet finish. Master Brewer John Roberts borrowed yeast from one of the Trappist Abbeys, which gives the beer a spicy flavor.

Max Winter Bock brings its rich toasted malt flavor and deep copper color to the taps in December.

Two other winter brews appear in late January. Brewers boil the "heavy" first runnings of the mash with dark brown sugar to caramelize the sugars for the Max Scotch Ale. The caramel character is dusted by a faint smoky finish. Using English Fuggles hops make this a drinkable, full-bodied ale. Next up is the Max Oatmeal Stout with a smooth creamy body and rich roasted malt character. Coffee and chocolate notes can be detected and it ends with a dry hoppy finish. 320 Peachtree St., 404-525-4400. www.maxlagers.com.

ROCK BOTTOM BREWERY: Head brewer Jaime Roe whips up a medium-bodied copper lager for this brewery's Oktoberfest. It boasts a sweet finish. Also on tap for the winter months is a porter (which may or may not be called the Winter Nip Porter; Roe wasn't certain of its moniker). Set to be tapped mid-November, this roasted, heavy-bodied dry porter will be served at the restaurant in pints, 10-ounce glasses and pitchers. 3242 Peachtree Road NE, 404-264-0253.

SWEETWATER BREWING COMPANY: Sweetwater keeps the good things coming. This local brewery's holiday addition comes in a 1-liter "phat" bottle or a four-pack of 12-ouncers. CL critics picked the full-bodied Festive Ale, with its many malt flavors and berry notes, as the Best Local Brew in its Best of Atlanta 2001 issue. It usually hits the shelves and the taps around Atlanta the second week of November. 900 Wendell Court, 404-691-2537. www.sweetwaterbrew.com .

-- Additional reporting by P'Nina Mossman and Jane Catoe


ALE — From the Norse oel. Fermented at a higher temperature than lager and top fermented. It has a higher alcohol content and tends to be more full-bodied. Primarily English. At one time, most beers were ales.

BARLEY — The only grain ever used by brewing purists. The barley of preference, two-row barley, is more flavorful, and more expensive than six-row barley.

FERMENTATION — The breakdown of malt, by the yeast, into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

HOPS — The flowers of a perennial vine. They add flavor, aroma and a pleasantly bitter finish to beer. Hops also acts as a natural preservative.

LAGER — Beer that is aged. Tends to be lighter, more effervescent in this country. From the German word lagern, meaning to rest. Bottom fermented.

MALT — Barley steeped in water until enzyme action converts its starches into sugars. Then it is dried and/or roasted to varying degrees.

PILSNER — A very pale golden beer invented in the town of Pilsn in Bohemia.

PORTER — Similar to stout but sweeter, darker and maltier. First made in England.

STOUT — A very dark brew that gets its color from roasted malt. Creamier, sweeter and maltier than standard ale.??

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