From a refreshing, low-alcohol Kolsch to a bracing Scandinavian smoked ale, these six microbrews are perfect for toasting on Halloween: Each feature festive, frightful label art, and many of them pair surprisingly well with chocolate and other candies. —Justin Kennedy
Freigeist Bierkultur is part of the new wave of German brewers focusing on small-scale production, limited exports, and forgotten styles. An experimental offshoot of Braustelle, the smallest brewery in Cologne, Freigeist brewer Sebastian Sauer digs up old German recipes and recreates them with a progressive bend. Ottekolong (meaning “water from Cologne” in local dialect) is an unfiltered version of Cologne’s specialty Kolsch style, but with a fuller body and a more pronounced bitterness than that of beers from larger producers (think Gaffel Kolsch). The spooky label, which features a cartoon ghost, a Gothic cathedral, and some vintage horror-movie font, was designed by American artist Keith Shore. And at a mild 4.8 percent alcohol by volume, this is a beer to be enjoyed all night long.
Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales and Hawaii’s Maui Brewing Company teamed up to produce this unholy sour red ale brewed with Michigan cherries and Hawaiian liliko’i (a type of passion fruit). Two versions were produced: one in Maui, where it underwent standard fermentation and canning, and one in Michigan, where it was given the signature Jolly Pumpkin treatment of open-air fermentation, barrel aging, and bottle conditioning. Tart and tannic with a lucent blood orange hue and a yeasty aroma, Sobrehumano pairs well with sour candy and green apples.
Eccentric brewmaster Dany Prignon produces whimsical farmhouse-style beer at his Brasserie Fantome (named after a local ghost) in the Ardennes region of Belgium. Prignon is known for his unpredictable brewing style, and his cultish fans cherish Fantome beers for their batch-by-batch, bottle-by-bottle idiosyncrasies. “Boo!” is a new seasonal saison with an intriguing smokey-sour profile and a hint of grab-bag Halloween candy on the finish. Like most of Prignon’s beers, production was limited (in this case, to 480 bottles total) so get it while you can.
_Dieu du Ciel! (_a common Quebecois exclamation meaning “God in Heaven!”) is a tiny brewpub on the outskirts of Montreal that produces sweet, malty, full-bodied Belgian-style beers. The brewery’s “Rigor Mortis Abt,” an Abbey-style quadrupel brown ale, is a lip-smacking blend of of sugary chocolate, toasty caramel, and ripe red fruit—an apt witching season accompaniment to candied apples and caramel corn.
In Goethe’s Faust, Mephistopheles is a conniving shapeshifter, a demon of many faces. Avery Brewing Company captures his essence in this beer of the same name, an imperial stout brewed once a year far from Leipzig in Boulder, Colorado. The first sip of “Mephistopheles” is all black licorice and hot alcohol, a bittersweet, not entirely pleasant mash-up of textures and flavors. But as it warms, the beer begins to exhibit sweet blasts of smokey chocolate and piney spice that eventually give way to an undertow of strong, black coffee. “Mephistopheles” can stand up to the darkest of dark chocolates without blinking an eye. And at 15% alcohol, it ages beautifully (I recently enjoyed a Mephistopheles bottled in November 2008).
Gypsy brewers Brian “Stillwater” Strumke and Mikkel “Mikkeller” Bjergsø pay tribute to the heavy metal music of their youths in this over-the-top German-style rauchbier, or smoked beer. The nose is a smoldering Scandinavian campfire, while the palate—like the best black metal—is harsh, sharp, and metallic.