Assembling the ideal Halloween six-pack is always a treat, though there is a trick: it gets expensive. If you don't mind dropping a few bucks on a mix-and-match, you can have a lot of fun. Why not make a story of it?
Let's imagine that you're wandering down a strange road just before dusk on Halloween, when you notice an ominous cluster of ravens in a nearby tree. Having recently watched Alfred Hitchcock's classic The Birds, you scan the area for potential shelter.
You've heard of a murder of crows, but did you know it's an unkindness of ravens? That's where Barley Mow's the Unkindness gets it's name from. It's Barley Mow's original offering: a rich, roasty and jet-black brew with an aggressive, spicy hop bitterness.
Fortunately, there's a large, solitary house up on the hill, and you can see lights inside. You make it to the door just in time to see the ravens flocking en masse in your direction. You knock desperately, and the door is answered — by a large, grinning man with a giant, single eye in the middle of his head.
This is the man from the label on Weyerbacher IPA, a rotating series of beers with a deceptively simple name. This version is the second in the series, featuring 30 percent wheat and loads of Simcoe and Denali hops, giving it a hazy appearance, light body and juicy, tropical flavor reminiscent of the current Northeastern IPA trend.
Despite his unusual appearance, the man seems friendly enough and is eager to show you inside. You find that the interior of the house is much bigger than it looked from outside, with a strange architectural style involving bold, jagged lines and a stark, high contrast black-and-white motif.
The man, who you now realize is a butler, hands you a bottle of Birra Toccalmatto's Dr. Caligari, named after the early masterpiece of German expressionist horror. It's a tart, refreshing Berliner weisse, treated with sharp, tangy raspberry. The fruit adds a subtle but suggestive red tinge to the beer, like the red-streaked moon seen on the label.
"The master is expecting you," says the man, as he shows you down a long hallway. At the end are thick wooden double doors, which creak open before you can reach for the handle.
The room is a large study, with a heavy desk in the center. Behind the desk is a small, cartoonish imp — a diminutive and not-very-threatening version of Belzebuth, the devilish mascot from Les Brasseurs de Gayant's 13 percent alcohol by volume Belgian-style golden strong ale.
Sensing your thoughts, the little devil chimes in: "Don't confuse me with my big brother, I'm much more friendly."
Indeed, you recall that Belzebuth is now available in a milder, 8.5 percent alcohol by volume version, which is much more balanced than the original, featuring a musty aroma and pleasant graininess to cut through the prominent malt sweetness.
"I have a riddle for you, and the reward for solving it is through that door," he says, gesturing to a small portal nestled in the back corner of the room. Chuckling, he continues: "If you can't solve it, then you shall nut pass."
Did he say "nut" pass? Sure enough, the bottle of beer he's sipping from is To Øl's You Shall Nut Pass, a hazelnut stout. You've had this one before — it's not like the current trend of hazelnut stouts; it's smoky, aggressive and earthy, brewed with a healthy addition of Summit hops and defatted hazelnuts.
"I've constructed a special Halloween six-pack with a wide range of brews: American black ale, IPA, raspberry Berliner weisse, Belgian golden strong ale, and this — a hazelnut stout. What's missing?"
You take a moment to think, and it hits you: The only thing the devil's six-pack is missing is the quintessential Halloween classic.
"Pumpkin beer!" you exclaim. You hear the sound of a latch releasing behind the door, which opens into a small storage space, home to a single beer placed on a shelf. It's Ballast Point's Pumpkin Down, a roasted pumpkin-and-spice-treated version of its Piper Down Scottish Ale. The skeleton on the label doesn't suggest a robust drinking experience, but rest assured, this beer has a rich, toffee-like malt backbone that sets it apart from the average pumpkin beer.
"Well done," says the imp. "Have a seat and we'll drink."
Just then, a raven flies by a small window above the desk.
"Sure," you say, "I think I will."