The traditional tale of Thanksgiving inspired my selection of a beer for the holiday feast this year. I went looking for a brew I could almost see served at the first Thanksgiving table; specifically, one made with wild rice. The Grumpy Troll brewpub in Mount Horeb is serving such a beer, Harvest Moon, which is aptly named for the fall season.
What is it? Harvest Moon Ale from the Grumpy Troll Restaurant and Brewery of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.
Style: Wild rice beers are fairly rare. Wild rice itself is difficult to acquire in large enough quantities for brewing, and it's expensive. In southern Wisconsin, Capital Brewery in Middleton has previously offered a well-known version, more recently as its 2009 summer seasonal.
Wild rice generally offers grainy and nutty flavors to beer. In some brews, it lends an earthy and grassy sweetness that gets blended with caramel and chocolate malts. The Grumpy Troll's version begins as a light-bodied kölsch before pre-cooked wild rice is added to mash.
Background: "We are already transitioning to our fall beers," says Mark Knoebl, brewmaster at the Grumpy Troll. That's a proclamation that isn't lost on most beer lovers who enjoy a heavier body and darker color to their brews as the weather turns colder. Harvest Moon Ale, though, offers another approach to autumn beer via the use of wild rice.
Knoebl went with the light-bodied kölsch as the base style for Harvest Moon, so that the qualities of the wild rice would not get lost in the maltier or heavier flavor profiles found in more typical fall beers. He's a fan of Capital's wild rice lager, and it served as an inspiration for his brewing with that ingredient.
Harvest Moon is an ale, though, and is made with three varieties of hops: Glacier, Tettnang and Strisselspalt. The wild rice is pre-cooked into a gelatinous soup before it's added to the malts and hops. The challenge is not scorching the rice, explains Knoebel. The beer is then allowed to ferment and condition for two weeks, and finishes with a modest 5% ABV and just 16 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
This marks the second year in a row that Harvest Moon Ale has been a fall seasonal for the Grumpy Troll. The wild rice for it comes from Minnesota, the only source where Knoebl could get the amount he needed. Harvest Moon is available only at the Grumpy Troll, where it sells for $4.50/pint or $12.50/growler (refill). Knoebl expects the beer to be available up to the end of the year.
Other beers in the Grumpy Troll's fall line-up include a mild English ale named Fox and Badger that finishes at 4.8%, and Boreas, a bold Russian Imperial Stout that's made with 12 different malts and finishes at a warm 9% ABV. It's also serving a limited holiday seasonal, Cranberry Bourbon Barrel Stout, which has been barrel-aged since last Thanksgiving.
- Aroma: Light sweetness with a hint of nutty-toffee from the wild rice.
- Appearance: Hazy, light amber. A medium-bubbly tan head.
- Texture: Light-to-medium bodied, with a soft roundness.
- Taste: A sweet caramel and grainy-nuttiness throughout. There's a mild resiny hoppiness in the background that adds some balance, but this is not a bitter beer at all.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The lightly sweet, slightly toasted-nutty tones linger.
Glassware: The Grumpy Troll serves Harvest Moon in the basic bar pint. If taking some home for the Thanksgiving meal, try offering it to friends and family in the footed pilsner with an inward taper near the lip. Such a glass will show off the amber color and focus the light, nutty aroma of the wild rice.
Pairs well with: The traditional Thanksgiving table is known for its diverse flavors. Harvest Moon's nutty tones are firm but not overly assertive, giving this beer some versatility with food. It's best with the sweetness of wild game and roasts, and is ideally suited for turkey and all the trimmings.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: A wild rice beer, especially one done well like Harvest Moon Ale, is a nice pairing for Thanksgiving fare. Its light to medium body and modest 5% ABV make it very drinkable on its own or as a nice complement to a heavy meal. The nutty flavor of the rice lends slightly sweet, grainy and toasted flavors. It's a brew worthy of consideration for both watching football and your holiday table.