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Another Reason To Scare Up a Brew

By Greg Kitsock
Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Halloween, once a romp for kids clad as pirates and princesses, now rivals Saint Patrick's Day and New Year's Eve as a party time for adults.

Blame it on Elvira.

In the mid-1980s, Coors enlisted late-night horror flick hostess Cassandra Peterson (a.k.a. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) to sell Coors Light. Cardboard cutouts of the busty actress in a low-cut, funereal gown popped up in liquor aisles across the nation.

"The Halloween campaign . . . extended by a couple of months the peak beer-drinking season, and made it easy to move beer left over from the summer rush," Dan Baum wrote in his book "Citizen Coors." The cutouts, he added, "were so strikingly sexy that retailers fought each other for them."

Skittish Coors executives dismissed Elvira, and in 1996 she began marketing her own contract brew, a dark lager called Elvira's Night Brew. But the specialty beer market at the time was reaching a saturation point, and the brand was short-lived. Elvira's publicity campaign reached its nadir when she was barred from the Great American Beer Festival in Denver for her too-revealing costume.

But other craft beer brands continue to use the Halloween motif more successfully -- and tastefully.

Rogue Ales of Newport, Ore., makes a year-round brand, Dead Guy Ale, whose popularity peaks this time of year. The brand's symbol, a skeleton perched on a barrel, takes its inspiration from the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2: All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.

Dead Guy Ale is a hybrid, formulated to resemble a German Maibock (a strong golden lager) but fermented with an ale yeast. Orange-amber with a creamy white head, it's honey-smooth with a hint of alcoholic warmth and a peppery hop finish. When it was originally released in the early 1990s, the beer was called Maierbock, after Rogue brewmaster John Maier. But it sold poorly, and "John was never comfortable with his face on a bottle," says brewery founder Jack Joyce.

Renamed, the beer now accounts for nearly 40 percent of Rogue's annual sales of more than 50,000 barrels a year. About 30 percent of all Dead Guy Ale is shipped in September and October.

Around Halloween, the brewery releases its Dead Guy Ale in special glow-in-the-dark 22-ounce and 64-ounce bottles. Look for the bottles with the orangy hue.

The Halloween season is also a special time for Magic Hat Brewing in South Burlington, Vt., says Kate La Riviere, the company's "minister of fermentation elation relations." Each year the brewery celebrates its founding with the Night of the Living Dead, a bacchanalian "freak show" featuring live music, fire-eaters, fortunetellers, tarot readers and other performers.

Night of the Living Dead is also the name of Magic Hat's variety 12-pack, consisting of three bottles each of four brands: 9, a pale ale with a dash of apricot; Jinx, a peat-smoked ale; Circus Boy, a German-style Hefeweizen; and a Mystery Beer that changes annually.

This year's Mystery Beer, La Riviere says, is a Belgian-style dubbel (a strong, dark, fruity ale). On a special Magic Hat Web page (the address is on the label), customers can vote thumbs up or down ("rave or the grave") on the Mystery Beer. Hence, the brewery observes another autumn tradition: elections.

Magic Hat is taking its Night of the Living Dead extravaganza on the road, staging its annual party at the Lincoln Theater in Raleigh, N.C., on Saturday (see http://www.magichat.net/nold).

For a Halloween road trip closer to home, consider the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire in Manheim, about a two-hour drive from Washington. The annual event, which gives revelers an opportunity to dress as lords, ladies, knights and minstrels, might be the only historical reenactment of its kind to have its own on-site brewery, Swashbuckler Brewing.

For the fair's "Spooky Knights" finale this weekend, brewer Mark Braunwarth (an alum of Rock Bottom Brewery in Arlington) intends to offer such hair-raising brews as the Skull Annihilator (a potent doppelbock with notes of chocolate, roast and raisins) and Marley's Curse, a double India pale ale.

Go to http://www.parenfaire.com for more information. And use a designated driver . . . or coachman.

Greg Kitsock's Beer column appears every other week. He can be reached atfood@washpost.com.

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