There’s a nip to the air, the leaves are changing colors, and you’re gearing up for the succession of end-of-year holidays. Whether you love the fright and fun of Halloween, the food at Thanksgiving or the family togetherness of Christmas, fall and winter offer a lot to enjoy. For the craft beer lover, the last few months of the year bring some interesting options from a lot of different breweries. If you’re gearing up for fall, make sure to check out a few of these tasty seasonal brews to get your craft on.
Ok, so pumpkin ale isn’t really all that new. But it seems like every year, more craft breweries find a way to put their own unique spin on this time-honored favorite. This year, you’ll find pumpkin-flavored brews on offer from a broad range of different breweries, with some interesting evolutions going on as well.
If you’re a fan of Blue Moon, the company’s cinnamon and spice-touched brew will be out once more. You’ll also find options from North Peak, Buffalo Bills, Brooklyn Brewing and Sam Adams. If you’re looking for something a bit different but don’t want to give up that pumpkin and spice flavor, Woodchuck (the hard cider company) is offering real pumpkin cider. It’s not apple cider with pumpkin flavoring – it’s actual pumpkin cider with the balance made up from apple cider.
If you’re a first-timer looking to find out what all the buzz is about, pumpkin ale is generally flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices, and often (but not always) has a little molasses added for more sweetness. Most are also amber ales (which should be common sense).
For most American’s, Oktoberfest is more an event than a style of beer, but you’ll find plenty of craft breweries putting out Oktoberfest-style brews this year. Sam Adams offers a unique option with five different types of barley, as well as plenty of hops. Shiner has an option on the market, as does Harpoon. Brooklyn Brewing is also in the game with their own German-style Oktoberfest offering (it’s a märzen). Others on offer for American drinkers include Warsteiner’s Oktoberfest brew, Leinenkugel and Real Ale.
Oktoberfest-style brews vary considerably in terms of color, character, sweetness and other elements. For example, Real Ale’s Oktoberfest variation is heavy on taste with lots of sweetness, but light on hops, while Harpoon’s red variant is heavy on the malt flavor with balanced hops.
Several breweries put out their own fall-related brown ales. If your only experience with browns is Newcastle, it might be time to check out a few craft brews and what they can offer. If you’re from the South (or just a nut lover), Abita Pecan Harvest Ale might be the best place to start. Made with real roasted pecans from the great state of Louisiana, this ale offers plenty of nutty fragrance, as well as a nicely balanced body.
Sierra Nevada is known for putting out some of the most popular seasonal brews in the country, and they’ve got a nice brown on offer as well. Their Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale is really more ruby than brown. It features a mildly bitter flavor enhanced with caramel and plenty of malted goodness. Anchor Steam shouldn’t be left out of the consideration either. The San Francisco-based brewery has released their Humming Ale – it’s an interesting combination of flavor characteristics. Hops dominate the brew, but you’ll find citrus notes and tart, fall-like flavors as well. The finish is crisp, as any fall ale should be.
Harvest ales are a bit like browns in that they span a broad range of colorations and flavor combinations. Also like browns, harvest ales aren’t only available during the fall (although they do seem more predominant at the end of the year). Many harvest ales combine a variety of spices with pumpkin extract, but you will also find a broad range of other ingredients. One perennial favorite is ale brewed with fresh hops, rather than the dried, pelletized variety usually used for brewing.
Sierra Nevada, Hale’s, Dogfish Head, Harpoon, Goose Island and Founders Brewing all offer harvest ales. Alcohol content ranges dramatically throughout this selection, from 5.5% ABV with Harpoon to 7.0% ABV with Dogfish Head’s offering.
If you’re not able to decide on just one fall ale to try, a number of bars and restaurants have started offering flights – a tray featuring three to five smaller glasses of beer. They’re ideal for group outings, and give you a way to sample various options without being stuck with a six-pack you’re not going to drink. You’ll also find a lot of craft breweries offering samples of their seasonal brews in-house (on tours, for instance), so stop by if there’s one in your neighborhood.
Preparing for Winter
As fall rolls on into winter, you’ll find a range of other seasonal brews coming to market. Holiday brews are often stronger than those put out during the rest of the year, and you’ll find many options that mimic the nature of mulled wine (featuring a tasty blend of holiday spices and additives). You’ll continue to find pumpkin ales on offer from fall into winter, but once December hits, you’ll see them being replaced by Christmas and winter ales.
If you’re preparing for winter early, check out some of the options like Harpoon’s Winter Warmer, New Belgium’s Snow Day, Red Brick’s Old Stock, Heavy Seas Winter Storm Category 5 or Bell’s Hell Hath No Fury. Be prepared for higher ABV here – the lightweights tend to come in around 6% ABV, and some of the heavyweights can top 10%.
Whatever your persuasion, the coming of fall heralds a long list of new brews to sample and enjoy. You’re sure to find at least a few options that you need to stock up on to keep them on hand after the season wraps up. For craft brew lovers, fall is just as good a season as spring as far as new options to explore and sample, so get out there and enjoy.