Fall is beer drinking season. The autumn brings a ton of outstanding seasonals that offer greater complexity and fuller flavor than the light, crisp beers we drink all summer, but aren’t quite as heavy as the winter ales that will soon arrive to brace us against the cold. Fall, of late, has also brought a lot of pumpkin beers, but you won’t find any of this here (we’ve already got you covered on that), we’ve rounded up our favorite non-gourd-flavored fall brews.
Boston and Vermont, 5.3%
To celebrate its two Octoberfests (one in Boston and one in Vermont), Harpoon has been making a Märzen-style lager since 1989. Harpoon’s version of the German standard is a deep brown, malty beer made with Munich, chocolate, and pale malts. Those are balanced mostly by a slight hoppiness, which comes mostly from aroma.
Great Lakes Nosferatu
Imperial red ale, which Great Lakes says, grew out of American brewers’ efforts to make due without English brewing ingredients. The American hops and malt in Great Lake’s vampire-themed offering come together for a beer with a slightly bitter hoppiness, hints of orange, and a strong malt backbone. Great Lakes recommends pairing the beer with red meat, soft cheese, and the vegetables the colder months do best: roots.
Founders Harvest Ale
Hops dominate this IPA, which is made using freshly harvested—or wet, in brewers’ parlance—hops. Unlike their dried, longer-lasting, and more common brethren, wet hops go straight from the vine into the brew, imparting a particularly earthy, herbal flavor. That earthiness gives way to hints of citrus and finds a strong backing in slightly sweet malt.
Lagunitas Imperial Red
Lagunitas calls its Imperial Red the “exhumation” of the first ale the brewery cooked up, in 1993. The deep red brew’s flavors come in waves, but it’s hard to say which arrives first—the strong, citrusy flavor of hops or the sweet breadiness of the malt. That ambiguity is a good thing; this beer is the epitome of well balanced.
Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest
Being nearly 6,000 miles from Munich was no deterrent for the brewery from Paso Robles, CA to make their own twist on the traditional Oktoberfest Märzen beer. Firestone Walker’s version is a little crisper and less malty than the German brew it takes its inspiration from. And don’t let the name fool you though, this isn’t a barrel-aged beer, the “Oak” in its name is an ode to the brewery’s hometown, which means, “pass of the oaks” in Spanish.
Local Option Exorcist
Local Option calls its fall stout “a devastating foreign extra stout.” The chocolate and roasted malt flavors on the nose, with some exotic fruit and bitterness coming in behind are, indeed, devastating, if devastating means intense and well balanced. The Exorcist recipe comes from the Local Option bar in Chicago, though the beer itself is brewed at the Pub Dog Brewing Company in Maryland. Right now, it’s on tap only, but it’ll be available in bottles later this year.
Flying Dog Secret Stash Harvest Ale
The local harvest dictates what kind of beer Flying Dog makes every fall. This year, it’s an American wheat ale made of wheat, malted rye, and Cascade and Chinook hops. The farmers of those ingredients visit the brewery for the brewing, where they “celebrate the arrival of the hops like we’re in a goddamn Disney movie.” The only problem with such celebration of all things local is availability: You won’t be able to find this beer outside the east coast.
Bell’s Best Brown Ale
When it comes to simplicity in fall beers, there are two choices: Octoberfest lagers and brown ales. It’s impossible to say which brown ale is truly the best, but the name of Bell’s brown ale actually isn’t terribly hyperbolic: This is an exceptional brown ale. The chocolaty malt gets balanced by a bit of hops for a smooth but by no means bland brew.
Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen
The exemplar of fall beer is an Oktoberfest beer, and there’s a strong case to be made that Ayinger’s Oktober Fest is the exemplar of the genre. To make its festival lager, Ayinger uses an old-fashioned technique, called decoction mashing, that comes from beer-making days of yore, when it was more difficult to precisely measure temperature: Some of the mash is removed from the main vessel, boiled in a separate pot, and then added back in, where it heats up the entire mixture. Per German purity laws, the only other ingredients are water, malt, yeast and hops, which are combined every March so the beer will be perfectly aged by beer-festival time.
3 Floyds Broo Doo
Three Floyds finds a happy hops medium, taking advantage of the hops harvest with wet hops but also using regular old dry hops. The combination gives this golden beer a pleasant, hoppy bitterness that melds with flavors of citrus and a bit of pine. The taste seems to embody the notion of holding onto the last bit of summer while admitting fall is here. (And the label seems to embody all things fantastical: There’s a troll, a princess, and a unicorn.)