Don’t get us wrong, we love pumpkin. But when it comes to limited-release autumn brews, the once-humble orange gourd has all but overwhelmed the marketplace. If you’re not a fan of pumpkin, the craft pickings are thin.
“The truth is there just aren’t a ton of fall-focused styles that aren’t pumpkin flavored,” says Matt Simpson, a.k.a., The Beer Sommelier.
But despite the pumpkin’s near chokehold on autumn’s beer offerings, there are still enough excellent un-gourdly brews to delight your pallet and warm your bones as the whether turns chilly.
SURLY BREWING CO. “SURLYFEST”
Minnesota, 6% ABV, surlybrewing.com
“Every major craft brewer does some kind of ‘fest,’ ” Simpson says. “But Surly adds an American twist to the seminal Oktoberfest by adding American hops.” He says these impart “really citrusy, piney, grassy aromas” that are light enough to let the malt flavor come through.
JOLLY PUMPKIN ARTISAN ALES “FUEGO DEL OTOÑO”
Michigan, 6.1% ABV, jollypumpkin.com
Yes, it’s ironic that a brewer called “Jolly Pumpkin” would make one of the best non-pumpkin autumn beers. Simpson says their Fuego del Otoño, or “autumn fire,” is brewed with chestnut and fall spices, as well as Jolly Pumpkin’s “funky house yeast,” which gives each of their beers a distinctive note. “This is a nice, lightly spicy amber ale,” he says.
BREWERY OMMEGANG “GRAINS OF TRUTH”
New York, 5.8% ABV, ommegang.com
While plenty of brewers slap the word “harvest” on the label without much real connection to that fall enterprise, Ommegang’s Grains of Truth is “probably the coolest, most legitimate harvest ale that I’ve seen,” Simpson says. “This beer includes three of the grains harvested from upstate New York—barley, wheat and rye.”
SOUTHERN TIER BREWING COMPANY “HARVEST ALE”
New York, 6.7% ABV, stbcbeer.com
From the people who make one of the best pumpkin beers you’ll ever drink—Pumpking—comes this English-style ESB, or extra special bitter. With plenty of spice aromas and enough alcohol to warm you up, this is “a beer to suit the season,” Simpson says.
AYINGER OKTOBERFEST MARZEN
Germany, 5.8% ABV, merchantduvin.com
Simpson calls this his “go-to” Oktoberfest-style beer. “It’s like drinking liquid bread,” he says. “And not only is it very bready and biscuity, but it has the most wonderful clear orange copper color you’ve ever seen.” It also has a pretty badass cap, he adds.
SIERRA NEVADA “HARVEST WET HOP IPA”
California, 6.7% ABV, sierranevada.com
“This is the time of year when hops are picked,” Simpson says. While hops are usually dried and stored before being added to your beer, adding fresh hops in the fall is sometimes called “wet” hopping. “Most wet-hopped beers will be a little more dank and earthy than dry-hopped beers,” he explains. And this brew from Sierra Nevada is one of the better wet-hopped beers you’ll find.
SCHLAFLY BEER “TASMANIAN IPA”
Missouri, 7.2% ABV, schlafly.com
Apart from its October release date, Schlafly’s “TIPA” doesn’t have much tying it to autumn. But it’s consistently rated one of the best IPAs in America. The beer’s 100% Australian hops provide a new taste profile for hopheads used to bitter American varieties.
ALESMITH EVIL DEAD RED
California, 6.66% ABV (so they claim), alesmith.com
“This is the best American amber or red ale I’ve ever had,” Simpson says. He calls it similar to Sierra Nevada Celebrations, but minus the bitterness and jammed full of dank West Coast American hop aroma. “It has to be drunk fresh, otherwise you just have malty amber ale,” he says.
THE BRUERY “AUTUMN MAPLE”
California, 10% ABV, thebruery.com
Think of this as the anti-pumpkin ale. “They use yams instead of pumpkins, and also some autumn baking spices and maple syrup,” Simpson says. “It’s a big, big beer meant more for later in fall.”