Fall means beautiful foliage, chill evenings, and the inevitable: pumpkin spice. It’s everywhere. Lattes, muffins, donuts, frozen yogurt - and, of course, beer. Most of my fellow beer lovers would call me crazy, but I don’t like pumpkin beer. I’ve tried every kind of pumpkin beer imaginable – spiced, lagered, rum-barreled - and it just doesn’t to do it for me. So maybe you’re like me and need to find an alternative to beer that tastes like a cheap jack o’ lantern - or maybe you’re just looking something new to drink this fall. Here are my recommendations for five less obvious styles for autumn.
Whiffs of toasted grain on the nose
Slightest hint of sweet caramel malt
Crisp, clean finish
Smooth and easy drinking
No pumpkin here. Oktoberfests are the original German fall seasonal, so this one is an obvious pick. With recent trends in beer leaning towards the extreme (Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, I’m looking at you), subtler options have become old news. While Pumpkin beers certainly sell, it’s sad how little space stores save for Oktoberfests. Case and point: I went looking for this Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen, a traditional German Oktoberfestbier, and I had to go to three different stores to find it.
There’s nothing wrong with the American interpretations, but it felt wrong to write about them while keeping it authentic. Subtlety and drinkable ease are the twin calling cards of the Oktoberfestbiers, which lend themselves well to food pairings (pretzels and sausage, of course) - and to drinking in large quantities.
Other options: Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen, Weihenstphaner Oktoberfestbier, Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
Mildly-sweet sticky toffee taste
Roasted coffee and smoke notes
Bitter, hoppy finish
Brown Ales are getting harder and harder to find nowadays. But if you look hard enough, you’ll find breweries still committed to brewing the venerable British standby that is the Brown Ale. Hill Farmstead, the jewel in the crown that is Vermont’s breweries, is an excellent example. George, their brown ale, takes the standard caramel malt and pairs it with a hoppy bitterness. The result is a malty cup of bitter coffee. Safe to say this is no Newcastle.
Other options: Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale (a classic), Dogfish Head’s Palo Santo Marron and Sierra Nevada’s Tumbler
Hints of dark fruit and peat on the nose
Sticky brown sugar and vanilla taste
Low on bitterness
Heavy mouthfeel with little to no carbonation
Well-hidden high ABV
Scotch Ales were my introduction to beer (if we overlook college). It’s not surprising that they lured me in, considering how sweet they are. And Scotch ales were light years better than anything I had tasted up to that point in my life. I still find myself turning to Scotch Ales when the temperatures start to drop, and Founder’s Dirty Bastard is my scotch ale of choice. It’s a year-round release so it can be found easily when the craving strikes. It’s reasonably priced too, especially for a 6 pack of an 8% beer. Put away your sweater, because this one will warm you up. Pro-tip: Scotch Ales lend themselves well to baking. Pour some in your next pumpkin-spiced-whatever recipe. You won’t be disappointed.
Other options: Thirsty Dog Wulver, Oskar Blues’ Old Chub, Ale Smith’s Wee Heavy
Hints of prunes, currants and other dark fruits on the nose
Fruity saison esters meet roasted malt
Mildly bitter dry finish
Might be tart or sour depending on the beer
Saisons are my favorite type of beer. The problem is they’re traditionally a summer seasonal brewed for farmers to drink while tending their fields. While you can buy them year round nowadays, there does seem to be something off about drinking them on a brisk fall evening. The solution? Swapping the traditional malt for something dark - hence “Dark Saison” (not a technical term, by the way). Sante Adairius Rustic Ale’s Farmhouse Noir is a barrel-aged Saison. Maybe it’s just the color, but I taste acidic blackberries and currants. Regardless, this is a perfect beer for a fall afternoon, whether or not you manage to make it out into the cornfields.
Other options: Fantôme’s Automne or Hiver, Brewery Ommegang’s Three-Eyed Raven, Hill Farmstead Edith
Similar to a marzen (Oktoberfest) but with smoked malt
Huge, smokey nose, reminiscent of cured meats
Light-bodied liquid bacon
Surprisingly easy to drink
If drinking a scotch, smoking a cigar, and eating a plate of bacon all while enjoying a bonfire is your idea of a great fall evening, then this is the beer for you - because that’s pretty much what it tastes like. Massachusetts local Jack’s Abby brews only lagers, a bold move in today’s market. Fire in the Ham is their take on a traditional Rauchbier, and is a great buy especially since bottled Rauchbiers can be tricky to find. Draft options are a better bet, especially if you have a German-style beer haus nearby.
Other options: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, Unita Tinder Rauchbier, Sam Adams Cinder Bock