There’s no bad time to drink beer — but fall is my favorite time to drink beer. With the juicy glow of summer’s fruited pale ales and light lagers fading, snifters of oil-slick candybar-sweet stouts and sledgehammer barleywines are on the horizon. Right now, though — right now is all about those seasonals and one-offs that brewers rarely get to play with. Between Labor Day and Cyber Monday, it’s all about the beers in between the extremes.
You’re going to find that a lot of the following beers have their home in the Midwest. As well as Colorado and Vermont do during winter and how great California and the South are at summer brews, the Great Lakes states rule autumn.
I mean, have you had a fresh apple cider donut? That alone should earn this area from the shores of Lake Superior to the Hocking Hills of Ohio the crown on this fleeting beer season that gets distilled so nicely into bottles and cans.
What exactly makes a beer “autumn”-y? Lots of these beers are actually year-round offerings, but the cooling weather simply makes it the best time to crack them open. Autumn beers highlight the joys of malts over hops, with spices and balance and colors to match the season — reddish-orange ales and brown lagers aplenty. Here’s the styles we’re loving now:
- Brown Ales: Light to medium body, sweet, creamy and sometimes a bit fruity, and yes: they’re quite often brown.
- Porters: Malty, bready, roasty, strong and usually dry; a step below stouts in strength and viscosity but not in a watered-down sort of way.
- Scotch Ales: A little smokey and peat-y, but mostly a deep brown brew with rich caramel sweetness and a clean (not sticky) finish.
- Pumpkin Beers: Mostly ambers or brown ales topped with pumpkin pie spices but some devoted brewers will still make a beer with pumpkin pie puree or even more rarely, actual roasted pumpkin.
- ESBs: Coppery, somewhat sparkling and very easy drinking beers with a lot of floral and even herbal notes from higher hoppiness than other autumn beers, but still backed up with bready malt character.
- Oktoberfests: Those nutty, easy-drinking but hard-hitting German lagers equally rich with toffee flavor as they are with history are a fall staple.
P.S. All of the above go great with caramel apples.
Take a break from the IPAs (though we’ll allow you a harvest IPA if you’re close to a hop farm). Put down that can of Hamms for a minute. Make a conscious decision to spend the next two months of your beer-drinking life enjoying the stuff that hits shelves right now, and is best paired with falling leaves, bonfires, horror movies, cranberry sauce, and the occasional packet of candy corn.
It’s fall. Act like it! Here’s what you should have in your fridge for the next couple of months:
Best Pumpkin Ale
Are pumpkin beers the seasonal juggernaut they were just a couple years back, hitting store shelves in July and sticking around into the new year? Nope — and we’re all better for it. Now we get more thoughtful, determined, intentional pumpkin beers, as opposed to dead-tasting cinnamon and nutmeg on top of a boring amber.
Most pumpkin beers aren’t anything special … but when you get a good one, man, it makes up for the others.
Schlafly has been making their pumpkin beer since well before it was cool, and they continue to innovate — this year they’ve added a “white pumpkin ale,” and if you can find the barrel-aged version of this beer, which comes out occasionally, grab it. The go-to pumpkin beer is hallmarked by balance — no flavor overrides another, they all play in harmony to make one nice wave of pumpkin spice on top of a mid-bodied dark amber brew. While some may want to be hit over the head with pie spice, you’ll appreciate that this avoids those pitfalls and aspires to better, more mature things.
Find it: This great pumpkin makes its way into the 12 states in which Schlafly distributes.
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