The 6 beers you should be drinking this fall
Ready or not, a wave of next season’s beer is already hitting shelves. But fall doesn’t just mean a selection of spice-fueled pumpkin brews. You’ll also find clean and balanced classic German-inspired Oktoberfest beers at stores now.
Here are a few suggestions for each family of autumnal beer:
The popularity of pumpkin beer is undeniable, and each year there’s a race among the larger craft breweries to be the first to market a pumpkin brew. The first pumpkin ales began arriving at stores as early as the end of July this year, and the pie-inspired styles are a love-it or hate-it brew for beer fans.
Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale and Black Pumpkin
Buffalo Bill’s Brewery, a nearly 35 year old brewpub in Hayward, Calif., has been supplying California with pumpkin pie-flavored beer for longer than just about anyone. Its flagship Pumpkin Ale is a widely available seasonal favorite, and the amber brew is relatively balanced — as pumpkin beers go. The brewery also offers a stronger and darker pumpkin stout called Black Pumpkin that ups the roasted malt flavor to help subdue the sweetness. Pumpkin Ale is available in six packs and Black Pumpkin is available in 22-ounce bottles at major retailers such as BevMo! and Trader Joe’s.
Elysian Brewing Punkuccino
The acquisition of Elysian Brewing by Anheuser Busch InBev in 2015 hasn’t slowed the Washington brewery’s pumpkin beer output. Elysian has several varieties of pumpkin-flavored styles on offer this year, including its core pumpkin ale Night Owl, the boozy Great Pumpkin Ale, Dark O’ the Moon pumpkin stout, and the pumpkin spice latte-inspired Punkuccino. The latter brew is flavored with Stumptown coffee, cinnamon and nutmeg; if you enjoy a cup of Joe with your pumpkin pie, this is the pumpkin brew to reach for.
Boulevard Brewing Funky Pumpkin
Even more polarizing than the typical pumpkin ale, Funky Pumpkin from Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing backs up the spice flavors with a distinctive tartness and subtle funk. At first sip it’s a strange combo, but the acidity helps balance the clove and nutmeg flavors that are often overwhelming in pumpkin beer. You’ll find Funky Pumpkin in six packs, but if you want even more funk in your pumpkin ale, look for the 750-ml cork-and-cage bottles of Boulevard’s Smokestack Series Funkier Pumpkin. This spiced wild ale showcases the earthy, “forest floor” aromas of brettanomyces (a type of yeast) alongside the allspice and cinnamon.
While pumpkin ales are all about squashing big flavors of spices and sweet malts into a brew, the traditional German Oktoberfest style — a.k.a. Märzen — is beloved for the restrained flavors of toasted malts and floral European hops.
Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
The Chico, Calif. brewery collaborated with Bamberg’s Mahr’s Brau, a traditional German brewery, to create this year’s Oktoberfest beer. It’s the second annual Oktoberfest collaboration for the brewery. The 6% alcohol amber lager showcases the complex flavors of toasted European malt and an heirloom hop variety rarely seen in America. It’s rich and complex but remains easy to drink, stein after stein. It’s also versatile when it comes to food pairings — try it with sausages, hard cheeses or as the brewery suggests, hot apple strudel.
Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest
Making a wide return after a year of a very limited draft-only release, Oaktoberfest is available now in four-packs of 16-ounce cans. The name is a nod to Firestone Walker’s hometown of Paso Robles (“pass of the oaks”), rather than any oak flavor in the beer. Oaktoberfest is light, with a more pronounced hop flavor than many craft Oktoberfest brews, making it a good choice for sipping through these last warm days of summer.
Ballast Point Dead Ringer
On the other end of the Märzen style spectrum, Dead Ringer is darker and slightly sweeter with a depth of caramel and toffee flavors and a restrained bitterness. This is a good option if you’re looking for something rich and bold enough to stand up to grilled or roasted meats.
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