Many beer drinkers consider summer a prime season for enjoying their preferred beverage; pool parties, park picnics, barbecus, and concert festivals all seem like ideal venues for cracking open a cold gose or hefeweizen or summer ale. However, along with cooler temperatures and colorful leaves, the arrival of autumn means the reintroduction of heartier, fuller-bodied brews onto beverage menus, including seasonally specific favorites like Oktoberfest biers and brown ales.
To help us wade through the glut of autumnal beers now gracing grocery store shelves and bar taps, we asked a group of brewers, beer bartenders, and beer writers to offer up their best fall beer recommendations, resulting in this list of 10 brews to snatch up before winter comes. And yes, before you ask, we did include a few (excellent!) pumpkin beers in this roundup, along with plenty of gourd-free options.
Best Pumpkin Beers
Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale
We’re kicking things off with a fall classic hailing from the great state of Delaware: Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale, a pumpkin beer that arguably helped to launch the larger pumpkin beer trend, as it’s been on the market since the mid-90s.
Punkin’ Ale is a favorite of Chicago-based beer blogger Craig Gunderson of Thirsty Bastards, who tells us that “one of my favorites is Dogfish Head’s Punkin’ Ale. They commission a different artist to do the label each year, so in addition to drinking this 7% alcohol-by-volume gourd-infused treat, it’s also an annual surprise to see how a new artist celebrates the style. This year, it’s poster artist Michael Hacker. The beer itself is spicy brown ale with a nice warming effect. Most pumpkin beers go for sweetness, but Punkin goes for balance. It’s a must-have for me each year.”
Greenport Harbor Brewery Leaf Pile Ale
If you like your pumpkin beers both lightweight and packed with flavor nuance, then you’ll find Greenport Harbor Brewery of Long Island’s Leaf Pile Ale a truly satisfying seasonal libation. “As much as I can’t stand when people start losing their minds over all things pumpkin for about 6-8 weeks, then totally forget about anything pumpkin until next year … you can’t talk about fall beers without having a solid pumpkin beer choice. One of my favorites is Greenport Harbor Brewery Leaf Pile Ale. Their fall seasonal is the most balanced pumpkin beer out there. At 5.2% ABV, it drinks very easy, and it hits all the pumpkin flavors one looks for. The perfect amounts of allspice, vanilla bean, nutmeg, and cinnamon. An outstanding fall beer choice!” says beverage manager Rich DePascale of The Wilson in New York City.
Southern Tier Pumking
New York State brewers definitely know their stuff when it comes to autumn beers, and the genuine cult classic that is Southern Tier Brewing’s Pumking serves as proof. This imperial ale boasts a potent 8.6% ABV, along with a rich flavor profile reminiscent of pumpkin pie. “If you’re looking for a pumpkin beer that has a ton of flavor (and a pretty strong ABV), Pumking delivers both. It’s one of the favorites of many of the craft beer drinkers I know due to its robust nature,” explains beer sommelier Mickey Alexander of Taproom 307 in New York City.
Best Oktoberfest Beers
Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
Sierra Nevada honors the history of Oktoberfest by engaging in annual collaborations with German brewers, resulting in their Oktoberfest releases. This year, they’re teaming up with Bitburger, a Rhineland brewery first founded in the 19th century most famous for its crisp Premium Pils. Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest brews regularly count among the fall-season favorites of head brewer Flint Whistler of Randolph Beer in New YorkCity, who tells us that “Sierra Nevada always brings their A-game when collaborating with traditional German breweries. In the fall, I’m looking for a balanced beer that is going to be malt-forward with moderate alcohol content and clean finish to either pair with autumn foods and enjoyed by itself on a cool day. Sierra’s Oktoberfest is always exactly what I want.”
Ayinger Oktoberfest Märzen
According to legend, Märzen, a lager native to Bavaria, was the brew served at the first-ever Oktoberfest celebration in the early 19th century, and it’s still an overwhelmingly popular style for autumn imbibing in the present day. Beer manager Tony Doria of Molly’s Spirits in Denver, CO favors the version brewed by Ayinger Brewery in Bavaria, and says, “The classic Oktoberfest Marzen exemplifies the autumn season in every sip. Crystal clear with a beautiful copper hue, [Ayinger Oktoberfest Märzen is] light and crisp with a magnificent bread crust [and a] biscuity, malted backbone.”
A Munich brewery dating back to the mid-1500s, Hofbräu releases an Oktoberfest beer on a yearly basis. And, according to beverage manager Raymond Vlug of Frankford Hall in Philadelphia the Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier counts among the finest seasonal brews available anywhere. “It is one of the world’s oldest and original fall beers, and [it’s one] of the six beers of this style featured at Oktoberfest in Munich every year. It will also be available at our block party on September 21st at Frankford Hall. It is a crisp and refreshing malty golden lager supremely balanced with the right amount of hops for bitterness and a light, sweet finish. A perfect all-day-drinking beer for the fall season,” Vlug tells The Manual.
Other Autumnal Beers
Mikkeller Brewing Tripper Bocker
The Danish wunderkinds behind Mikkeller Brewing now have a strong stateside presence, making it possible for American beer enthusiasts to get their hands on rightfully lauded seasonal releases like Tripper Bocker, a personal fave of beverage manager and certified cicerone Maurice diMarino of Cohn Restaurant Group in San Diego: “I believe the best fall beers are dopplebocks. They are lagers with more maltiness and a [slightly higher] ABV to warm you up inside. Doppelbock were what the German monks reserved [to consume during] their fasting periods while giving regular beers to the parishioners. Mikkeller Brewing makes a raspberry doppelbock called the Tripper Bocker, and I can’t wait for its release [this year].”
AleSmith Nut Brown Ale
Brown ales are a natural match for autumn drinking, and bartender Lacey Watts of Draft Republic in San Diego gives a particular shoutout to AleSmith’s version, telling us that “AleSmith Nut Brown Ale is a must-have fall beer. It’s perfectly balanced with [flavors of] toasted nuts, creamy cacao and a hint of vanilla. My favorite boozy fall treat!”
Bell’s Two-Hearted IPA
Co-founder and head brewer Bryan Winslow of St. Elmo’s Brewing in Austin especially enjoys Bell’s Two-Hearted IPA during this cooler time of year: “Its citrus and piney hop profile is balanced with a great malt body. It packs a solid booze level at 7% to keep ya warm.”
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