Beer/Wine

12 killer fall beers that aren’t pumpkin

Pumpkin beer is a polarizing subject, this year perhaps more than ever. To some brew enthusiasts, saying you love beer while drinking a Shipyard Pumpkinhead is like saying you’re a diehard Red Sox supporter when wearing a pink hat. So here’s a 12-pack of brews to drink this season that have nothing to do with those damn gourds.

For the record, though, I’m against the pumpkin-hating because there are tons of great breweries out there conjuring up tasty, imaginative takes on the loosely-defined style. Pumpkin porters, pumpkin shandies — I say keep ‘em coming. What I dislike about the pumpkin craze is that it draws attention away from other great fall styles. Typically, these are beers brewed in summer to be enjoyed when the season turns: Marzens, dunkelweizens, harvest ales, and brown ales. The heavier, higher alcohol content beers that hit the market around this time of year give you a nice fuzzy warm feeling, like you’re wearing a knit sweater that smells like hops. Others aren’t going to knock you on your ass, but pack huge autumnal flavors. I’m bending the rules a little on some of these, but these are a dozen beers available now that I’m really, really into as of mid-October  — brews that I like to drink during fall. No pumpkins to be found.

1. Baxter Hayride Autumn Ale
Probably my favorite on this list. It comes in a plaid-printed can -- how much more fall can you get? Baxter Brewing Co. is a standby of mine, not just for its flannel cans and can-shaped drinkware (they really dig cans and now release every beer in them), but for its awesome, somewhat unconventional brews. Make sure to pour this slightly-spicy rye beer in a glass, since it's brewed with peppercorn, ginger, and orange peel and cold-conditioned on oak. You get a good whiff of the pepper and oak. There were a lot of floating bits in it, which is normal -- it’s just really unfiltered. As I took the last sip, which was full of floaties, my tasting buddy, a tour guide at the Sam Adams brewery, told me, “Don’t take that sip! That’s all the yeasty stuff that gives you the beer-shits.” Good lookin’ out, man. (6.6%, Lewiston, Maine)
2. Abita Pecan Harvest Ale
A bartender made fun of me once because I said I liked Abita Brewing Company’s Purple Haze, a raspberry puree-infused beer. There’s a stigma out there against flavored beers. I’d say that might be deserved for, like, Bud Light Lime and that stupid Leinenkugel that tastes just like Fruit Loops (and not in a good way). But the thing about Abita’s Pecan Harvest Ale is that they use real Louisiana pecans in the brewing process for this American brown ale, so the flavor is authentic. The pecan taste is strong but not too strong, balanced out by the hops. It's a bit too sweet to have several in a row, but I’m excited to try this one with a pecan pie come Thanksgiving. (5.2%, Abita Springs, La.)
3. Sam Adams Ruby Mild
If you live in the Boston area and care about beer, you’ve probably had Sam Adams’ Octoberfest. I like it, it’s a great beer, and Jim Koch is my craft beer hero. But as the guy at Streetcar Beer and Wine in Jamaica Plain explained to me, Oktoberfest/Marzen-style beers tend to overshadow other fall styles, so this is my effort to branch out. With Ruby Mild, it’s all in the name -- this is a very mild beer, not bold in any sense. Light and drinkable, it manages to be interesting with its mild hop taste and bread and molasses notes without being as strong as some of my other favorite fall brews. I like it for the resulting easy drinkability and for fact that there’s some history here, as the style was popular among British railway workers back in the when. It’s available in the Sam Adams Fall pack. (5.6%, Boston)
4. Jack’s Abby Fire in the Ham
This might not technically be a fall beer, but since it tastes like a honey-smoked ham, I’m equating it with Thanksgiving and throwing it on the list. Rauchbiers are a hard sell on my friends. I often try to turn people onto this German style, notable for its smoky flavor (due to the malt being roasted, traditionally over beech wood), but I haven’t met many who like it. Framingham’s Jack’s Abby have made a smoky, meaty-flavored beer that isn’t too thick or intense, though -- it's lighter than most of the other smoked beers I’ve tried (Sam Adams Bonfire, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier), but just as full of that charred meat flavor. One guy who tried it with me even claimed he’d love a side of spicy mustard with it. If you’re a meat enthusiast as well as a beer nut, this is a beer for the Ron Swanson in you -- but note that, despite the meaty taste, this beer is vegan-friendly. (5.4%, Framingham)
5. Peak Organic Nut Brown Ale
Brown ales are a popular fall style, characterized by maltiness, sweetness, and a full body. Some are kind of nutty tasting, like this one, though the taste in Peak’s offering is rather mild. This isn’t an overwhelmingly flavorful beer, but it's still tasty and drinkable. What’s cool about Peak is that they use all local and organic ingredients, so this beer is a solid choice if you’re into that. I’m into that, at least when it doesn’t break the bank. (4.7%, Portland, Maine)
6. Peak Organic Fall Summit
Another autumnal offering from Peak is Fall Summit. This one is hoppy (thanks to the Summit hops it utilizes) and damn, it just smells like fall. I catch some caramel/toffee notes happening, though I don’t taste them as strongly. Again, not a life-changing beer, but the crispness and drinkability make it a welcome choice while I’m out sweeping leaves off the porch. (5.7%, Portland, Maine)
7. Mayflower Autumn Wheat
This is from the place where Thanksgiving comes from -- Plymouth. The label even has a quote from straight-up pilgrim and historical dude William Bradford, talking about how the pilgrims drank up all their beer after landing on that famous rock. This dark wheat ale has a taste that the tasting group decided was "comforting," considering the season -- that is, medium-bodied, roast-y, and even a bit chocolate-y. The hops balance but don’t overpower. Mayflower’s got a Thanksgiving Ale coming out soon so keep an eye out for that, too. (5.8%, Plymouth)
8. Victory Festbier
Hell yes, Pennsylvania, my beloved home state. While you wait patiently for Yuengling to come back to New England after a two-decade absence, try rad PA brewery Victory’s take on the Marzen/Oktoberfest style. I admittedly need to try more Oktoberfests that are actually made in the land in which they originated, but for an American version of a German classic, this is a pretty great beer. This can tend to be a pretty lame beer style, but the malty smell/taste and crisp refreshingness make Victory Festbier one of my go-to’s. (5.6%, Downington, Pa.)
9. Founders Breakfast Stout
As a stout, this is probably more of a winter beer than a fall beer, but like I said, I’m bending some rules. I love drinking thick stouts in the cold fall weather. They warm you up and are pleasantly filling. Also, in the case of high ABV ones like this, they get you a nice warm buzz that’ll get rid of that fall chill. A possible negative side: Drinking one of these makes you feel like you just finished a whole damn sandwich. Seriously, Founders’ masterpiece is viscous, heavy, and chewy. I know it says breakfast but it’s more like dessert, as it smells and tastes strongly of chocolate. It bills itself on the label as a “double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout” and you taste all of those delicious things. I know this might not be for everyone, but personally, I like beers with the consistency and appearance of motor oil. It probably sounds weird to the uninitiated, but I guarantee you it’s worth a try. (8.3%, Grand Rapids, Mich.)
10. Jack’s Abby Wet Hop Lager
Usually, hops are dried before they're added to a beer. Not so in the case of this Jack’s Abby offering. Fall is a time when hops are fresh from the harvest, and the process of wet hopping a beer involves brewing with fresh-picked hops without drying out the oils that add to taste and aroma. This beer uses hops grown in Massachusetts, including some grown on Jack’s Abby’s Hendler brothers’ parents’ farm. This is a must if you want to appreciate local ingredients from a new favorite (Jack’s Abby just celebrated its two-year anniversary, which is hard to believe, because they’re already such a badass and prolific brewery). (5.2%, Framingham)
11. Stillwater Artisanal Ales Autumnal
Brewmaster Brian Stumke used to be a techno/electronica artist in Bal-more -- cool story, cool brew. His brewery will grow to nearly four times its size as it moves kinda-locally (is Newyorkachusetts considered local?) with an agreement in place to brew at the Two Roads Brewing Facility in Stratford, Conn. Belgian farmhouse yeasts and earthy aromas combine for a neat version of a farmhouse/saison-style beer. Kind of dry and a bit bitter, but totally worth a taste for the cool flavor and mild Belgian funkiness. (7.2%, Baltimore, Md.)
12. Pretty Things Saint Botolph’s Town
This one’s not quite a "fall beer," since it's available year-round. However, it is a solid English brown ale, one of my favorite styles of the season. Martha and Dann Paquette of Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project are "gypsy brewers" -- they have an agreement to brew in someone else’s brewery because they don’t have one of their own. They want to make beer that is "fun to drink and learn about." Don’t they just sound like the most awesome people? This is probably my favorite from Pretty Things, but the company's other offerings are totally worth a try. (5.9%, Cambridge)

Posted to BDCWire, Beer/Wine