“A beer that has no problem being enjoyed by the liter.”
–At least one beer expert, on what makes a great fall beer.
Look: pairing beer and fall is not rocket science.
Nonetheless, we consulted five rocket scientists of the brewing industry — cicerones, aka beer sommeliers — on what you should be quaffing as the leaves turn and the weather cools.
Herein, their choices for the seven best autumnal brews, from Oktoberfests to schwarzbier to, yes, some pumpkin stuff.
If a trained professional imbiber can enjoy it, so can you.
Our panel of cicerones, for reference:
Max Bakker, Anheuser-Busch Sr. Educator and Master Cicerone
Ryan Daley Anheuser-Busch Sr. Educator and Master Cicerone
Anne Becerra, Beverage Director at NYC’s Treadwell Park West
Hal and Cindy Mooney, founders/owners, LA Beer Hop
As chosen by Max Bakker
What makes it a fall beer: Pumpkins are native to North America and are harvested in late August to late October. The sweet and starchy insides of pumpkins are perfect for baking into pies and for making festive fall pumpkin beer. Add in a hint of sweetness in addition to the pumpkin, along with the supporting pumpkin spice flavors of fall, and you get the perfect beer for enjoying cool autumn weather.
Your pick: Elysian Night Owl. Made with pureed pumpkin, raw and toasted pumpkin seeds, and a suite of classic pumpkin spices: allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, ginger. A rich warm bite of fresh baked pumpkin pie in every sip.
Other good choices:
- Shipyard Pumpkinhead (“The lighter side of pumpkin beers” — MB)
- Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (“Has just enough of the pumpkin and spice notes to taste like fall, without being completely overwhelming.” — AB)
As chosen by Anne Becerra
What makes it a fall beer: Before refrigeration, lagers in Germany were brewed in the cooler months and then stored in cold caves to be served throughout the summer. The beers intended to be stored the longest were brewed a little stronger because alcohol is a natural preservative. As fall (and the new brewing season) approached, and it was time to make room for the new batch of beers, and the best way to move through extra inventory was to have a party! The sweeter, malt-forward, Oktoberfest beers or "Marzens" have become synonymous with fall celebrations, dishes and weather.
Her picks: If we're talking German versions, I'd have to go with Ayinger Festbier Marzen. The lovely notes of fresh baked bread, soft honey and herbaceous hop aromas all come together in such a harmonious way. As for domestic, Sierra Nevada. They collaborate with a different German brewery each year so even though the recipe may change, the quality never does.
Other good choices:
- Spaten Oktoberfest (“The subtle sweetness upfront is quickly balanced by the hop bitterness, which lingers into the finish.” — RD)
- Blue Point Oktoberfest (“A light bread crust flavor and honey-like sweetness complemented by a moderate level of bitterness ... a beer that has no problem being enjoyed by the liter.” — RD)
As chosen by Hal Mooney
What makes it a fall beer: Although many people would consider a red or an amber their favorite style of beer, few breweries actually pay much attention. Why is that? Mostly because it's a hard style to pin down. Is it sweet? Is it malty? Does it have hop spice? Hop bitterness? The best examples of this beer balance both aspects of malt sweetness and hop spice along with a body that is strong, but not rich, and a finish that is clean, but not forgettable. Sounds tough, right? It is. And not many brewers can strike the right balance.
His pick: One of my favorite reds is released right around Halloween; it's Evil Dead Red from Alesmith Brewing Company in San Diego. At 6.66% ABV and with a deep, blood-red hue, it's a perfect beer for increasingly cold October evenings. In terms of balance, it definitely leans in favor of hops, but it's done well.
Other good choices:
- Breckenridge Avalanche (“Full of malt flavors of biscuit and caramel with hint of milk chocolate toffee brittle balance by just the right amount of bittering hops.” — MB)
- Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale (“The lovely caramelized malt flavors pair perfectly with an herbal hop bitterness, plus at 5.8%, it's nice and warming without being too strong.” — AB)
As chosen by Ryan Daley
What makes it a fall beer: No matter the time of year, there’s an IPA out there that can make the perfect beer choice. When looking for an IPA in the fall, look for a beer that has a little more malt character and/or a little higher alcohol content. There is the desire for a bit more warmth on those cooler fall days; both malt and alcohol can deliver.
His pick: Wicked Weed Freak of Nature is a Double IPA with floral, citrus and dank hop flavors and a hint of biscuit-like malt flavor. It packs a bit more alcohol and bitterness, but still drinks incredibly smooth. It’s like your favorite fall sweater; it’s so comfortable you forget you’re wearing it.
Other good choices:
- Field to Ferment by Fremont Brewing ("A classic variety of hops — Citra, Centennial and Simcoe — carted straight from the field to the fermenter to capture all of the juicy, volatile hop flavors and aromas.” — HB)
- Bell’s Two Hearted Ale (“A classic American IPA that balances citrus and resin-like hop flavors with biscuit and caramel malt flavors.” — RD)
As chosen by Bakker
What makes it a fall beer: Since it’s difficult to find true Festbier during the fall in the U.S. (the style of beer that is poured at Munich Germany’s annual Oktoberfest), my back-up fall style is a Munich Helles. Munich Helles is similar to Festbier, but features a lower alcohol content and less toasted bread crust malt flavor. Munich Helles is often served by the ½ liter or liter and is the perfect beer to enjoy outside in the cool fall weather with good company in a cozy Biergarten.
His picks: Devils Backbone Gold Leaf Lager is a Munich Helles-style lager that features malt notes of fresh baked French bread balanced by lightly spicy and aromatic hops. And Andechser Vollbier Hell is a classic Munich Helles worth the pilgrimage to the Andechs monastery.
As chosen by Daley
What makes it a fall beer: A perfect fall day is one that combines a warm, sunny sky with a crisp, cool breeze. Schwarzbier (German for “black beer”) is the same way, only in liquid form. This dark German lager has malt flavors of bread crust, chocolate and lightly roasted coffee, while possessing a light body and clean, refreshing finish.
His picks: Devils Backbone Schwarzbier is a GABF & WBC Gold Medal winner that blends bread crust and toast flavors with those of dark chocolate and coffee. A light body, moderate bitterness, and clean finish make this an excellent fall beer choice when you’re looking to combine warm malt flavors with an easy-drinking nature. Kostritzer Schwarzbier is a traditional German Schwarzbier that displays flavors of coffee and bakers chocolate with a hint of herbal hops. Roasty, yet refreshing.
As chosen by Becerra
What makes it a fall beer: Doppelbocks are known for their rich flavors of toffee, birch and molasses, which work really well with the roasted vegetables and meats we see so often during fall. Because of their versatility, they also go with just about every dish on a Thanksgiving table (turkey, sweet potatoes, green beans you name it). There are very few beverages that can make that claim.
Her pick: You'll often see doppelbocks end in the suffix "ator" as a tribute to the Paulaner Monks who first created the style and named it Salvator. Troegs Brewing in Pennsylvania makes a great version called Troegenator that is chewy and full-bodied but often sold a much lower price than the imported versions, without sacrificing quality.
As chosen by Cindy Mooney
What makes it a fall beer: A saison is traditionally farmhouse brewed in winter and served in summer, but there has been a modern trend of brewers crafting Saisons meant specifically for fall consumption. These beers typically involve a variety of grains like spelt, rye, oats or wheat, and sometimes ingredients like coriander, dried orange peel and other herbs or spices are thrown in as well.
Her picks: Blackberry Farms and Third Window both make terrific fall saisons, but the benchmark is Avec Les Bons Voeux from a Belgian brewery called Brasserie Dupont. They started making this beer in the 1970s and since then it’s always been a favorite across the beer industry. It's strong at 9.5% ABV, but this beer pairs beautifully with any food so this bottle makes a welcome treat for any dinner table ... especially at Thanksgiving.