The weather is finally starting to cool down, your summer tan is fading and you’re trading in your tank tops for cardigans. Actually, if you own tank tops you can just throw them away. Just as your wardrobe changes with the seasons, it’s time to swap out those summer ales and wheat beers for something of the spicier, heavier variety. The great thing about fall and winter seasonal brews is they tend to be more flavorful and substantial than their summer ilk and they match with the cooling temperatures nicely.
Seasonal ingredients can include chocolate malts, pumpkin (when will the pumpkin spice madness stop???), allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and even freshly roasted coffee. Taste preferences are, of course, subjective, so don’t be afraid to cast a wide net and try a variety of options. A common misnomer is that darker beers are higher in alcohol, stronger tasting, and bitter. This can be true with certain brews but is by no means true across the board. Often, darker brews are lighter in alcohol, very smooth, and feature sweetness reminiscent of chocolate or caramel. So, don’t judge a book by it’s cover, keep an open mind if you typically favor lighter beers.
Our recommendation: Pumpking
Brewed by: Southern Tier Brewing Company (New York)
Alcohol by volume: 8.6%
Flavor(s) worth noting: Caramel malt
Let’s get this one out of the way, the obvious one -- the pumpkin flavored brew. The scourge that is “pumpkin spice” aside, many high-quality pumpkin brews are now available and often use fresh mashed pumpkin in the brewing process. Pumpkin ales are usually on the milder side but aren’t overly sweet. We like this one on Thanksgiving morning to stave off that typical epic hangover from a Thanksgiving-eve hometown bender.
Our recommendation: Dark Horse Fore Smoked Stout, Stone Smoked Porter
Brewed by: Dark Horse Brewing Company (Michigan), Stone Brewing Company (California)
Alcohol by volume: 7.00%
Flavor(s) worth noting: Chocolate, coffee
Smoked beers owe their flavor to smoked malts added during the brewing process. Rich and full bodied, these are for the fan of earthy flavors. Typically found in dark stout styles, smoked porters can also be wonderful if you like something slightly lighter. If you like a nice smoky scotch you’ll have a natural predisposition to the funky flavors of a smoked stout or porter. We drink ours whilst laying on a bearskin rug in front of a roaring fire, naturally.
Our recommendation: Great Lakes Oktoberfest
Brewed by: Great Lakes Brewing Co. (Ohio)
Alcohol by volume: 6.50%
Flavor(s) worth noting: Caramel, toffee, toasted nuts
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be in Munich to partake in Oktoberfest beers. Originally brewed in small batches specifically for the traditional Oktoberfest celebrations, Oktoberfest-style beer, also known as Märzenbier, is rich and malty with a copper color. Best enjoyed out of a massive stein and accompanied with pretzels, we’ll leave the lederhosen decision up to you.
Our recommendation: Boont Amber Ale
Brewed by: Anderson Valley Brewing Company (California)
Alcohol by volume: 5.80%
Flavor(s) worth noting: Caramel, brown sugar
Amber ales are some of our favorites, and are equally delicious even in non-sweater weather. They’re typically mild in flavor and the perfect first step into darker beers if you’re normally a light beer drinker. This particular style of brew tends to focus on malts, but the hop character can range from low to high depending on type; there’s a huge range here so try a few. They’re great with food and a perfect addition to a cheese and charcuterie plate at that upcoming holiday dinner party or family gathering.
Our recommendation: Christmas Ale
Brewed by: Anchor Brewing Company (California)
Alcohol by volume: 5.5%+
Flavor(s) worth noting: Holiday Spices, dried fruit
Ready to warm you from the inside out, spiced styles are perfect for the holidays and probably what Santa really wants to see instead of cookies when he drops down your chimney. Spiced beers can include a variety of different spices from nutmeg to allspice and even off-kilter ingredients like Grains of Paradise. Some brews, like the Anchor recommended above, have proprietary spice blends that change every year. With a broad flavor spectrum that ranges from smooth to hoppy to spicy, spiced beers are often higher in alcohol and can drink substantially like wine. This is one beer that we love to get naughty with at the office holiday party, just don’t tell HR.
Now that you have a grocery list for the season, light up that fire place and get ready for some weekend tasting sessions. Cheers!