While summer is the time to stick to light and refreshing beers, fall presents opportunities of its own. And no, that doesn’t just mean falling into the trap of pumpkin beers. It’s time to dial down the hops and drink something a little different. Here are 10 beer styles perfect for fall weather, and a few standout examples of each.
One to Try: Sierra Nevada Brewing Oktoberfest
While Oktoberfest itself is winding down, there isn’t a better beer to signal the changing of seasons. Oktoberfests are malty, medium-bodied and copper in color, presenting a perfect match for the fall. Usually, Sierra Nevada partners with a German brewery to produce a collaborative Oktoberfest. But this year that wasn't possible because of COVID limitations. So, Sierra Nevada took all the knowledge it learned over the years and made a wonderful Festbier.
Clocking in at 6 percent ABV, it’s sweet, complex and full of the perfect amount of Oktoberfest spices. Despite it being an individual offering from Sierra Nevada, this is still a special fall beer and you should get your hands on it if you still can.
One to Try: Bell’s Brewery Best Brown Ale
Brown Ales are among the most under-appreciated styles out there. They provide a great balance between heavy dark beers and crisp, hoppy brews — especially the American versions.
Bell’s Best Brown Ale is a great example of that; combining caramel, cocoa and malty notes with generous use of American hops to present a light and comforting beer. At only 5.8 percent ABV, it’s one you can drink a few of in the fall and still have a good time.
One to Try: Allagash Brewing Truepenny
Pilsners and football just go together. The most popular beers in America are pilsners because everyone can understand them, they’re refreshing, they’re light and they have a much more palatable hop character than IPAs. They don’t tend to take many risks, which makes Allagash Brewing’s Truepenny Pilsner all the more brilliant.
It’s a Belgian-style Pilsner fermented in two ways: one part of the batch with pilsner yeast and the other with its house Brettanomyces yeast. They then blended those two batches back together to create the first-ever Allagash Pilsner. It hits crisp like a traditional lager off the bat but the backend offers more complexity than you’d expect from the style.
One to Try: Anchor Brewing Anchor Porter
If you’re more of a light beer drinker and want to dip your toe into the waters of darker beer this season, reach for a Porter. Typically lighter than Stouts, Porters have a thinner mouthfeel and lower malt bitterness thanks to the lack of roasted barley. Notes of chocolate, coffee and a little sweetness make porters the easy-drinking cousin of stouts.
Anchor Steam’s Anchor Porter is as classic as it gets. The first American version ever brewed (in 1972), it offers more fruity notes like dark berries and unroasted coffee. The 5.6 percent ABV brew produces a deep black color and a thick head for a definitive example of American Porter.
One to Try: Allagash North Sky Stout
Stouts usually conjure up images of dark, heavy beers best drank next to a fire on a cold winter’s evening. But not all stouts have to be 13 percent bombs that smack you in the teeth like Imperial Stouts, Barrel-Aged Stouts or Pastry Stouts. Even Guinness Draught, the most popular stout in the world, isn’t like that.
But instead of reaching for old reliable, reach for Allagash’s new North Sky Stout. Sticking to Allagash's Belgian-inspired brewing, it balances a fruity sweetness (and a tiny hint of Belgian spice) with roasty malt. It’s an easy entry for those looking to try darker beers in the colder months.
Flanders Red Ale
One to Try: Brouwerij Rodenbach Classic
Few beers can offer an entry point into sours and mixed fermentation better than a Flanders Red Ale. The most near-wine beer out there, oak barrel aging and fermentation by way of Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces end up giving this old world style ruby to deep red colors along with a fruity tartness not disimilar to red wine.
When going for this sour ale, a tried-and-true variant like Brouwerij Rodenbach Classic is the way to go. It sets the bar for Flemish Red Ales, having been brewed since the late 1800s. It consists of 75 percent young beer and 25 percent beer that has been matured in oak foeders for two years. Fresh, softly acidic and sweet, at 5.2 percent ABV it’s as good as it gets.
One to Try: Brasserie Dupont Saison Dupont
Ah, saisons. Where a Flemish red ale might be a bit more sour, a Saison can be more citrusy, spicy and carry a earthy, hoppy bitterness. This wildly fermented style relies on Lactobacillus (or Brettanomyces) yeast strains but come out with a much more pale, amber color.
Brasserie Dupont Saison Dupont is the Saison all other saisons are compared against. It brings a little more sweetness than others, but remains as complex an any. It clocks in at 6.5 percent ABV and thanks to refermentation that happens in the bottle.
ESB (Extra Special Bitter)
One to Try: Great Lakes Brewing Co. Moondog Ale
ESB once had a promising presence in America, but for hop-related reasons (we’re looking at you New England-style IPAs) has fallen out of graces along with its American cousin Amber Ales. But the English-style beer is essentially an ode to fall: malty, mellow and easy drinking. They tend to not be very bitter compared to hop-forward IPAs, and they share a lot in common with fuller amber ales that can be enjoyed on cooler evenings.
Moondog Ale from Great Lakes Brewing Co. is a three-time gold medal winner at the World Beer Championships and is one of the best American versions of ESB. A little hoppier than the standard ESB, it brings along those floral hop scents to pair well with crisp, sweet malts and comes through at 5.5 percent ABV.
Schwarzbier (Black Lager)
One to Try: Uinta Baba Black Lager
Schwarzbiers, German for “black beers,” are even lighter in body than porters and present another great opportunity for giving a go at dark beers. Good Black Lagers balance roasty malts and chocolates with hoppy crispness for a dry finish.
Produced year-round at Uinta Brewing’s Utah brewery, Baba Black Lager is one of the most readily available in the category. It’s light in body, low in alcohol (4 percent ABV) and offers notes of dark coffee and chocolate. This blends incredibly well with the low bitterness (38 IBUs) for a smooth dark beer that doesn’t necessarily taste like one.
One to Try: Alaskan Brewing Co. Smoked Porter
While black lagers are arguably the most accessible dark beer, Rauchbiers (also called smoked beers) are going to challenge you. A Rauchbier presents a distinct smokey flavor that comes from the drying of the malts over an open fire. Modern day versions recreate this historical style and blend it with contemporary brewing flavors to dial up (or down) smokiness in a myriad of different approaches.
That’s why Alaskan Brewing Co.’s Smoked Porter remains one of America’s greatest versions of Rauchbier. For over 30 years, Alaskan Brewing Co. has utilized direct heat from local alder wood to malt its barley — the same technique used for smoked salmon. This limited release seasonal comes in at 6.5 percent ABV and offers a dark, robust body that pairs perfectly with cooking dinner over a fire on a cool fall evening.