Just like that, pumpkins have returned. While you may be OK with pumpkin made into a pie filling, roasted with vegetables, pureed into a soup, or maybe even added to a seasonal latte, it’s understandable if you think there are certain places it just doesn’t belong. When it comes to fall beers, there are two camps: Those who pumpkin and those who don’t.
But what makes for a good autumnal beer without the polarizing gourd? Chris Swersey, competition director of the Brewers Association, thinks it could be anything with a “little more malt backbone.”
“Fall beers generally have more toast, biscuit, cookie-like flavor attributes,” Swersey tells Men’s Journal. “They tend to have a bigger body, fuller flavor, maybe more alcohol. There’s a little bit more to chew on, which is nice on a cold day. They also tend to support the heavier meal choices you make in the fall, like stews and meat courses. ”
Some styles that fit within those parameters include browns, porters, stouts, Oktoberfests, Marzens, ambers, dark lagers, and Munich dunkels. Here are 12 of our favorite pumpkin-free fall beers to sip all season long.
Note: Some of the beers below have limited availability online. Click the links to the brewers’ websites to see if you can find some at a store near you.
The Best Non-Pumpkin Fall Beers
1. Short’s Pure Michigan IPA
IPAs generally aren’t considered fall beers—their profiles often skew too citrusy or tropical to be appropriate for sweater weather. This is one of the exceptions. Short’s can only make this in the fall—it’s a harvest beer. Brewers work with local producers to secure hops and grains fresh from the fall harvest, which means it encapsulates the best of these ingredients and it’s as fresh as it gets. It marries the lightly fruity hops with rich, warming malts for a well-balanced seasonal sipper.
[Limited availability; shortsbrewing.com]
2. Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest
That’s not a typo. Firestone’s seasonal suds are aged in French oak barrels (hence the name) for a soft mouth feel and earthy flavor notes. The beer also calls upon Bavarian hops and Bavarian Augustiner lager yeast, so even if it is a bit of a change-up from a standard Oktoberfest, it’s one of the best versions you’ll get outside of Germany.
[$11, 6-pack; bottlerepublic.com]
3. Samuel Adams Octoberfest
While not new, the Sam Adams Oktoberfest is a notable Marzen-style fall beer. Smooth, roasty, and with just the right amount of biscuit and caramel, it’s very true to the genre. In fact, it’s so spot-on that it has won more than 125 awards, including some in Germany, since debuting 32 years ago.
[$11, 6-pack; drizly.com]
4. DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus Porter
Porters, originally from London, are named because of their popularity with street and river porters: The sweet, dark beer was robust and caloric enough to support the demands of the job. Historical porters would have been fairly basic, but this Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter from DuClaw is pure over-the-top indulgence.
[$10, 6-pack; drizly.com]
5. Dogfish Head Camp Amp
There are two consumables that go best with a campfire: s’mores and beer. This milk stout from Dogfish Head serves up both. It’s brewed with marshmallows, graham crackers, cocoa nibs, cinnamon, Madagascar vanilla beans, and smoked malt. On a chilly fall night, it makes an excellent companion.
[Limited availability; dogfish.com]
6. Leinenkugel’s Hofbrau Collaboration Lager
Wisconsin-based Leinenkugel’s and Munich, Germany-based Hofbrau are some of the oldest breweries in their countries (154 years old and 532 years old, respectively), so it’s safe to say they know a thing or two about making a good lager. This amber abides by Reinhetsgebot (a famous German purity law that states beers can only be made with malt, hops, water, and yeast), which translates to a clean, crisp, and refreshing beer.
[$10, 6-pack; bottlerepublic.com]
7. Breckenridge Autumn Ale
Even though it’s said to be inspired by brewmaster Todd Usry’s childhood memories of fall in Virginia, this brown ale is decidedly grown-up. The nutty, dark fruit, chocolate, and toffee-like flavor attributes make for a fall beer that, as the label reads, is good for “after rakin.’”
[Limited availability; breckbrew.com]
8. Harpoon Flannel Friday
While you may have to retire your tank tops and flip-flops this time of year, you don’t necessarily need to trade in your IPA. Bready, sweet, and piney, this incredibly drinkable and hoppy amber ale from Harpoon is perfect for hop-heads who want something with a little more autumnal oomph.
[$11, 6-pack; bottlerepublic.com]
9. Allagash North Sky
Generally speaking, if you’re craving a stout, it’s because you want something smooth. This Belgian-inspired stout from Allagash is pure silk: Caramel, chocolate, and a whisper of pine define this roasty, sweet, and super sippable beer.
[$14, 4-pack; totalwine.com]
10. Clown Shoes Undead Party Crasher
Coffee, chocolate, smoked malts, and lactose dominate this full-bodied American imperial stout. But there’s one very unique secret ingredient that your tastebuds probably won’t perceive: holy water. How’s that for a spooky-season beer?
[Limited availability; clownshoesbeer.com]
11. Jack’s Abby Smoke & Dagger
There’s a misconception in beer that anything darker than red is going to be heavy. This black lager from Jack’s Abby proves that’s not the case. While there are some toasty chocolate notes, they’re more to balance out the smokiness of the malts used. It’s complex, but isn’t something that will weigh you down.
[$9, 4-pack; bottlerepublic.com]
12. Second Self Mole Porter
Inspired by co-founder Jason Santamaria’s family recipe for Oaxacan-style mole sauce, this full-bodied and well balanced porter is spiced with three varieties of chiles, cinnamon, cacao nibs, and cloves.
[$12, 6-pack; totalwine.com]
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