Today’s craft beers featuring increasingly exotic flavor-grabbing ingredients like raisins, chocolate, even brewer’s whiskers, are so much more interesting than your run-of-the-mill lager. So it's no surprise craft beer is on the rise. Last year, sales jumped a whopping 16.5 percent to p.6B, according to data from SymphonyIRI Group. But decoding the increasingly complex varieties and when they’re best to drink can be confusing. So we compiled a panel of in-house experts comprised of FoxNews.com editors and staff to take on the arduous task of testing out some of the latest and greatest brews. Here’s our list of 14 (with two honorable mentions) craft beers you simply need to try.
Between rowdy neighborhood kids pulling Halloween pranks and having to sit through awkward Thanksgiving dinner with the in-laws, who can blame you for wanting to throw back a few brewskies this fall? With so many seasonal craft beers to choose from, not sure where to begin? Here are six to get you started.
1. Hofbrau Oktoberfest
At first sip, the Hofbrau Oktoberfest didn't strike us as anything particularly interesting. But upon further inspection, as the delicate flavors of honey along with light floral notes came on, it didn't take long to figure out what makes this brew special: its subtlety. Its surprising depth takes a short moment to truly appreciate, yet its taste never risks coming on too strong, making for a highly drinkable beer. We found Hofbrau Oktoberfest to be ideal as an intro to the fall seasonal craft beer scene.
2. Harpoon Grateful Harvest Ale
Cranberry is an unmistakable fruit of autumn and, of course, the Thanksgiving holiday. And Harpoon's Grateful Harvest, brewed with the puréed berry, certainly lives up to the same tradition in a respectful way. Indeed, one of our taste panelists noted, "I'm glad it's not red in color and super sweet because that would be tacky." This medium-bodied brew takes advantage of cranberry's natural tartness to balance out its slightly sweet, bready profile. It's refreshing, distinct, and very drinkable.
3. Magic Hat deVEILed
Many beers that purport to have chocolate flavor seem have more of a sweet Hershey's profile than a natural taste of pure cocoa (not that there's anything wrong with that). Magic Hat's deVEILed is not one of them. This velvety amber ale reminds us more of a mole sauce in its chocolate character, with a balanced, slightly hoppy finish. It has an organic flavor that's not too rich, making it easy to knock back several glasses at a time.
4. Deschutes Jubelale
While this beer is technically a Winter Warmer style brew --and, yes, this list is devoted to fall seasonals -- it came out quite early this year and was so delicious, we just had to include it. It makes a perfect transitional brew for the Thanksgiving season, when the cool days of fall give way for frigid winter weather. Deschutes Juelale has a natural fruity flavor (we detected a hint of cherry) with a nice chocolate character and a dry finish that would make it pair fantastically with a rich-tasting pumpkin pie.
5. Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
Easily one of the best pumpkin ales we've tried, Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale's real pumpkin flavor is not overpowered, but rather enhanced by the nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice it's brewed with. Though this is a full-bodied brown ale, it goes down very easily, for better or worse considering it's 7 percent ABV. Though you can't taste the higher alcohol level, we (almost) wish it had slightly lower content, if only to allow more consumption of its deliciousness without risking too much inebriation.
6. Great Lakes Oktoberfest
Just as autumn's winds turn into quiet winter snowfall, Great Lakes Oktoberfest has all its bite up front, with a remarkably mellow finish. Somewhere between light and medium bodied, we feel this is a solid base beer that's truly well done. There's really nothing crazy about its delicate flavor and that's what makes it great. It just tastes good.