Fall is a season that has the word "beer" written all over it. Cool nights unleash the craving for hearty beers, whose colors mirror those of the turning leaves. Fall brews are more flavorful and more substantial than summer's bright quenchers. Colors get deeper and flavors get toastier as the tastes of the harvest table call out for malty partners. It doesn't take much to trade up to luxury in the beer world, so why not live a little? Check out one of these world-class brews next time you're cruising the six-pack aisle. From seasonal specialties to solid stand-bys, from innovative American craft brews to international ambassadors of style, autumn's finest offerings await.
BELGIAN-STYLE BROWN ALE
The Bruery "Autumn Maple"
Price: $10 for 750 ml.
The Bruery in Orange County, California, has its own take on the pumpkin beer style. Its Autumn Maple is a conglomeration of yams, maple syrup, allspice, vanilla, molasses, cinnamon, nutmeg and its own traditional Belgian yeast strain. The result is a bold, spicy, Belgian-style brown ale logging in at 10 per cent ABV (alcohol by volume). The robust flavors and warming of the high alcohol make it an excellent libation to appreciate on a cold autumn evening. This beer is perfect for anyone who relishes the sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving, but with all of the spices in the mix, it smells and tastes like a pumpkin pie.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company "Estate Homegrown Ale"
Price: $10 for 750 ml.
When hops are harvested in early September, most are dried and stored for use throughout the year. A beer's hop flavor can't get any fresher than a wet-hopped beer like this one, brewed with hops used within 48 hours of harvesting. The hops and barley used in Sierra Nevada's Estate Homegrown Ale are homegrown on the grounds of its brewery in Chico, California, making it a true local beer and one of the few estate-made ales produced anywhere in the world. The 6.7 per cent ABV American IPA is also certified organic with both the USDA and Oregon Tilth, the highest level of organic certification available. This ale shouts out fresh hop resonance of earthy, grapefruit-like flavors, as well as spicy aromas and mild malty sweetness.
AMERICAN BROWN ALE
Samuel Adams "Hazel Brown"
Price: $13.99 for Harvest Collection twelve-pack of 12 oz. bottles
As hazelnuts are harvested in late summer and early fall, it's only fitting that Sam Adams' 2012 Harvest Collection includes a tribute to the flavorful nut of the hazel tree. Its roasted-on-an-open-fire flavor and aroma is the main feature of this brown ale, rounded out with some sweet cocoa and toffee. Two-row pale malt, caramel 60, biscuit malt and roasted barley help balance out the nuttiness and contribute toward a toasted malt character. Its appearance is brown and crystal clear with some reddish highlights. The modest 5.2 per cent ABV makes it a highly session-able, easy-drinking, fall quencher. This beer is only available in the Harvest Collection twelve-pack.
Buffalo Bill's Brewery "Original Pumpkin Ale"
Price: $9 for six-pack of 12 oz. bottles
Buffalo Bill's was the first brewery in modern times to brew with the orange squash that appears to be the official vegetable of fall, with Halloween and Thanksgiving boosting its demand. This beer is modeled after the pumpkin ale George Washington is believed to have brewed, with baked and roasted pumpkins combined with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. With a golden orange color and a spicy nose reminiscent of the first whiff of a freshly baked pumpkin pie, this beer tastes like it smells and has been described as "pumpkin pie in a bottle."
New Belgium Brewing "Dunkel Weiss"
Price: $6 for 22 oz.
Dunkelweizens are a darker and more robust version of their German hefeweizen cousin. As part of its Lips of Faith series, New Belgium Brewing's adaptation of the German wheat beer style bumps up the alcohol to a hefty 9 per cent ABV and adds black pepper to give it a Belgian-y character. Earthy, toasty chocolaty notes are derived from dark malts, making this a big, strong dark Weiss beer that is a worthy companion for the cooler temps of the fall season. With an appearance of deep amber brown and a dense, off-white head, flavors of sweet clove, banana and black pepper blend together for a burly body with a warm finish. Although this lager is brown, it's also "green:" in 1999, New Belgium Brewing became the first brewery in the U.S. to purchase 100 per cent of its electricity from wind-generated power.
EXTRA SPECIAL BITTER (ESB)
Southern Tier "Harvest"
Price: $9.49 for six-pack of 12 oz. bottles
Although brewed with English hops and billed as an English-style Extra Special Bitter, this ale out of Lakewood, New York, shouts out its American pedigree through its not-so-subtle hop dominance. It pours a fall-themed, orange color with aromas of hoppy grapefruit, resinous pine and caramel. Although the fruity fresh hop flavor is predominant, it's not overly bitter, with enough of a solid malt backbone coming through to allow the hops to melt into the malt. While Harvest Ale may be bigger than most ESBs, it is still an easy-drinking session beer, with an added bonus of hop notes lingering well after the sip.
Gordon Biersch "Weizeneisbock"
Price: $8.99 (750 ml)
Part of Gordon Biersch's Braumeister Selekt limited release series, the German Weizenbock and Eisbock styles are merged to create a new style, the Weizeneisbock. Co-founder Dan Gordon postulates that his brewery may be the first brewery in the world to brew this unique style. This bock, made primarily from malted wheat, is transformed through a process of freezing the water molecules and then removing the frozen portion, resulting in a concentration of alcohol and flavor. At 10 per cent ABV, the alcohol strength is definitely noticeable, and rich dark roasted malt flavors and notes of black licorice are rounded out with banana and clove, compliments of the top-fermenting Bavarian Hefeweizen yeast strain. Production is limited to only 3,500 cases, and this unfiltered ale is packaged in a 750 ml. bottle with a classic German swing-top closure.
Kona Brewing Company "Pipeline Porter"
Price: $9 for six-pack of 12 oz.
You can reach for your coffee and beer with the same hand when picking up this ale. Named for the Banzai Pipeline, the mecca of surfing, this porter is as dark as Hawaiian black lava. A distinctive roasty aroma stems from the intermingling of barley and freshly roasted 100 per cent Kona coffee that's grown at the Cornwell Estate on the Big Island just down the coast from where the Kona Brewery is located. This brew delivers an earthy complexity with hints of chocolate and caramel flavors. For an extra treat, sweeten your porter with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream for a creamy dessert float.
AMERICAN BROWN ALE
Breckenridge Brewery "Autumn Ale"
Price: $9.99 for six-pack of 12 oz. bottles
Inspired by brewmaster Todd Usry's memories of fall in Virginia where he grew up, the pictures of brown leaves and earth tones and "After Rakin'" tagline on the label suggest this beer should be enjoyed after finishing your fall chores. This ale has characteristics of both a Märzen and a stout, but falls somewhere in between. Its dark brown appearance pushes it towards the qualifiers of a dark beer, and while it's brewed with noble hops and Munich malts, the flavor has the nutty malt and subtle sweetness of an Oktoberfest style that's been bolstered with nuances of roasted grain, dark fruits and a hint of chocolate.
BELGIAN STRONG PALE ALE
Brasserie Dubuisson "Cuvée des Trolls"
Price: $12 (25 oz.)
The name means "vat of the trolls" and the label depicts a troll wearing a hat of hop leaves. While trolls are thought to be not so nice creatures, these trolls are kind enough to bring us a beer from the historical and independent Brasserie Dubuisson, which has been in operation since 1769, longer than most Trappist breweries and before Belgium became a country. Brewed since 2000, this strong Belgian ale is a balance of sweetness and bitterness, derived from the use of natural sugar and dried orange peel. Blond malts give it a deep golden hue and extra carbonation results in a creamy finish. If you'd like a similar but slightly bigger version, the Cuvée des Trolls "Cuvée Spéciale" weighs in at 7.5 per cent ABV.
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