In autumn, the days get shorter and nights get colder so the suds-loving masses crave heavier brews to keep warm. Brew masters realize this and rotate out the light, crisp, clean summer beers for darker, richer, more malt-forward offerings.
It’s my favorite time of beer, and likewise for many other frothy-mouthed brew worshipers. Oktoberfest lagers and pumpkin brews dominate the local beer mart shelves but many breweries offer a separate fall seasonal in addition. These special releases fly under the radar in comparison to the lauded Okto’s and gourd brews but many are very good.
Fall seasonal releases come in a variety of styles. Amber ales and brown ales are popular choices but there are many others. Most, however, are malt-forward, amber-colored, light to moderately hopped, slightly toasty, and have a tiny bit of residual sweetness. Usually they aren’t too over-the-top with the alcohol (ABV) either.
Here’s a quartet of autumn ales that I’m enjoying this year:
Abita Pecan Harvest Ale: Louisiana’s finest weighs in at a drinkable 5.0% ABV. Clear copper in color with a minimal head, it’s handsome in the glass. Pleasant and inviting aromas of maple syrup, light raisin, and mellow mocha please the nose. Sweet caramel malts arrive at first sip followed by nutty notes-including pecan. The fantastic finish is grainy and full of biscuit malt goodness. Hop flavors sit in the background as this one’s all about the mellow malts. Easy drinking and a light but solid toasted amber ale that’s perfect for Indian summer. Grade: B+
Breckenridge Autumn Ale: Fall must have come early in Colorado, this bad boy’s a warming 6.7% ABV Old Ale. A tan head covers this thick, nearly black brew. Cappuccino and mocha aromas fill the senses as the glass lifts. Roasted barley flavors step up to the plate first with coffee and dark chocolate in close tow. Burnt caramel notes are felt on the finish along with just a touch of hop bitterness. Dark and rich but not overly roast-y, it felt more like a mild winter warmer. Would be great by the bonfire on a cold night, perhaps after rakin’ as the label indicates. Grade: B
Southern Tier Special Harvest Ale: This 6.7% ABV English ESB hails out of Lakewood, New York. Clear golden amber in color, it’s lighter than most other fall brews. The nose is all hops, with grapefruit and pine being most prevalent. Hop flavors abound and are found throughout: Tasty resin and herbal are evident initially with a citrus and grapefruit punch mid-sip. The dry, bitter finish is filled with pine and apricot notes. A moderately clean, toasted malt backbone helps to balance the hops and does an admirable job. It’s definitely hop-forward (four different varieties are used) and bitter for an autumn seasonal. Well done but perhaps a bit too adventurous. Hopheads and other craft beer aficionados should give it a try. Grade: B
Sierra Nevada Tumbler: A 5.5% ABV American Brown Ale from California’s famous Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Chico’s finest is striking in the glass with deep chestnut hues and a minimal, off-white head. Modest but pleasing toasted malt aromas are detectable. It starts off with a hint of roasted barley and toasted nut flavors. Dark caramel arrives immediately after as do some mild coffee notes. The finale is fantastic — dry, toasty, charred, and slightly smoky. Some assertive hops are noticeable, particularly on the finish. Clean, complex, and a big hit — pick up the Tumbler while it’s still available. The best of the bunch. Great on a hayride or by the fire. Grade: A-