Toast to Autumn

Schlenkerla’s smokebeer. Courtesy photo

Though the leaves aren’t quite falling, autumnal flavors creep in with the onset of September. Nutty tones occupy seasonal coffees while cinnamon and other spices mingle within bready desserts. Of course, even the mere idea of soon-to-be pumpkin-flavored everything makes mouths salivate in anticipation.

The forward-thinking beer industry is no stranger to implementing unique flavors and scents into their frothy brews. Each month brings about a new line of season-conscious beverages from a multitude of breweries. I’ve selected a few of the latest offerings, and some timeless crafts, to be enjoyed in the oncoming cooler weather.

I will note these are only a handful of the beer world’s autumn contributions. Samuel Adams Octoberfest and Southern Tier Brewing Company’s Pumking remain two of my fall favorites. Spaten, founded in 1397, is a great Munich-based brewery to look to for authentic German beers served at the globe’s official Oktoberfest. Yet all of those beers are easily accessible in the grocery store; visit a local beer and wine store to uncover more intriguing brews, such as those on this list. I encourage you to venture down the road less traveled—covered with leaves as it may become.

Terrapin Beer Company
Athens, Georgia
ABV: 6.1% • IBU: 23

I view this beer as the “frat house” fall beer—the drinkability of this flavored brew is high. Thus, it’s a great introduction for those looking to ease into seasonals or craft beer in general. Poured in a pint glass, the amber color and perfect, two-finger, beige head can be admired.

The aroma yields slight pumpkin notes, but there’s barely any detectable flavor of the orange fruit while drinking, though Terrapin uses real pumpkin in the brewing process. Instead, the beer tastes more of the spices used (cinnamon, ginger, allspice and clove) and finishes with a definite malty aftertaste.

There’s more than meets the eye with Pumpkinfest, however. Its thin mouthfeel is owed to the brewing process: It’s not just a pumpkin seasonal (which are usually sweeter and heavier than this) but a hybrid between malty Oktoberfest beers and pumpkin seasonals.

Utilizing five malts (Munich, Vienna, Munich II, Caramunich II, Melanoidin), Terrapin captures the essence of German Oktoberfests while amping up the rich flavor. Keeping the bitterness low, the Vanguard and Hallertau Hersbrucker hops dish out a mild and pleasant aroma.

Out of experimentation (though I haven’t done it yet—so forgive me if the result isn’t wonderful!), I’d add a shot of vanilla vodka to the brew. It should blend nicely with the subdued flavors to create a pumpkin-pie appeal.

Imperial Pumpkin Ale
Weyerbacher Brewing Company
Easton, Pennsylvania
ABV: 8% • IBU: 21

In the 1800s, imperial beers were brewed in England and shipped to the imperial court of Russia—hence the name. Today, brewers use the term to signify their first-class luxury beers, which often yield a higher ABV.

Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale pours a deep, hazy copper, and the scent of pumpkin and cinnamon is recognizable. The brew also utilizes nutmeg, cardamom and cloves.

This is one of the best autumn beers available. A medium, velvety mouthfeel is perfect for the chilly months, while the blend of spices is A+. The pumpkin is not overpowering; rather the brew delivers a rich, earthy flavor that can be enjoyed by most anyone. Those with a palate for craft beer, even those who prefer hoppier beers, can relish in this seasonal.

Bristlecone Brown Ale
Uinta Brewing Company
Salt Lake City, Utah
ABV: 4% • IBU: 25

Part of Uinta’s classic line, Bristlecone Brown Ale is available year-round but is a great option for fall. The brewers put an American touch on the traditional English nut brown, yielding rich flavor in a light-bodied, dry beer.

This dark brown (but not opaque) beverage offers a tan head and a fresh, earthy aroma. Bristlecone serves up a bit of malty warmth but the focus is on the nutty tone. It will pair well with duck and roast pork, as well as smoked salmon or sausages. Diners can really rev up the nut flavor by pairing this drink with Thai peanut sauce.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen
Schlenkerla/Brauerei Heller-Trum
Bamberg, Germany
ABV: 5.1% • IBU: 32

Rauchbier is German for “smokebeer”—and that’s certainly what you’ll get with this. Bamberg is the home for smokebeer, and Schlenkerla has been producing the beverage since 1405.

In its established tradition, Schlenkerla exposes all of its barley malts to the smoke of beech-wood logs. The beer is then brewed in 700-year-old copper vessels and matured for months.

The beer is dark, and immediately upon popping the cap off, the scent of smoke is strong and intoxicating. It’s a delicious aroma, like a campfire.

Smokebeer is malty and easy-drinking on the front end. It left me anticipating the smoke taste—especially after what I smelled—and as the flavor enveloped my mouth, a smile curled on my lips. It has a satisfying saltiness to it, like bacon, as the flavor finishes on the tongue.

Newbies beware: Smokebeer is not for the faint of heart, but it is a Bamberg delicacy to be honored.

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