We are creeping into the darker, colder, less fun months of fall. Know what might warm your cold heart? One, or many, of the best fall beers available. There’s no bad time to drink beer, but fall might be one of the best times. As the temperature dips, you’re finally able to drink some of the heavier, darker (more flavorful) beers that would just weigh you down in the dog days of summer. But it’s still not so cold that those trendy hazy IPAs are off the table.
Of course, with more choice comes the paradox. When you can drink basically any of the beer on the table, how do you actually figure out which to uncap? Making that simple decision has only gotten harder as the wave of craft beer enthusiasm brought confounding terminology and tasting notes to a beverage people literally crush against their foreheads. What’s the difference between an imperial stout and a single stout? A stout and a porter? Who decides whether this is an Amber Ale or a Brown Ale? Do I want something that tastes “dank?”
Your head spinning, you’ve probably defaulted to whichever beer had the coolest label. And honestly, that might have worked. But if you’re looking to do things a little bit more intentionally, we’re here to help. We talked to eight bartenders, restaurateurs, owners, and general managers from across the country (and Canada!) about the best fall beers they and their favorite customers come back for as the weather cools. They range from six packs you can find in your local grocery store to beautiful bottles you’ll have to uncork.
The Best Brown and Amber Ales
Every expert we spoke to said they gravitate towards brown and amber ales during the cooler months. For good reason! Darker ales are made with roasted malts, which gives them a kind of toasty flavor. The darker the malt, the darker the beer.
Bell’s Best Brown Ale was the first beer mentioned by several of our experts. “I associate it with cooler weather, but it’s also doesn’t act too heavy,” said Matty O’Reilly, a restaurateur in the Twin Cities who owns Republic MPLS. “It has a great malt backbone, caramel and chocolate in the profile, but it’s 5.8% ABV and smooth AF. It’s seasonally appropriate in it’s depth, but you can crush a bunch of them, too.”
"This is a coffee brown ale we look forward to every fall," said Polly Watts, owner of The Avenue Pub in New Orleans. "It's got a good dose of coffee in it. So you get all the caramel goodness of a brown ale, but you get the bitterness of the coffee. It's one of my favorite beers from them and it only comes out in the fall."
A quad ale is a Belgian style that is usually dark with a strong flavor. This one is a favorite of Dmitri Chekaldin of Dacha in DC. "Anything quad—whether a lutz by fearless Alysa Liu or a beautiful goblet of strong ale brewed in Bruges—is worth anyone's fleeting attention ... Straffe Hendrik brews their quad at 11 ABV% and what a glorious 11% it is! With every sip you'd feel like Mrs. Liu on Olympic ice!"
"Alaskan Amber is one of those beers that's accessible enough to pair with food and nicely balanced to cozy up and have a few by the fire," says O'Reily. "This one is a German Alt-Bier, so it takes on a slow fermentation process for a balanced and smooth taste. It’s 5.3% ABV, but has great body and malt character."
A tripel is lighter style of Belgian ale with a golden, almost blonde color. They still tend of have a complex, potent flavor. O'Reily says the Tripel Karmeliet Belgian Ale is a well-rounded beer with a hint of banana and clove. "It's a perfect fall artisan bread in a glass. It's 8.4% ABV, so if you’re having one beer this could and should be the one. But then have like 2 more because life is pretty short."
The Best Porters and Stouts
Porters and stouts are both types of ales, but they usually feature malts that are roasted even more than those used to make amber and brown ales. They tend to be the heaviest beers, but also feature nutty and chocolate notes that could offer comfort against a brisk fall chill. Since the historical difference between the two is hotly debated, there is no universal standard to distinguish one from the other. Either way you go, you're going to get something dark, and hopefully delicious.
The Bell's Cherry Stout is a favorite of Watt's customers. "It's a single stout, so it's under 9% ABV. People can drink a whole pint of it. It's not going to knock you off your barstool."
"We've actually already gone through our allocation of this beer," said Watt. "You can probably still get it in other places, but our customers went through it quickly."
Watt also likes this Aphrodite stout, which comes from Dieu de Ciel in Quebec. "We always put this on in the fall. It's absolutely delicious."
"Fall marks the beginning of Porter season for me," says Michael Roper, founder and owner of Hopleaf Bar in Chicago. "And there’s no better Porter in America than Anchor Porter," which comes from San Francisco.
"If you are stoking the fireplace, a smoked malt beer like Alaskan Smoked Porter will be appropriate," said Roper. These beers use smoked malts instead of roasted malts, which gives them a more earthy flavor than other beers.
The word imperial, when applied to beer, is usually an indication that this is a strong, high ABV beer. "This is an imperial stout that's aged in Willet Rye Barrels. It's rich, it's deep, it's very tasty," said Watt. "Personally for me, beers like this are almost like a dessert. It's like eating a brownie ... When it comes to something like this, I want a 10-ounce pour."
This is a favorite imperial stout of Molly Gunn, co-owner of the Porter Beer Bar in Atlanta, Georgia. "Bonus! This beer ages incredibly well so if you buy too much, don't be afraid to hang onto it and crack it open in a year. The beautiful barrel character will be even stronger."
"This is the kind of beer I gravitate towards when it gets colder," said Alicia Guevara, who owns Mekelberg's in Brooklyn, NY. In fact, the team likes the beer so much they collaborated with Grimm to make a seasonal beer using Mekelberg's cinnamon babka.
The Best Fall Lagers
Lagers often get a bad rep, mostly because it's an enormously expansive category of beer. Yes, Coors Light is a lager, but so are a ton of well-balanced, flavorful beers that do not taste like toilet water. Many of our experts said they gravitate towards darker styles of this brew, particularly the kinds with extremely long German names.
"Anytime you see a beer name with the suffix -ator, it's a doppelbock," says Elise Capers, general manager of Axelrad Beer Garden in Houston, Texas. "This one has a mild molasses flavor, with toasty and roasty carmelized darker fruits."
To explain why he loves this doppelbock, Chekaldin told us an extremely evocative story of its origin. According to him, a monk name St. Korbinian won a permit to brew this beer by defeating a bear on his way to the Vatican. "Now we can all enjoy one of the best strong, dark lagers in the world," he says. We have no way to verify this story, but Chekaldin's enthusiasm makes us at least confident this beer tastes incredible. (Capers is also a fan.)
A weizen doppelbock is a doppelbock made with wheat. According to Capers, it's got a similar molasses flavor as the doppelbock. "But when you put the wheat in it brings a whole other level of nuance. It's got almost a banana pudding flavor and lot of clove. I used to suggest this beer to anyone who was a little scared to drink beer when I was a server."
"A schwarzbier is a lager with dark, roasted malts," says Watts. "This one from Great Raft is available year-round, but we make sure to stock in the fall."
Roper is a fan of this schwarzbier, which comes from a Chicago brewery.
The Best Sour Beers and Lambics
In our current climate of obsession with anything pickled, it's no surprise that sour beers (also called Lambics, depending on where the ingredients are sourced) have become more widely available and widely liked. They're usually formulated with a more complicated mixture of yeasts that produce tons of wild, tart flavors that would be completely unwelcome in a smooth lager. It might seem like an odd choice for the cold weather (isn't anything sour and sweet perfect for summer?), but a lot of experts turn to these kind of beers as they prepare to hibernate.
Guevara loves this lambic, which tastes a lot like white wine. "It's a classic Belgian. You have a steak, you have dessert, then you come to our bar two hours later and have a glass of this. It helps after a heavy meal. Put this on your Thanksgiving table."
$16.00, Belgian-Style Ales
"This is an excellent dark Flemish style beer that is delicately balanced between sweet and tart," says Gunn. "It get's its tartness from barrel aging. If a guest normally drinks red wine, I always recommend Duchesse and it is always loved."
Both Chekaldin and Roper recommended this beer, which Chedalkin says is one of the best examples of the Flemish red ale style. "Fruit flavors are flawlessly mixed into lovely sweet sourness ... It is very à propos if you find yourself cozying up next to a firepit."
Nick Kennedy, who refers to himself as the "Senior Executive Barback" at Civil Liberties Bar in Toronto, found a new appreciation for this Lambic on his mother's 60th birthday. "My mom, who never drinks beer, tried a pour of this and her eyes lit up. 'This is the best cocktail I've ever had,' she said. 'It's not a cocktail,' I said. 'It's not? What kind of wine is it?' she said. 'Mom, it's beer!' 'Beer? I haven't had beer in 40 years.' I love that my mom got to skip 40 years of mediocre craft beer culture. I'm looking forward to crushing lambics with her for the rest of the season."
The Best Fall IPA
Most of the experts we talked to were really tired of the craft IPA craze that's been raging for over a decade. And, they noted, the assault of hazy fruit hop flavors provided by conventional IPAs doesn't really make sense for the colder months. That said, there were a couple of IPAs, interestingly made by the same company, that some of our experts were looking forward to drinking this season.
"Sierra Nevada Celebration sounds like a Christmas beer, but it's actually brewed in celebration of the hop harvest and is a delicious hoppy selection for colder weather," said Gunn.
"It is hop harvest time and “wet” hop harvest ales are in season," said Roper. "It is hard to beat Sierra Nevada’s Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale. The fresh hops explode on your tongue." This is a good thing!
The Best Fall Ciders
Yes, yes, we know ciders aren't beers. But there is really nothing quite as refreshing as a crisp, slightly tart, just sweet enough glass of cider. Several of our experts agreed.
Chekaldin loves this cider from ANXO, a craft cidery in DC. "This rosé cider gets its color from red-fleshed apples ANXO sources from VA and WA states. Lots of summery flavors smartly wrapped into a fall apple harvest."
"Ciders are always at the top of my list this time of year," says Gunn. Peckham's ciders, which are made in New Zealand, are some of her favorites.
The Best Pumpkin Beers
Pumpkin beers were another divisive offering among our experts. Most said they were too syrupy and poorly balanced (too much nutmeg!) for their tastes. But if you do want a pumpkin beer, there are a couple that were deemed passable.
"Most pumpkin beers are really pumpkin pie beers really with typical pumpkin pie spices—nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon—overwhelming the flavor profile," said Roper. "Not my favorite style but if you must, the best of the batch is Dogfish Head Punkin Ale."
"I'm not a pumpkin spice, Starbucks person at all," said Capers, "but this is the only one I'll drink. Unlike your typical pumpkin beer, this one is rounded out with brown sugar and roasted coffee notes.
Originally Appeared on GQ