Fall and cooler temperatures spur beer drinkers’ instincts to move away from lawnmower beers and lighter IPAs and into spicier, darker brews.
We talked with three local beer experts to find out what they recommend seeking out this autumn, and, believe it or not, only two brews in this list include pumpkin. These three beer professionals have strong opinions about these beers. One likes them, one is cautious because the flavors in pumpkin beers are often unbalanced, and the third flatly loathes them.
These recommendations are creative and thoughtful approaches to other interesting things to drink, including saisons and beers brewed with cinnamon or chocolate. One beer in this list is filtered through pine needles! Read on to find out which beers experts recommend you seek out over the next several weeks.
Stephen Wagner, General Manager
Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, 15929 City Walk, Sugar Land
Saint Arnold Pumpkinator
“Highly sought after each year in Houston, this jet-black brew breaks away from the typical amber ale-based pumpkin beers of the season and instead has rich pumpkin pie flavors in a 10 percent ABV imperial stout. The rich mouth feel, molasses, caramel and holiday spice flavors are reminiscent of the holidays while boldly standing out from the flurry of pumpkin ales each year.”
“This old ale was inspired by the brewmaster's memories of crisp, cool autumn days in his hometown. Somewhere between an Oktoberfest and a stout, this 'after rakin’' [leaves] brew features the subtle sweetness and nuttiness of a Märzen with hints of chocolate, dark fruit and roasted malts as well. When I can't decide between an Oktoberfest and a stout on a cool night, Breckenridge Autumn is a tie-breaker every time.”
“Arguably one of the best Oktoberfest beers in the world, this beer is what a Märzen should be. Golden amber in color, perfectly balanced with floral hops offsetting the malt sweetness. Caramel and nutty flavors with medium body and relatively low ABV make this very easy drinking and perfect for the season. This is the one Oktoberfest that I really look forward to each fall.”
“Though usually a winter or spring release, this year's most recent batch was packaged up at the end of August. Experienced fresh, this is one of my favorite beers all year round. Bright, piney West Coast hops balanced with rich caramel flavors, this imperial IPA is big and in your face, but somehow still subtle and approachable. Not your typical autumn beer, but I'll drink this one from summer to winter and back again.”
Joey Williams, Beer Manager
Spec’s Wine, Spirits and Finer Foods, 2410 Smith
Brasserie Dupont Saison
“Saison is my 'go-to' drinking style. It’s light, crisp and easy-drinking but with flavor and finesse typical of Belgian styles. Brasserie Dupont Saison is dry and effervescent with a touch of hop fruitiness and yeast-derived spice in the finish. Saison originated on family farms in Belgian Wallonia, in the region bordering France. They were often brewed by the owner of the farm for the purposes of hydrating migrant workers during the harvest season.”
Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
“Oktoberfest is the obligatory flavor of the fall that I can get behind. It is a Märzen, historically a moderately strong beer brewed at the end of the brewing season in March before temperatures rose too high for proper fermentation.
It was stored in caves through the summer, and the last of the stockpile was consumed at the Oktoberfest, which was originally a celebration of a royal wedding. Sierra Nevada has started a new series where they will collaborate with a different German brewery every year on their Oktoberfest. This is the first in the series, and it has already received wide praise, especially for a domestically brewed example.”
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
“Pumpkin ales have historical importance to America. In colonial times, when we didn’t have easy access to barley, we used indigenous pumpkins to make beer. The cooking, then stewing, of the pumpkins resembled the mashing of malted grain and resulted in a sugar-rich liquid just like beer wort. Spices were not historically used, and are a modern addition. Dogfish does better than most to put beer first and pumpkin 'spice' second. Brewed with brown sugar, real pumpkin and spices, it’s a deep amber or golden brown.”
Real Ale Black Quad
“A welcome return, the Real Ale Black Quad is a favorite from the 'Brewer’s Cut' series. Quadrupels ('quad' for short) are often too sweet or rich without any balancing characteristics. Real Ale added a touch of dark/black malt to provide balance and interest. It’s still sweet and rich with loads of dark fruit, molasses and alcohol. At over 10 percent ABV, it’s a great outdoor sipper for cooler nights.”
Kevin Floyd, Partner/Operator
The Hay Merchant, 1100 Westheimer
Stone Brewing Company Xocoveza Mocha
"This is great because it brings fall flavors to a beer in a very 'un-fall' way. You will get notes of nutmeg and cinnamon in a smooth milk stout. This beer will be available soon in 12-ounce bottles."
Sierra Nevada Celebration
"It’s an oldie but goodie and super-easy to find on both draft and package. Celebration is widely considered one of the first real American IPAs."
Clown Shoes Pecan Pie Porter
“It is my strong belief that pumpkins are good for two things: pie and being shot out of a cannon.
"While pumpkins don’t belong in beer, pecan sure does. If you’re from the South, you have experienced pecan pie right next to the turkey every Thanksgiving. This very Southern-inspired beer from a Yankee brewer shows how much influence the South is having on the national beer market.”
Saint Arnold Brewing Company Art Car
“The first ever can- and draft-only beer from Saint Arnold just launched in canned form. Using 'new school' hops, this 'aroma IPA' is a pretty cutting-edge beer for a brewery that tends to be more traditional. With great tropical fruit notes as opposed to the pine of a classic IPA, it’s a great counterpoint to Sierra Celebration. Plus, the cans are just badass.”
Bayerischer Bahnhof Leipziger Gose Pineus
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“I don’t know how easy this is to find, but what says ‘fall’ better than pine?” says Floyd.
While the idea of a pine-flavored beer sounds odd, he says the Pineus is actually very balanced.
“This will be the hardest beer to find on the list but will show up on draft at Hay Merchant,” says Floyd. “Bottles are produced but have yet to be sent to Texas. If the demand is there I feel strongly that bottles will appear. This beer is worth the hunt, one of the most truly unique and tasty beers to come into Texas this year.”
Gose is a sour wheat beer and part of the family that includes Belgian Witbeer, Berliner Weisse and Gueuze. There are only three traditional gose breweries remaining in Germany, of which Bayerischer Bahnhof is one. This 6.2 percent ABV beer has pine needle aroma and up-front on the palate followed by the traditional sour, spicy and salty finish of a gose.
There's a beer here to suit everyone's tastes, whether in can, bottle or on tap. The fun, of course, is in the trying. Happy fall drinking!