Specialty beers bring big flavor to fall season

By Emily Brightman

Flickr/Bernt Rostad

Autumn has once again crept back into New England, which means it’s time to retire the flip-flops and bust out the leather jackets for the brisk days and cool nights ahead. For most folks fall is the time for one last hurrah before hunkering down for the winter, but for beer drinkers, fall is the season of flavor, and lots of it.

Beer fans anticipate the autumn season for the bevy of brews that hit bar taps and store shelves, tempting the palette with flavors much heartier than the breezy thirst-quenchers of summer. Plummeting temperatures and turning leaves unleash the craving for pumpkin lagers and spiced ales to warm the gullet, and with the passing of September into October the brewing season is in full swing.

While fall is traditionally a marathon event for craft brewers there are many major brewing companies that get into the spirit by releasing beers inspired by Germany’s Oktoberfest, the world’s largest and longest running beer festival. One such brew is Sam Adams Octoberfest, a staple of their fall selection that honors the traditional flavors of Bavarian beer. Octoberfest combines the sweet taste of caramel with the sturdy flavor of malted barley for a brew that is both satisfying and sweet – a perfect “starter beer” for the curious taster. Most of the year-round Sam Adams brews are tasty in their own right, but Octoberfest is a beer that is worth waiting for because it tastes best in the cool sweep of late fall nights.

Another classic fall beer that has been steadily making its way into well-to-do bars over New England is Shipyard Brewing Company’s Pumpkinhead Ale, which boasts a caricature of the Headless Horseman triumphantly raising his glass atop his noble steed. The label alone is more than enough to entice most drinkers the first time, but the taste is what keeps them coming back. While not as robust as other fall brews, Pumpkinhead is nonetheless full of flavor – a delicious blend of cinnamon and nutmeg along with subtle notes of pumpkin and honey make for the crisp, light taste of this delicious wheat ale. The traditional (and best) way to drink Pumpkinhead is from a tumbler rimmed with brown sugar and cinnamon, which enhances the flavors infused in the beer itself. A good choice for both the beginning beer connoisseur and the seasoned veteran, be sure to get some soon because Shipyard only brews this little treat from September to October, and then it’s back to the beer vaults until next season.

For the more adventurous beer drinker, there is an astounding variety of rich craft brews to choose from this time of year. Hop lovers will go gaga for Sierra Nevada’s Tumbler Brown Ale. Tumbler provides a mix of smoky malt flavor with the sharp zing of hops characteristic of all Sierra Nevada brews. The deep amber color of this delightful drink is a welcome sight after the light browns and golden hues of summer beers, and even the Tumbler label helps usher in the fall season with its artistically rendered scene of colorful autumn foliage in an array of red, gold and brown. Available only from September through November, Tumbler is a zinger of a choice for any fan of pale ales and IPAs looking for a good brew to enjoy on brisk autumn nights. Stock up on this beer now, because soon it’s only traditional Sierra Nevada Pale Ale left on the shelves and taps.

From independent craft brews to nationally recognized names, the slew of fall beers that arrives on liquor store shelves every year is tantalizing to look at and even better to taste. With every flavor from light and sweet to robust and smoky there is surely a specialty brew out there to suit every palette. But these scrumptious servings won’t be around for long, so be sure to get to the local liquor store before it’s time again for winter brews. Welcome back autumn, and happy drinking.

Emily A. Brightman can be reached at [email protected]