Let’s have a chat about fall beers. First, I fall into the category of people that eschew the pumpkin/pumpkin spice fever that accompanies autumn. I don’t like the flavor, smell, texture or sight of pumpkins. The last time I carved a pumpkin was high school and I vomited from the scent and feel of the pumpkin innards. In the past, I relegated those who liked pumpkin to category anti-American, communists.
I’ve since moderated my views. For instance, I haven’t reported any pumpkin lovers to the FBI this year as Al-Qaeda or ISIS supporters. It’s a major breakthrough for me.
That said, fall beers typically come with the label of Octoberfest/Oktoberfest and are brewed in the tradition of a German Märzen. These beers are full-bodied, darker, malty beers with a dry finish. Spaten and Samuel Adams probably make the best-known and best-selling versions of these.
Some breweries will also put out a special edition imperial red ale during this time of year. These are intensely hoppy ales taking their color from red malts or caramelization that occurs during the fermentation process.
I’ve worked hard (ha!) to consume as many fall beers as I can. This, dear reader, is my ranking of the 2014 fall beers…
- Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest (5.0% ABV//24 IBU): One of the best craft brewers in the nation, this is a German-style Marzen with an amazing flavor profile. Malty through and through with a nice peppery kick towards the end. The “oak” pays homage to the brewer’s hometown, Paso Robles (translated: Pass of the oaks).
- Left Hand Brewing Company Oktoberfest (6.6%//24): One of these days, I’m going to visit Colorado. This place might be my first stop. It’s a lager with a biscuity flavor from the malt and a nice little hoppy kick at the end. As good as the Firestone Walker.
- Samuel Adams Octoberfest (5.3%//16): This is a superb year for Sam Adams’ fall seasonal. Their best in a few years.
- Breckenridge Autumn Ale (6.7%//21): This was my surprise find from last year’s ranking. It’s equally as good in 2014. A smooth ale with a strong malt flavor throughout.
- Ommegang Scythe & Sickle (5.5%): I stand by what I wrote last year: “Just a damn good ale. Toasty, malty, hoppy and (most importantly) well balanced.”
- Great Lakes Brewing Company Oktoberfest (6.5%//20) & Nosferatu (8.0%//70): GLBC is an exceptional brewery that puts out some of the best beer in the eastern third of the nation. These are very contrasting beers. The Oktoberfest lager is toasty and malty all the way through, while Nosferatu — an imperial red ale — has a hoppy burn from simcoe and cascade hops. 2014 is an exceptional fall beer year. Everyone has upped their game.
- Abita Octoberfest (5.4%//24): Abita took bronze at the 2014 Great American Beer Fest in October for this label. I like just about everything they brew and this is no exception. I don’t think it crests into my best category, but it’s still a fine beer.
- Southern Tier Brewing Company Harvest (6.7%) and 2XRye (8.1%): STBC has two equally good fall varieties. Harvest is an ESB with a coppery color that could be mistaken for an Octoberfest. The 2XRye is a double rye ale.
- Shiner Octoberfest (5.7%//18 IBU): It reminded me a lot of their Bock, one of my favorite beers. The ABV seems is the only difference here for me (Shiner Bock is 4.4%). For a fall seasonal, I was expecting more.
- Harpoon Octoberfest (5.3%//23): So much better than 2013. It’s on the line of good and average. I don’t know if they changed the recipe, but it is much more flavorful than past years.
- Abita Pecan Harvest (5.1%//20). This fall harvest ale is weaker in flavor than last year’s edition. It pales in comparison to Lazy Magnolia’s Southern Pecan. I love Abita beers, but their harvest series leaves a lot to be desired.
- Narragansett Fest (5.5%//22): I love the story of Narragansett Beer’s rebirth. They make some very good brews, though this year’s Fest lager leaves a little bit to be desired given the quality in the marketplace.
- Goose Island Oktoberfest: I know this places me in the minority, but I’ve never had a GI beer that I’ve liked. This is not hate for a brewery gobbled up by a big company. I just don’t enjoy their stuff.
- Sierra Nevada Flipside Red IPA: Last year, I wrote: “Boring. Ordinary. It’s a red IPA. Yawn.” Same for 2014. Why they killed off the Tumbler for this is beyond me.