The end of summer isn't such a bad thing to those of us who revel in the magical combination of malt, hops, and yeast. For craft beer lovers, the arrival of rare seasonal brews is as good an excuse as any to stock up the old man-fridge with some fresh palate-pleasers. When high temps and BBQ-fueled bliss give way to a sharp crispness in the air, it's time to trade in the low-alcohol lawnmower beers for the higher test brethren: darker brews packed with richer flavors and a heavier alcohol kick. With Oktoberfest right around the corner, finding your next perfect pint to quaff shouldn't be too tricky. If you need a jump-start, dive into this sampling of must-try fall favorite craft beers to ease you into the colder season.
Wondering what differentiates a stout from a lager? Don't worry, we've got a quick-n-dirty beer primer on some of the more common craft beer styles for you.
Lagers - Crisp, very light in color, low-hopped, usually lower in ABV.
Hefeweizen - Light colored fizzy wheat ale, yeast-tinged, low-hopped, cloudy.
IPAs - Anywhere from dark amber to light golden in color, very hoppy, higher ABV.
Oktoberfests - Copper-colored fall lagers, often malty, with subtle spices, dry finish.
Brown ale - Dark amber or brown, on the sweeter side, nutty, low ABV.
Porters - Dark, cola-colored, malty, sometimes with smoky flavors.
Stouts - Very dark, full-bodied, smooth and creamy, often with coffee/cocoa notes, typically moderate ABV.
Otter Creek Black IPA
Don't be intimidated by its inky black pour, this Vermont-brewed IPA is surprisingly drinkable despite its potent strength. Subtle coffee and chocolate notes pair pleasantly on the palate. Piney blasts of hops in the nose and on the tongue pay appropriate homage to the rugged terrain of the Green Mountain State, provide a nice bittering balance in the finish to cut through the light cola-like sweetness. It's dark, roasty, and deliciously complex without being too heavy, making it a great pick for the fading days of summer.
ABV: (Alcohol by Volume): 6.0%
Style: Black IPA
Brewery: Otter Creek Brewing
Left Hand Oktoberfest
Brewed in the springtime and cold-lagered throughout the summer months, Left Hand's Oktoberfest is ready for prime time in the fall - and not a moment too soon. This dark golden beer is malty and sweet but not cloyingly so. Caramel mingles with a hint of biscuit, ending with a slightly spicy, dry finish that's propped up by a light touch of hops. Paired with bratwurst and sauerkraut, this Marzen Lager is a crisp addition to any beer-fueled fall festivities.
Style: Marzen Lager
Brewery: Left Hand Brewing
Southern Tier Pumking
If you've ever had a crazy hankering to drink pumpkin pie in liquid form, Southern Tier's Pumking is about as close as you'll get without actually throwing a slice into your blender. From start to finish, this sweet, creamy pumpkin ale is full-bodied, and bursting with flavor. Hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and spice waft out of the glass and tingle your palate on the way down. It's so good you'll want to skip the pie altogether and dive right in - sorry, grandma. Now if only the real thing could give you this kind of buzz!
Style: Imperial Pumpkin Ale
Brewery: Southern Tier Brewing Co.
Founders Breakfast Stout
Among the most top-rated craft beers of all time, Founders Breakfast Stout could very easily be a killer substitute for a reasonably well-balanced chilly weekend breakfast. This double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout has a lot going on in it, but it's perfectly balanced and well-suited for avid coffee drinkers who also love a nice dark beer. The mocha aroma wafting up from this pint's pitch black depths is potent, and the robust coffee flavor makes up substantive portion of the swallow too, though hints of bittersweet chocolate, oatmeal silkiness, and hops keep the sweetness in check. Sweet mercy!
Style: Imperial Stout
Brewery: Founders Brewing Company
Sierra Nevada Tumbler
A nice in-between brew for working your way up from light summer ales to the darker brews on this list, Sierra Nevada's Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale delivers a taste of fall. This quaffable brown ale is slightly smoky and toasted in aroma, with a light sweetness that mingles with notes of brown sugar and a pleasant roasted nutty flavor on the taste buds. It's a smooth transitional beer that's not too heavy on the gut.
Style: Brown Ale
Brewery: Sierra Nevada
Blue Point Old Howling Bastard
Drink a few too many draughts of Blue Point's Old Howling Bastard and you just may find yourself waking up in the woods tomorrow wondering what exactly happened to your clothes and your dignity. At 10% ABV (more than double the strength of your average macro brew), this barleywine style strong ale is not for the faint of heart -- or lightweights, for that matter. But if you're feeling adventurous, tasty flavors abound: toffee, vanilla, caramel, citrus, and bready malts collide with a deceptively smooth finish. Watch out though, if you're not careful, it'll kick like a mule in the morning.
Brewery: Blue Point Brewing Company
Celebrating the fall harvest with a unique spin pumpkin ale, Sixpoint's Autumnation is an adventure in spice and hops that aims to be different and succeeds in exciting ways. A bit more hoppy, citrusy, and bitter (in a good way) than you'd expect for the style, this cool combination also throws a touch of ginger and white pepper into the mix for a bit of zing to spruce up the pleasant pumpkin flavor. If you need to wake up after an afternoon nap by the fireplace, this is the brew for you.