There are some autumn beers that fall between fresh-hop beers and pumpkin beers just perfectly.
PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- We've done quite a bit of beer sampling this season, but we feel we may have left you with the impression all fall beers taste either like pumpkin pie or a fistful of harvest hops.
That couldn't be further from the truth.
While the time for fresh-hop beers and Oktoberfest is nearly done and pumpkin beers have until about Thanksgiving before they're pushed aside for wintry holiday offerings, there are some autumn beers that fall between the two just perfectly. If you haven't noticed already, this is the time of year the beers get a little darker, the flavors get a little maltier and the finish gets just a bit warmer.
There are beers that do all of that without overdosing on hops or smelling like a spice rack. We went through the best of the rest and found 10 fall-friendly beers to get you through the rest of the season:
Northeast breweries can become a bit of an afterthought in the summer and winter months, but fall is when this region comes through as beautifully as its foliage. Much like a Samuel Adams (:SAM) Octoberfest, Hooker's Octoberfest uses a little bit of creative license with the Oktoberfest lager style.
It's not cooled in caves, it's not being downed to clear out the summer stock. It's just loaded with toasted malt, blessed with a saccharine-sweet maple aroma and teeming with subtle caramel flavor. It's a mild, malty way of welcoming a season stuffed with beers of this sort, but Hooker has perhaps the best handle on this distinctly New England Octoberfest take.
Long Trail Brewing
Bridgewater Corners, Vt.
The word "harvest" is a bit tricky in beer parlance.
For some brewers, it's connected to the hop harvest and is a signal that a hoppy, citrusy brew awaits. Long Trail goes the other way on that and applies its Harvest tag to a mild, malty brown ale. It flows over a drinker's palate with hints of brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup and roasted nuts and, at 3.6% ABV, is just mild enough to warrant more than one by the fire on a crisp Vermont evening.
Weyerbacher's far better known around this time of year for its imperial pumpkin ale, but its interpretation of an Oktoberfest style also warrants some attention.
Closer to an American amber or red than a Vienna lager, the copper Autumn Fest blends Vienna and Munich malts in a stab at Bavarian authenticity. It doesn't quite get there, but the roasted malt flavor, carmel finish and light feel are much softer than its 5.4% ABV potency would let on. It's not a heavy-hitting fall beer, but it's not offensive, either. Just a mild sipper that's a good transition to winter porters and stouts.
Great Lakes Brewing
Perhaps better known for its year-round Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and winter seasonal Blackout Stout, Cleveland's own Great Lakes gives folks all the hop bitterness of a fresh hop beer in this sneaky red ale.
While red ales usually drift into milder territory, the vampire-themed Nosferatu was built around a "beer with bite" gimmick that demanded a hop-heavy, blood-red brew. While still containing some of the sweet, biscuity notes of a milder, maltier fall beer, Nosferatu's better known for a powerful hop aroma and flavor and hefty 8% ABV that restricts it to four-packs. Unlike certain sparkly Northwest vampires we can name, Nosferatu clearly means you some less-than-chaste harm.
Imperial Oat Stout
Southern Tier Brewing
At a brewery that already packs its fall lineup with 22-ounce bottles of Pumpking imperial pumpkin ale and Harvest English-style extra special bitter, it takes a lot to stand out.
Fortunately for the Imperial Oat Stout, Southern Tier's Blackwater line of seasonal stouts doesn't require a whole lot to grab folks' attention. After a year of mocha, java, chocolate and creme brulee stouts, Southern Tier unleashed its Imperial Oatmeal Stout in September and let the big beer speak for itself. Smelling of roasted malt as any good stout should, Imperial Oat finishes with flavor that bends toffee, oatmeal and nut into a dark and powerful 10.8% ABV brew. While such potent stouts are often reserved for later months, Southern Tier isn't a firm believer in transitional beers. If you have a great stout ready now, why not pour it?
Fuego del Otono
Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales
Yes, it's a brewery with pumpkin in its name and, yes, they have a great pumpkin ale in Oro de Calabaza, but its other fall brew is as great, if not better.
Fuego del Otono falls along the lines of some of the other caramel-tinged amber beers on this list, but its time aging in an oak barrel and its subtle hints of spice set it apart from its seasonal competitors. There are no half measures with this 6.1% ABV malted beauty. Either you pick up a 750-milliliter wine-style bottle and settle in for the evening or take it walking. If you take one home, however, consider it a fine introduction to Michigan's broad array of fall brews.
Two Cream Stout
Dark Horse Brewing
If you're going to do a five-month series of stouts to get folks through cold Michigan winters, the fall stouts are going to set the pace. While the October One Oatmeal Stout is certainly serviceable, November's Two Cream Stout uses milk sugar (lactose) for a creamy texture while blending in hints of chocolate and roasted malt.
Though it's an incredibly sweet stout that tastes like adult Halloween candy, the Two Cream Stout packs an 8% ABV wallop that should make drinkers wary. Those four packs are best sipped through Thanksgiving dinner, not pounded during a pre-Thanksgiving homecoming party.
Firestone Walker Brewery
Paso Robles, Calif.
If you haven't gotten the message yet, this is a great time of year for oatmeal stouts.
That's because hops aren't all that's being harvested around this time of year. Fresh oats help give this sumptuous Oatmeal Stout a bit of a kick at 5.5% alcohol but also contribute a bit to the espresso and cocoa aroma. Much like the far more subtle Guinness stout, this has a creamy texture that makes it easily quaffable and just enough hop bitterness to give it some bite. Unlike weaker stouts, though, Velvet Merlin is jammed with dark chocolate and roasted coffee flavor that makes it an ideal pairing for richer fall foods. Our apologies to folks east of Colorado, for whom this magical Merlin will be a much tougher find.
Big Sound Scotch Ale
Cigar City Brewing
The average high October temperature in Tampa is in the mid- to upper-80s. Do they know it's fall?
Maybe not, but if it means throwing beer conventions out the window and just messing around in the brewery this time of year, who cares? Cigar City releases this Scottish Ale in September alongside its imperial pumpkin ale. While its gourd-flavored stablemate is more seasonally appropriate, Big Sound fits in just fin with its dark sweet toffee flavor, coffee aroma and hints of toasted bread and cherry throughout. The weather may indicate Jimmy Buffett and Coronas, but a 750-milliliter bottle of Big Sound is bagpipes and brown ale all the way.
Of all the American craft beer that's supposedly based on German brewing tradition around this time of year, Moonglow's one of few that tastes like it.
Right up front, Weizenbock kicks you in the nose with fruit and spice similar to what you'd smell in a German doppelbock such as Aventinus. Fans of light, refreshing summer wheat beers may need to acclimate to their darker, more potent summer cousin. There's still a bit of citrus in this beer's flavor, but its 8.7% ABV is much meaner than this beer looks. Settle in, warm up and stick around a while. This Bavarian-style brew is bringing the heat.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.
>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.
>To submit a news tip, send an email to: email@example.com.
>>The Best Brewpubs In All 50 States (and D.C.)
>>10 Best Vacation Cities For Beer Lovers
>>10 Best Pumpkin Beers