Beyond Pumpkin

Scott Pruden

Options abound for those looking to spice up autumn

It might seem like only yesterday that beer drinkers were basking in the sunshine, toes in the sand, enjoying a fruity hefeweizen or grapefruit-laced pale ale.

But as sure as the discount store shelves gave us Halloween items the moment the calendar turned to September, so the pumpkin-themed eats and drinks made their perennial appearances, too. For some, the arrival of pumpkin menu items like café lattes and ice cream is a happy time. For others, not so much.

We’re hearing more and more about pumpkin fatigue building in the beer world. This decade has seen an explosion of seasonal pumpkin brews, but it might be that craft brewers are pushing this thing a little too hard.

Consider that in August, the beer magazine Draft declared that some brewers in pursuit of pumpkin as an ingredient in their autumn and winter seasonals actually encountered a serious gourd shortage. So maybe it’s time to back off a bit.

If you’re looking for an autumnal alternative to this ubiquitous flavor, you’re in luck. While the number of pumpkin-based beers hasn’t abated, there are plenty of places you can turn to avoid the gourd this fall. Ingredients like apples and wet hops (more on that later)—plus a warming boost in alcohol by volume (ABV)—make the perfect pint to complement a crisp fall afternoon after the leaves are raked. Here are seven regional picks to help you get your (pumpkin-free) autumn on.

Delaware

fall-on-me-1Dogfish Head Fall On Me—How do you make a great fall seasonal that doesn’t jump on the jack-o’-lantern-themed hay wagon? Dogfish Head turned to autumn’s other popular seasonal produce—apples —to create this Belgian-style draft-only offering. Golden in color and boasting an easy-drinking 6.9 ABV, this brew combines locally grown Red Delicious apples from Camden-Wyoming’s Fifer Orchards with mulling spices like clove, orange peel, star anise and cinnamon to create a flavor redolent of cider with a dry, tart finish. Packed with such a potpourri of flavor from the Dogfish Head spice cabinet, it’s about as close as you’ll get on this list to its pumpkin-spiced beer list brethren.

Iron Hill Oktoberfest—Five centuries ago, Bavarian Purity Requirements were established, dictating that beers brewed in the region should be made up only of barley, hops and water. As a result, brews celebrating Germany’s annual beer bacchanalia, which has been held in Munich since 1833, hew to a simple recipe. Iron Hill’s draft-only take on the traditional festival beer results in a clean, medium-bodied lager that balances notes of malt with a dry finish and a lighter but still substantial 5.8 ABV.

Fordham & Dominion Brewing Co. Candi Belgian Tripel—It’s possible that you recognize Dover brewer Fordham & Dominion as much for their racy vintage pin-up labels as for their tasty craft brews. But they’re all so much more than just a pretty face. With their Belgian Tripel, available on draft and in bottles, they offer a substantial 8.5 ABV brew that offers up bright sweetness with hints of pear and apricot. It’s light on the hoppy bitterness and finishes with a crisp dryness.

Maryland

Black Twig Hard Apple Cider—What do you do when you’re a local orchard known for your excellent apples and soft cider, but your relentless customers keep asking when you’ll be offering a hard version? If you’re T.S. Smith & Sons Orchards in Branchville, you find someone who can do the job for you. Enter Great Shoals Winery in Silver Spring, Md., which turned to the orchard’s heirloom Black Twig apples for its celebrated Black Twig Hard Cider. The dark red, tart apples produce a dry, sparkling cider that’s become a hit in liquor stores and restaurants downstate and at the beaches.

Pennsylvania

hop-knifeTröegs Hop Knife Harvest Ale—While it’s typically Oktoberfest beers that get all the press this time of year, fall also brings with it the lesser known “wet hopped,” or harvest ales. Fall is hops harvest season, and before the majority of the crop is stashed away to dry to be used in more traditional hopping processes, some of it is picked and shipped directly to brewers for wet hopping—essentially taking the fresh hops directly from the field and adding it to boiled malt and water (known as wort) much the same as they would with dried hops. What results is a hop flavor profile that’s significantly different from traditionally hopped beers and also a much shorter shelf life. The version of this time-honored seasonal brought to us by Tröegs, based in Hershey, Pa., and on tap only through the end of October, results in a golden amber brew, a softer and fresher accent on the hops and a respectable 6.2 ABV.

Victory Brewing Co. Moon Glow Weisenbock—Reminding us that wheat beers aren’t just for the summer months, this seasonal offering from Downingtown, Pa.-based Victory sports a more substantial presence than those orange-garnished hefeweizens you were downing on your summer vacation. This amber-hued brew, available on draft and in bottles, presents notes of clove and banana and backs it up with a sneaky 8.7 ABV that may indeed add a satisfied glow to your autumn cookout, bonfire or camping trip.

Weyerbacher Sunday Morning Stout—Something about the cooler months calls for a rich, coffee-colored pint of stout. Weyerbacher, located in Easton, Pa., takes the traditional American Imperial stout a step further, adding layers of complexity by aging this brew in bourbon barrels. The resulting flavor combines chocolate, vanilla and malt with a coffee and bourbon nose that pairs well with foods as diverse as rich pot roast, chocolate desserts and your favorite breakfast meats and pastries. But take note—at 11.3 ABV, this “breakfast” beer might keep you in that mellow, Sunday-morning mood all day long.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.