Fall seasonal brews in general and pumpkin beers in particular have a reputation of being smooth and warming. However, like pumpkin pies, one serving is often plenty per session and no one misses them much when the season shifts to winter. But craft brewers constantly improve their recipes and expand their offerings and this year’s fall seasonals are more nuanced and drinkable than ever. Here’s our list of the top five fall beers from local brewers.
Barking Pumpkin Ale (6.7 % ABV) from Magnolia Pub & Brewery - Magnolia’s Barking Pumpkin Ale is on tap now. The beer is a dark, malt-forward ale. The Magnolia crew roasted local, organic, sugar pie pumpkins, cut them into chunks, and added them to the beer mash to pull out the fermentable sugars as well as the roasted pumpkin flavors. They also added toasted pumpkin seeds for additional pumpkin depth and finished by adding restrained doses of nutmeg, clove, allspice and cinnamon. Magnolia beer trivia: Barking Pumpkin was the name of Frank Zappa's recording label.
Big Leaf Maple Autumn Red (6% ABV) from Anchor Brewing Co. – This is the first year for Anchor’s Big Leaf Maple Autumn Red, a boldly flavored and surprisingly refreshing red ale. Rich caramel malts and a touch of maple syrup are nicely balanced by three additions of Nelson Sauvin hops in the brewkettle and a dryhop mix of Nelson Sauvin, Citra, and Cascade. Unlike a lot of fall seasonals from large craft breweries, you’ll find yourself reaching for several of these.
He Said (8.2 % ABV) from 21st Amendment Brewery – If the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function, perhaps intelligent drinkers can pass a similar test with opposing beers. Advertised as “a pumpkin beer like no other,” He Said is the result of collaboration between 21st Amendment’s brewmaster Shaun O’Sullivan and Dick Cantwell, the brewmaster at Seattle’s Elysian Brewing. The name He Said is a play on the he said/she said dynamic where two parties differ on the specifics of the subject being argued. Since O’Sullivan and Cantwell disagreed on the original idea for the collaboration, they decided to continue this meme into the actual brewing process by crafting two beers. He Said is packaged in a four-pack: two of the beers are black Baltic-Style Porter lagers brewed with pumpkin, Vietnamese cinnamon and ground caraway and the other two are white Belgian-Style Tripel ales brewed with pumpkin, tarragon and galangal (a type of southeast Asian ginger).
Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine (12% ABV) from Almanac Beer Co. – Cofounders Jesse Friedman and Damian Fagan planned ahead for their Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine. Late last year, Almanac hand-roasted heirloom pumpkins from La Tercera Farms in Bodega Bay. The caramelized fruits were then added to American Barleywine and aged for a year in used brandy barrels. Almanac then blended the barrel-aged beer with freshly brewed ale and added spices to meld the flavors.
Saison du Semillon (7.7 % ABV) from Social Kitchen & Brewery – Social’s Brewmaster Kim Sturdavant and James Davids, winemaker at Oro En Paz winery, have collaborated to recreate last year’s popular sipper: Saison du Semillon. A Belgian style Saison wort was mixed with must from Semillon grapes and the two were fermented together. As Sturdavant noted, “Semillon is a robust white wine varietal normally used to enhance Rieslings in Bordeaux, but we used Semillon grapes from Lake County which have a drier and fruitier character than their cousins. The must was around 30% of the fermentable sugar in the brew and created a true wine/beer hybrid.” Sturdavant plans to barrel-age and sour some of the batch so we can enjoy other incarnations in later seasons.