It seems like pumpkin season comes earlier every year. While this might be great news if your name is Linus van Pelt, for seasoned craft beer imbibers, it's old hat. If you're anything like me, you're sick of pumpkin beer by Aug. 18, and yet you can hardly turn around without someone shoving some cloying, orange-colored atrocity in your face. How then to find a seasonally enticing beer of an entirely different ilk? Lucky you have drunken Uncle Teege to recommend the best autumn ales on the market with nary a dash of pumpkin flavoring in sight.
Bell's Best Brown
There's a lot to be said for standing the test of time. Bell's Best Brown has been a seasonal staple since long before the pumpkin ale craze swept the nation. Like the great horned owl on its label, this delightfully balanced brown ale rears its head as the nights begin to grow longer and darker. Nutty flavors complemented by a backbone of roasted malt make this beer perfect for cool weather indulgence.
Founders Harvest Ale
Nothing says autumn like a harvest, and the harvest referenced by Founders' seasonal IPA is hops and lots of them. Unlike most IPAs saturating the market, Founders Harvest Ale is wet-hopped, which means the hops go into the vat the same day they're cut down from the vine. A clean, refreshing palatability is the mark of this truly unique IPA, sure to wow even the most bitter-toothed hopheads among us.
Jolly Pumpkin Fuego del Otoña
If the name fooled you into thinking this is a pumpkin beer, take solace in knowing you aren't the first. This brewery can be the bane of craft beer-tenders forced to ceaselessly explain the misnomer during pumpkin season. Fortunately, everything else about this fabulously eccentric ale more than makes up for these headaches. Also known as Autumn Fire, this amber-hued, effervescent beverage seamlessly merges notes of fall spices with the puckering tart finish of its exotic wild yeast.
It's simply a coincidence that the first three beers on my list all come from Michigan, or perhaps the state's residents would disagree, arguing that their crisp northern climate gives them an advantage when it comes to brewing beer for autumnal tastes. Lest you think 90-degree Novembers prevent Sunshine State brewers from crafting seasonal delights, I'm here to prove you wrong. Here's a few of Florida's best fall beers.
Funky Buddha Sweet Potato Casserole
Swapping autumn's favorite gourd for its favorite root, the competent chaps at Funky Buddha down south in Oakland Park created this full-bodied, decadently sweet beverage that combines the earthy flavors of sweet potatoes with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar and vanilla. Close your eyes, take a sip, and you'll wonder who filled your glass with yams smothered in gooey marshmallows. Needless to say, this beer pairs perfectly with Thanksgiving dinner.
Cigar City Dark Woods
Many pumpkin ale enthusiasts have already lauded CCB's Good Gourd, but those of us who have graduated to more esoteric styles are ready for Dark Woods, an old ale brewed with molasses and aged on toasted white oak. Continuing a series that began last year with a chocolate imperial porter, 2015's Dark Woods is even richer and more perplexing than its forerunner. With a name inspired by a 19th century legend about a lost traveler and a mysterious, hooded alchemist, what the future holds for this exciting new series only a conjurer could tell.
Cask & Larder Sleeping Giant
An advantage of working in Orlando's craft beer scene for nearly a decade is one becomes privy to secret whispers of beers not yet come to pass. Rumor has it that Cask & Larder's head brewer Larry Foor is cooking up a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout that may or may not be called Sleeping Giant. Set to be released Thanksgiving weekend (supposedly), keep a thirsty and watchful eye open for this enigmatic brew. One thing at least is certain: It will doubtlessly be delectable in whichever final form it chooses.