Summer has long been known for its myriad of citrus-inspired and wheat beers, but now the shandies, IPAs and weisse move to the backseat to make room up front for pumpkin flavors, ambers, stouts and porters. Fall is the only time of the year when the colors and crispness inside your glass match that of the great outdoors-talk about the perfect marketing partnership.
Pumpkin/Spiced: Fall is the season of pumpkin-flavored everything, and not even brew can escape its gourdish grasp. And like taste buds, there is no one size fits all when it comes to this seasonal mainstay. BeerAdvocate lists more than 1,400 examples of the squash-infused suds, and spices such as nutmeg, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and allspice are often mixed and matched in the potent potables. When it comes to taste, pumpkin brews tend to be mild, and the beers tend to let the spices talk the talk and walk the walk. Some of the more popular brews in this category include Yamma Jamma by Indeed Brewing Co. and 20 Pounds of Pumpkin by Samuel Adams.
Amber Ale: A spiritual successor to pale ales, ambers cut their teeth in California and the Pacific Northwest before flowing through the rest of the country. With a color range of amber to deep red, the beers are the perfect match for the fall colors outside your window. Malt and hop flavors tend to be on the medium-to-high end of the scale, and taste can gravitate toward a sweet, caramel-like flavor. Popular local brews in this category include 2 Gingers Barrel Aged Libertine by Fulton Brewing Co. and Finnegans Irish Amber.
Stouts: True to its definition, the term “stout” was originally used in the 1600s and 1700s to refer to porters that were especially strong. Today, separating the two styles can still be a struggle. One way to discern one from the other is whether or not the brew in front of you is made using roasted malts. If it is, chances are it is a stout. If it is not, it is probably a porter. It’s a good rule of thumb, but not necessarily true 100 percent of the time. Because of their popularity all over the world, brewmasters have continued to experiment with the style and methods, concocting several varieties, including:
* Russian Imperial Stout: Perhaps the stoutest of the stout, this black-as-night beverage boasts an impressive AVB range of 8 to 13-plus percent. Expect a robust flavor profile consisting of chocolate and burnt malt flavors with a touch of dark fruit and a hop character that runs the gamut. Popular local brands include Darkness by Surly Brewing Co., and Worthy Adversary and War and Peace by Fulton Brewing Co.
* English Oatmeal Stout: The popular breakfast food has carved out a unique niche in the world of stouts. Not only does oatmeal give the brew a smooth-as-silk feel without any bitterness, but it also gives it flavors of oatmeal (go figure), milk chocolate and/or coffee. Get started by taking your taste buds on a ride with a pint of Oatmeal Stout by Summit Brewing.
* Dry Stout: More affectionately known as an Irish stout, this variety is known for its medium-to-high level of bitterness, which stems from roasted barley and a healthy portion of hops-and is often poured from nitrogen gas taps that give the body a creamy feel. Guinness is a popular choice in this variety.
Porters: Hailing from London, the predecessor and mother of stouts got its name from its popularity among street and river porters. This style of brew tends to have more of a chocolate taste because of the malted barley, and it does not tip the ABV scale as heavily as its successor. And as you may have guessed, this style comes in a plethora of varieties, including:
* American Porter: This style of porter is very dark in color, and it is highlighted by a chocolate-like sweetness with varying bitterness. Porter by Sierra Nevada offers a great entry point.
* Baltic Porter: One of the strongest in the family, the Baltic Porter stems from countries in the Baltic Sea, and its strength lands in a spot somewhere between that of the original English Porters and Russian Imperial Stouts. Get a taste of this variety with Smoke by Surly Brewing Co.
* Robust Porter: A variety similar to the original English Porter, the Robust Porter features a strong roast malt flavor and a level of hop bitterness you can taste. Notes of a caramel sweetness can also be felt. Whet your whistle with Northgate Brewing’s Stronghold Porter to get a feel for this one.