If you listen closely, you'll hear the sounds of the craft beer community squabbling and digging their heels in over whether it's too early to even consider drinking a fall seasonal.
Where do I sit in this fight? Well, it was only a couple of short weeks ago that I found myself in our living room, cranking up the air conditioning to mimic autumnal conditions and shamefully enjoying a pumpkin IPA from Flying Dog. So it's safe to say, I'm an actively contributing member of the pumpkin-loving consumer masses that many find so abhorrent.
I know this probably disappoints some of you, but I choose to embrace the fact that I am more than ready for sweater weather. I'm ready for chilly Sunday mornings spent over Bacon Brunch at DRY 85 with friends, evenings nestled by the fire at 1747 Pub (wailing over what will inevitably be another awful Washington Redskins football season), and brisk walks around Navy Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium with our 8-year-old Scottish terrier Horatio, who will most assuredly pull and tug me around the track in every direction except the way I want to go: forward.
Lucky for me, this year's playing field of beers to support most of these fall-loving endeavors is vast. Here are five of the beers I'll be choosing from in the coming months, and I think there is a little something for everyone.
Ballast Point's Pumpkin Down
San Diego, California
5.8 percent ABV (alcohol by volume)
This California brew was a total gamble on my part. I was already on my way up to the register at Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits, a cart full of fall seasonals in tow, when I saw this unexpected entry into the pumpkin beer world sitting unassumingly on a shelf. I knew I wasn't going to have a chance to try it before it was photographed for this very feature story, but it was too tempting not to risk it.
Thankfully, this harvest-ready version of Ballast Point's Piper Down Scottish ale totally delivered. My taste buds were happily met with a well-balanced and totally delicious ale, with hints of pumpkin and spice marrying perfectly with the dry earthiness of the Scottish ale foundation. I will not hesitate to pick up another six-pack of this, and I sincerely hope I'll see this pop up on draft around town in future months.
Flying Dog's Dogtoberfest Märzen
5.6 percent ABV
Traditional Oktoberfest beers (also known as Märzens) hail from the Bavarian region of Europe, where the population would not let their love of tasty beer be deterred by something as silly as a lack of access to proper refrigeration. So this style would typically be brewed in March, when brewing conditions were more stable, and then stashed in cold storage — or even chilly caves — until late September.
Flying Dog's Dogtoberfest is a lovely, local tip-of-the-hat to this foundational style. Made with imported, all-German ingredients, its roasted, malty flavors and soft, smooth mouthfeel make it an obvious choice for those who are wanting to celebrate the season without the requisite dash of pumpkin spice.
The Bruery's Autumn Maple
Orange County, California
10 percent ABV
Now, if you are someone who is looking for dessert in a bottle, but want to try something other than the usual Southern Tier Pumking, Autumn Maple from The Bruery might be the right one for you. Brewed with 17 pounds of yams, as well as molasses, vanilla and maple syrup, I'm going to be blunt: This beer is not messing around.
I'll admit this is not the bottle I grab as a go-to every time I'm itching for a fall fix. (My dentist would hate me.) But it is an ideal late-night companion when I am yearning for a slow-sipper that's a little more rich and decadent than the usual fare.
Southern Tier's Harvest Special Ale
Lakewood, New York
6.7 percent ABV
Ah, the Extra Special Bitter. This poor, unfairly maligned beer is often overlooked due to its style name, giving the incorrect impression any beer with this label is going to be an unpalatable, bitter drinking experience. This is simply untrue. Though more assertive in hop character, ESBs are defined by balance, often boasting strong malt-forward characteristics.
Southern Tier's amber-hued entry in this category, their Harvest Special Ale, is like drinking a love letter to the autumnal harvest. The signature hop notes in the aroma give way to hints of biscuit and caramel on the palate. The finish? Dry and refreshing. It's a personal favorite for football-filled afternoons.
Dogfish Head's Hellhound On My Ale
10 percent ABV
I'll admit, I originally picked this up as a "fall seasonal" a long time ago, because the name sounded like something out of a horror movie — perfect for a Halloween week baby like me. In reality, however, this hoppy gem with lemon flesh and peel thrown into the mix was brewed in honor of Robert Johnson, a Mississippi Delta blues legend.
Bursting with the citrus-y goodness of Centennial hops and lemon, this is a lovely, albeit powerful addition to any table. It is sure to appeal to both those who are embracing the changing leaves or already counting down the days to next spring.
Of note: All of the beers I have reviewed here are available at Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Annapolis. Other great places to find seasonal craft beers include Mills Fine Wine & Spirits in downtown Annapolis, Annabeth's on Maryland Avenue in Annapolis, Fishpaws Marketplace in Arnold, and Edgewater Liquors in Edgewater.
Liz Murphy writes the Naptown Pint column that appears periodically in the Flavor section on Wednesdays in The Capital. She lives in Annapolis with her husband, Patrick, and their two lazy dogs, Horatio and Nugget. Liz also runs her own Annapolis-based beer blog, Naptown Pint. You can usually find her kicking back a pint (or four) at 1747 Pub off Church Circle. Or you can just set a scotch ale out on your porch, and she'll be there in five minutes. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.