Fall is here, colors have changed, and beer shelves are full of pumpkin ales and Oktoberfest. But maybe that’s not your jam. For me, autumn means camping and campfire season, and the seasonal release of a number of really great beers I like to sip in the great outdoors. Here are some of my favorites.
Odd Side Ales Mayan Mocha Stout
Grand Haven, Michigan
This is one of those recipes that could go wrong in all directions but lands right on target. While it’s inspired by spicy Mexican hot chocolate, the central flavor is Dutch chocolate coffee, with very balanced additions of nutmeg, cinnamon, and habaneros. With that spice and 6.5 percent ABV, it’ll warm you up as much as the campfire.
All by itself, it’s a thick pour of delicious. But then my wife, who loves Lindeman’s more-sweet-than-tart Kriek, gave me an idea: How about a spicy chocolate-covered cherry experience? Cherry goes well with stouts to begin with, and so we turned this into a fireside beer cocktail, mixing in Kriek to our desired level of cherry. Either way, this is my favorite brew from the Michigan-based Odd Side Ales.
New Glarus Brewing Cran-bic
New Glarus, Wisconsin
From one of my favorite breweries for barrel-aged sour beers, this turn on a lambic is made with Wisconsin cranberries and aged five months in oak barrels. The open fermentation means even the yeast is local. Somewhat wine-like and tart, it pairs nicely with cheeses.
But beware: it is a limited batch and not on an annual schedule. Get it while you can, if you can, or watch for any of New Glarus’s other lambics or Flemish-style sour beers, which thankfully come bottled in four-packs for when your anti-sour friends won’t help you with a 750-ml bottle.
Great Lakes Brewing Nosferatu
This is a beer epiphany memory for me. Back in 2006, I toured the Great Lakes Brewery in Cleveland and had this imperial red ale on draft for the first time. I gushed about it then, and later when I found it was distributed to my local liquor store, I made a point of tracking it down each September.
That blood-red color is a wink at its vampire namesake, and while it has a strong malty backbone, a strong hops presence (Cascade and Simcoe) and 8 percent ABV give it just enough bite (sorry!). The brewery is out of it already, but I managed to find a couple four-packs this week yet. Whew!
Allagash Brewing Haunted House Hoppy Dark Ale
Keeping with the Halloween theme, this is also scary good. The brew is dark like a porter, bringing some coffee and mild chocolate flavors, and hopped a bit more than you’d anticipate, but gently, with Crystal, Chinook, and Saaz. It’s a good medium-bodied brew with a spooky ABV of 6.66 percent, packaged in four-packs of full-pint cans.
Indeed Brewing Stir Crazy Porter
This brewery, born in 2012 in the beer mecca that is Northeast Minneapolis, had such great success that they opened a Milwaukee brewery and taproom in 2019. Surely the name of this beer was intended to address that cabin fever of the coming winter, but takes on a whole new meaning in 2020.
Stir Crazy is just a great porter: full-bodied, roasted malt and bitter chocolate flavors with some toffee, and 6.5 percent ABV. Available from October to March, this seasonal brew should get you through to spring.
Ale Asylum Bedlam!
Not all my fall beers are dark. This phenomenal seasonal beer is a Belgian-style IPA. What’s that exactly? An India Pale Ale bringing the complex flavors of Belgian yeast together with American hops, in this case the dank and citrusy Citra.
Bedlam! pours golden with a slight haze, with medium body and an ABV of 7.4 percent. The yeast brings fruitiness but not too much, and the hops also lean toward citrus fruits, but again without bringing too much bitterness. I’d call it filling, but not in a bad way, and a touch dry. It’s a bit of a wonder to me, actually.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Fresh Hop IPA
The hops in this American-style IPA bring citrus and pine—perfect for my fall campsites amid the pines up nort’ in Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Fall harvests include hops, and this veteran California brewery (also brewing in North Carolina) has been celebrating that annual event since 1981. This amber-hued, 6.8 percent ABV brew is hop-forward for sure, with Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, but with a sufficient backbone of malt to give it a very nice balance.
Kevin Revolinski is an avid traveler and the author of 15 books, including “The Yogurt Man Cometh: Tales of an American Teacher in Turkey,” and several outdoor and brewery guidebooks. He is based in Madison, Wis., and his website is TheMadTraveler.com