photo: courtesy of Bridget Cicenia; pictured: Kuma's
With fall under way, it's time to trade in your 312s for brewskis with a little more heft. Gourds, fruits, nuts—fall is the season when everything is in play; breweries up the ante on alcohol content, paying homage to grandma's recipe box and churning out tiny harvests of artisan beer. Yet, despite the abundance of finely crafted autumnal brews, cooler temperatures bring with them hordes of college kids loading up on Busch and Bud multi-packs—a perversion that leaves true beer-lovers sorrowfully tearing up like the Native American in that old Keep America Beautiful ad. Let 'em have their mass-produced swill—that means there are more of these seasonal gems for the rest of us.
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (Delaware) at Hopleaf
To the bored youth of the least-remarkable state on the eastern seaboard, fall has always meant chilly nights of drinking beer and smashing pumpkins (hey, it beats cow tipping). Maybe this is how Delaware's rebel brewery got the idea for Dogfish Head Punkin Ale ($6). Actually steeped in a blend of mashed-up pumpkins, this golden amber ale packs one hell of an aromatic punch. Brown sugar balances the spicy notes of clove, nutmeg and cinnamon, a mix that accounts for Punkin’s liquid-pie-in-a-bottle profile. Hefty enough to drink on its own, this brew also pairs well with slow-cooked foods, so hit up the Hopleaf menu for some robust lamb stew, roasted chicken or slow-roasted, bacon-wrapped rabbit leg.
Ska Buster Nut Brown Ale (Colorado) at Kuma's Corner
Don't worry if you can't manage to string the words "buster" and "nut" together without a pornographic slip; the laid-back peeps at Kuma's won't mind. After all, any bar that shuns Budweiser for the true working man's beer—PBR—isn't going to judge you. When you crave a darker beverage, but aren't quite ready for a stout, the full-bodied Buster Nut Brown Ale ($4) is your best friend. This dark brown brew is dominated by a nutty aroma and a toasted, saccharine-malt taste. Lively carbonation makes it the perfect match for Kuma's trademark burgers; the apples, cranberries, bacon and walnuts that top the Judas Priest patty play up the fall flavors nicely.
Jolly Pumpkin Maracaibo Especial (Michigan) at Sheffield's
If you want something a little more aligned with the cider-side of fall, but aren't into the sweet stuff, Jolly Pumpkin's got you covered. The first thing you'll notice about this heavily carbonated libation is its zesty, sour aroma. Orange peel presides over low notes of baker's chocolate and oak, making Maracaibo Especial drink more like a cider. Light enough to pair with any of Sheffield's BBQ specials, this brew works as well for unseasonably warm nights as it does for crisp ones. This special dark brown ale comes in a 750-milliliter bottle, so bring a friend. For a cheaper option, Sheffield's keeps a few goose-headed taps on hand, and Goose Island Harvest Ale ($3.50) doesn't disappoint.
Lakefront Pumpkin Lager (Wisconsin) at Clark St. Ale House
Yeah, I know, I know, another pumpkin beer, but, hey, drink 'em while you can. Lakefront's Pumpkin Lager ($5) is a docile blend of the requisite spices (nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and clove), pumpkin mash and caramel malts tucked under a foamy, whipped head. The brewery helped spearhead the pumpkin-beer movement when co-owner Russ Klisch stumbled across a homebrew recipe of Thomas Jefferson's. That was in 1989, when pumpkin beer hadn't been around since before Prohibition, so Klisch brought it back, and it’s the only pumpkin lager made today—all the others are ales. The resulting smooth, light taste doesn't overpower; you smell the pumpkin a whole lot more than you taste it.