You wouldn’t know it from the recent weather, but fall is just around the corner. While we encourage you to hold on to these last few beach days, and light lagers, as long as possible, the inevitable changing of the leaves means that it's time for brown ale, porter and yes, finally, pumpkin beer. Although the style can definitely be overdone, don’t let that deter you from trying some unusual offerings, especially the rarely seen sour and barrel-aged varieties, which hit shelves this year.

Fall is also the start of football season, which means it’s officially tailgating season. Malt-forward fall seasonal brews are the perfect pairing for the rich, smoky fare served during the games. Feel like getting out of town? It’s prime beer festival season, not limited to the world-famous Oktoberfest in Germany and the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. There are also other excellent smaller shindigs, which are absolutely worth the cross-country adventure. Here's what to look for this fall. 

Festive Partnerships

The holiday season means getting together with friends and family over good beer. It’s a nice touch that breweries typically do the same, collaborating on special brews for the colder months. Here are the ones we're most excited about.

  • Knee Deep Brewing Company & Kern River Brewing Company: Deep River Double IPA
    When it comes to massive West Coast double IPAs, Knee Deep and Kern River do them just about better than anyone else. This is bound to be a juicy, tropical, bitter hit to your hop receptors. Last year Double Dose from Lawsons/Otter Creek was a surprise collaboration runaway for my favorite new IPA – I have high hopes this might be the West Coast version of that.
  • Amager Bryghus collaborates with basically every awesome brewer, ever
    Denmark’s Amager is releasing a whopping FIVE collaborative ales with some of the best breweries in the U.S., including Prairie Artisanal Ales (farmhouse saison), Jester King (imperial stout), Surly (IPA), Cigar City (session IPA, brewed with orange peel) and Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead’s Grassroots Brewing (double IPA).
  • Sierra Nevada & Boulevard Brewing Co.: Terra Incognita 3
    When it comes to their year-round releases, Sierra Nevada keeps it fairly simple. That’s not a knock, it’s what’s been working for them for more than 30 years! Thankfully they shine in their collaborations, especially in the Terra Incognita series with Missouri’s Boulevard. Last year’s version was a wild ale, but this time around the wild yeast is gone in favor of a blend of wine barrel–aged ale, bourbon barrel-aged ale and fresh ale with whole cone hops.

Pumpkin Beer

Nothing sounds like nails on a chalkboard quite like pumpkin beer in June. While the style is already getting played-out by nearly every brewery out there, I give marks when innovation strikes. Pumpkins and Halloween go hand-in-hand, so it’s not a surprise that the dark arts of black ale have become a gourd's best friend. Look for these winners:

  • Almanac Brewing Company: Dark Pumpkin Sour
    A dark sour ale with pumpkins and spices aged in red wine barrels with Almanac’s signature “Dogpatch” wild yeast.
  • Hangar 24 Brewery: Barrel Roll No. 8 Falling Leaf
    Their fan-favorite Gourdgeous Imperial Pumpkin Porter is made with over 1,000 pounds of local pumpkins and aged for a year in single-use bourbon barrels.
  • Avery Brewing Company: Pump[KY]n
    Pump[KY]n will join Avery's rum barrel-aged Rumpkin as what looks to be the baddest twosome of high-ABV pumpkin brews in the world. This bourbon barrel-aged beauty clocks in at a head-spinning 16.54% and is made with nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, clove and no shortage of pumpkin.

Other Notable Fall Releases

  • Goose Island Brewing Company: Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Rye Stout
    2013 saw the return of a past fan-favorite release in their Bourbon County Barleywine. This year, Goose Island once again rewards their fans with the return of Bourbon County Vanilla. This year's version is aged in rye whiskey barrels, clocking in at a warming 13%.
  • Firestone Walker Brewing Company: Agrestic, Feral Vinifera and 18th Anniversary 
    There will always be plenty of debate on who reigns as King of the Barrels, but Firestone Walker has set an insanely high bar with their remarkable mastery of blending techniques. Agrestic is a sour ale aged in a combination of French and American oak, Feral Vinifera is a sour ale aged in 100% French oak barrels along with white wine grapes and 18th Anniversary is a master blend of their best non-sour brews.
  • Deschutes Brewery: The Dissident 2014
    This sour ale made with cherries takes two full years to mature in wine barrels. Up until this year, that meant we had to wait a few years per batch but starting this year it will be an annual release. With the brewery expanding into Michigan and Pennsylvania, that means this will be the first time you’ll see this release out east. 
  • Founders Brewing Company: Dark Penance
    The Black IPA game has quickly become the new favorite hybrid style for brewers worldwide. Founders may not have been first to market it, but like many of their other styles, they simply found a way to do it better. A combination of hoppy and roasty flavors, this brew clocks in at 8.9% and features Chinook hops as well as brewery favorite, centennial.
  • Night Shift Brewing: Morph and Whirlpool
    Everett, MA’s Night Shift has impressed for the last few years with remarkably inventive sour weisse beers and wild ales. Finally we have some readily available hoppy brews from Night Shift and they're bursting with tropical hop flavor. While talk of hoppy New England canned releases might have been dominated by new offerings from the likes of The Alchemist or Fiddlehead, Night Shift deserves to be a part of the discussion.

Festivals & Celebrations

September 20–October 5
Where: Munich, Germany
Why you should go: Each year the massive tents go up in Munich during the end of September to ring in the fall with many liters of awesome beer. There simply is no other festival like it in the world. Expect many steins of Paulaner and absolutely no pumpkin beer.

Zwanze Day
Date: September 20
Where: Various locations around the globe. Check out the list here.
Why you should go: Cantillon, the prestigious producer of spontaneously fermented sour ales, release a special beer each year specifically for this worldwide celebration. Many of the participating bars will carry rare drafts and bottles of sour brew from Cantillon, along with many other sour producing breweries to make it a real celebration of sour beer.

Great American Beer Festival
Dates: October 2-4
Where: Denver, CO
Why you should go: If sampling around 3,500 beers from more than 700 breweries sounds like a good idea, this is the place you need to be. Unlimited 1 oz. pours for 4+ hours with nearly 50,000 festivalgoers: this is your ultimate beer party.

Darkness Day
Date: October 25
Where: Surly Brewery, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota
Why You Should Go: For years, Surly has gone toe-to-toe with Three Floyds for the title of best Russian Imperial Stout with a release soirée. Credit Surly for bringing a knife to the party, as they recently announced that for 2014 all bottles of Darkness will finally be bourbon barrel-aged. This release will only be available in Minnesota and Illinois, so that’s reason enough for a road trip!

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