Fall is beer’s bridge season between the light coolers of summer and unabashedly boozy warmers of winter as the season’s brews conceal a boosted alcohol content behind their combinations of malts and seasonal ingredients.
Beers that are brewed with such traditional fall spices as nutmeg, clove and allspice are the naturals. Cigar lovers looking to pair with suds should abide by a simple rule: the darker the beer, the better. The malts that make beer dark usually impart a natural sweetness that partners well with mild- to medium-bodied smokes.
New Belgium’s 1554 Black Lager and Dogfish Head’s Indian Brown are regular-production beers that shine in the fall. The 1554 Black Lager boasts fennel and toffee in the nose, with a dose of brown sugar and chocolate in the swallow. Indian Brown belies its India pale ale style by pouring dark brown and offering roasted caramel and brown-sugar notes.
For added alcohol warmth, look to Ommegang’s Double Barrel Dubbel (9.9 percent alcohol by volume) and Boulevard Brewing’s Bourbon Barrel Quad (11.2 percent). Both brews have been aged for a time in oak Bourbon barrels, with Ommegang also enjoying a slumber in ex-brandy casks. The Double Barrel has notes of vanilla, coconut and molasses, with subtle hints of licorice root and orange peel. Barrel Quad starts off with toffee, clove and vanilla before a cherry finish.
Pumpkin, the king of fall ingredients, is a tasty alternative when done well. Firestone Walker’s El Gourdo features pumpkins that have been roasted in wood-burning ovens. The roasted pumpkin flavor is subtle in the tart brew, but nutmeg and walnut also show.
Märzenbier, the style traditionally served at Germany’s annual Oktoberfest celebration, is paler in color and more sessionable (5 to 6 percent alcohol). Though not officially served at Oktoberfest, Ayinger’s Oktober Fest-Märzen is a superb example of the style, presenting malty bread before a bright, biscuit finish. More widely available is Samuel Adams Octoberfest, a lovely alternative that imparts rye bread and brown sugar notes, with an underlying roasted caramel base.