8 of the Best Fall Beers, According to an Expert

Fall beer is about more than just pumpkin. The best fall beers in the U.S. are inspired by German tradition and brewed with an American flair.

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October 04, 2022
By: Tara Nurin

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At one time, craft beer in the fall meant one thing: pumpkin. But over the past decade, American brewers have expanded their offerings by embracing the range of autumn seasonals that have been a regular part of Germany’s beer repertoire for centuries. With the rising popularity of these traditional lager brews has come the inclusion of other ingredients that represent the season, adding more abundance to what drinkers consider a fall beer "style."

While some eager sales and marketing professionals would like to define any beer appropriate for cool shoulder-season drinking as a fall beer, we’ve only included true seasonals, meaning they tend to hit the market annually sometime between summer and winter. Of course, the quintessential German fall beers are the medium-bodied, malt-forward sister styles of Märzen (pronounced maire-tzen) and Oktoberfest (also known as, Festbier) so similar that stateside brewers often interchange the terms. But genuine Märzen, the official drink of Munich’s Oktoberfest before the invention of Festbier, is slightly darker, sweeter and higher in alcohol.

By law, standard Bavarian brews can’t include fruit, vegetables or spices, but here in the states brewers liven up the shorter days and longer nights with spiced beers and those that celebrate the agricultural bounty of the harvest. (We have an entire list of the best pumpkin beers you can buy, if that’s more your style.)

What follows are eight of the best beers brewed for you to drink from September through November (listed alphabetically).

$11.99
Drizly

Some Märzens suffer from a saggy sweetness lacking enough hops to add oomph to their malt structure. 4 Noses Foeder Oktoberfest is not one of them. Rather, just the opposite: This Mӓrzen, brewed in Broomfield, Colorado, demands respect for its intensity and more assertively bitter note than most of its American craft compatriots. But don’t let the mention of hops distract you. The earthy, herbal flavor of the German Hallertau Mittelfruh variety holds up in the background while the robust, bready and sometimes raisiny Munich, Caramunich and Vienna malts (common in a Mӓrzen) command most of the attention here. Adding to the fullness of the flavor is the multi-step "decoction" mashing used to brew the base beer, plus the lightly oaked notes imparted by fermenting this version in a foeder (large oak cask used for fermenting and aging).

Fairhope Brewing

Despite describing its Oktoberfest as "light," the flavor of this Fairhope, Alabama-brewed Märzen comes across as a delightfully dark, intense experience best suited for night. With the aroma of a dense berry weighted down with juice and the taste of roasted chestnut meat chased by licking the shell (not that we necessarily recommend that!), Fairhope’s Oktoberfest pairs best with grilled brisket covered in gravy and tart cranberry sauce.

$19.99
Odell Brewing

I hate to appear biased but if it’s Odell you know it’s going to be good. The employee-owned Ft. Collins, Colorado, business doesn’t release anything that doesn’t meet its high standards. Its Oktoberfest may be the most straightforward selection on our list: Its hay aroma and solid structure built by balancing Munich malts with earthy old-school continental hops makes this Märzen-style lager stand up straight while standing against any frivolous embellishment.

$45.49
Total Wine

I would call Sam Adams Octoberfest a quintessential fall beer. Medium bodied, malty sweet and satisfyingly simple, the copper-colored Boston Märzen warms itself to a wide variety of occasions. Pair it with anything from stew to Corn Flakes to a bowl of chocolate ice cream or enhance its aroma by sipping it straight around a campfire. Speaking of aroma, the range of scents from clean mud puddles and hay bales sitting in a stable to sarsaparilla soda, spun sugar and light-colored maple candy makes it anything but simplistic.

$13.00
Societe Brewing

Societe’s San Diego-brewed lager identifies itself an Oktoberfest and means it. Unlike its sweeter, boozier Märzen counterparts, Fest Bier’s clean, classic take on a Festbier reminds me of standing in a field of ready-to-harvest crops on a breezy sunny day. Fresh air fills the nose followed by upright corn stalks pushing to be pulled from the ground; fabric softener; and a curious nip of cocoa powder. The almost imperceptibly herbaceous taste is equally evocative of the carefree nature of nature: sprouting greenery, cut grass and, for dessert, a warm corn muffin.

$12.99
STBC Beer

There’s flavor underneath these hops, and what a flavor it is. Though it doesn’t contain fresh hops itself, Southern Tier’s Harvest pays homage to the early autumn season when American growers harvest their crop and sometimes fly them fresh from field to brewer for a seasonal specialty called a “wet-hopped” beer. Because these wet-hopped specimens showcase hops above all else, they can sometimes forget to feature any other flavors. But not this western New York IPA that hews more closely to wood and pine hop essences than most of its IPA offerings. A base of malt disguised as soft, chewy walnut bread rises up to support earthy and floral CTZ and Amarillo hops that drink bright green like a tender shoot of spring leaves. One finger of creamy head covers the clear copper liquid as loyally as a comfy old sweater, and an aroma of coarse black licorice evokes a romantic image of a cowboy sauntering up to the counter of a general store. Overall, the effect equals an emphatic, yeah!

Threes Brewing

Restrained in color and flavor, especially when compared against Three’s own description, Hereafter Oktoberfest works wonders for an all-day drinking affair that calls for thinking less about the craft in one’s hand and more about the companionship at one’s elbow. Despite the Brooklyn brewery’s characterizations of a “deep orange hue” and a “big noble (hops) spice character,” Hereafter pours a pale gold and tickles the tongue with a little black pepper. But that works for this lager, whose mostly blank pilsner and Vienna malt canvas and relatively robust body polkas perfectly with all sorts of fest food pairings like roast chicken, potato salad, kraut, and, of course, pretzels.

Wallenpaupack Brewing

Likely one of the most award-winning craft breweries you’ve never heard of, there’s a reason this five-year-old female-owned brewery in the Pennsylvania Poconos appears on our "best of" beer lists this fall. With lagers in heavy rotation, Wallenpaupack flawlessly and flavorfully brews a versatile Märzen that can stand up or down to nearly any food. A sparkly cherrywood appearance meets with an airy aroma sprinkled with a satisfying inhale of garden-fresh dirt. A pronounced malt sweetness upon initial sip reveals the fleshy inside of tree bark; when it warms it drinks like a high-alcohol English ale such as a barleywine or solidly structured aged imperial IPA. Forgive me for potentially getting carried away but my notes honestly read, "Wise, sturdy, all-knowing, intricate and mysterious." That’s pretty remarkable for a typically low-key style of lager.

TV host and former Forbes beer/spirits contributor Tara Nurin writes for hundreds of media outlets -- such as USA Today and CBS.com -- and presents publicly -- for entities like the Smithsonian and Colonial Williamsburg -- on topics that relate primarily to beer business and culture. In September 2021 she released her first book, A Woman's Place Is in the Brewhouse: A Forgotten History of Alewives, Brewsters, Witches, and CEOs, which won a first-place award from the North American Guild of Beer Writers. Nurin designs and teaches for-credit beer and spirits courses for Wilmington University (DE) and provides marketing consulting services for a client roster that includes Visit Philly and NZ Hops, Ltd. She is frequently quoted as a beverage expert in publications such as Wine Enthusiast and Food & Wine. After residing in 11 states and countries, the trilingual Nurin has chosen to live as an urban pioneer on Camden, NJ’s, riverfront.

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