Leave the pumpkins in the patch

Gourd-free fall seasonals

By Kevin J. Gray
Photo: Oktoberfests, harvest ales and vampire beers offer a break from pie-spiced seasonals

Fall may signal the end of the growing season, but it’s the rebirth of big, cold-weather craft beer seasonals. Most people equate fall with pumpkin beers, and those styles certainly have their favorites. But for those of you who prefer your beer to not taste like a Starbucks offering, there are other great options. Fall brings Oktoberfests, harvest ales and spooky brews. Plus, it’s a great time to dip into your cellar and break out big beers to keep you warm by the campfire.


By late October, the party in Munich is over and Ohio’s Oktoberfests are all long gone. Luckily, many of the Oktoberfest beers are still on the shelves and are the perfect accompaniment for sweater weather. The beers, originally served in celebration of Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen’s marriage to Crown Prince Ludwig I in 1810, are actually brewed in the spring and cellared for the summer. The style dates back to the days before refrigeration, when it was nearly impossible to brew decent beer during the hot summer months. Bavarian brewers would make these beers in March, then lager them in storage caves where temperatures were cool. In the fall, they would roll out the barrels, drink up the beer and refill the casks with new brew. These malty lagers are typically about 5-6 percent alcohol by volume and copper in color (although American versions tend to push the ABV boundary). Oktoberfests are also referred to as Märzens, a nod to the month in which they are brewed.

Most of the Dayton breweries are not yet lagering, so there are few local Oktoberfests flowing from local sources. Great Lakes Brewing Company, from Cleveland, and Rivertown Brewing Company, from Cincinnati, both offer Ohio takes on the style. Nationally, try Left Hand’s or Samuel Adams’ (which, despite the East Coast appearance, is mostly brewed in Cincinnati). Want to go old school? German fest beers from Ayinger, Hacker-Pschorr and Paulaner tend to score high marks.

Harvest ales

Harvest ales tap into the traditional celebration at the end of the growing season. They are also often synonymous with “wet hop beers” or “fresh hop beers.” While, for most beers, brewers use hops that have been picked and dried so that the oils are preserved for later brewing, the fall harvest allows for large amounts of fresh, or wet, hops. In many cases, these hops are picked and added to a brew on the same day. Fresh hop beers tend to be much more hop forward, traditionally an in-your-face variation on a standard IPA. Look for a larger malt base and higher ABV with these beers, too, as the caramel backbone tends to round out the beers and prevents them from becoming hop bombs.

Your best bet for finding fresh hop brews is at your local brewery. Yellow Springs Brewery offers a variation on their standard IPA, calling it Breaking Harvest IPA. This fresh hop beer is brewed with Ohio Nugget hops sourced from Heartland Hops (out of Fort Recovery, Ohio) and clocks in at 7.8 percent ABV. Nationally distributed wet hop ales worth checking out include Founder’s Harvest Ale and Sixpoint’s Sensi Harvest Ale. For a slightly more restrained harvest celebration, one with more malt, check out Southern Tier’s Harvest offering.

Spooky beers

In fall, many brewers play on the Halloween theme, especially with their pumpkin beers. Favorites like Dogfish Head’s Punkin, Southern Tier’s Pumking and MadTree’s Great Pumpcan dominate this market. However, some breweries get creatively spooky in other ways. A perennial non-pumpkin Halloween favorite is Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Nosferatu. This nod to vampire lore is a dark, deep ale with a rich, malty base. Fittingly, Nosferatu is an imperial red ale. But don’t let the malts fool you – the hops pack a punch like a bite to the jugular.

Barleywines and imperial stouts

Barleywines and imperial stouts are the kingpins of the beer world. Big, malty barleywines and rich, roasty stouts are traditionally winter seasonal releases. Lest anyone accuse me of wishing for the colder weather just yet, it’s worth noting that most of these big beers fare better with a bit of age. Because these beers are so high in alcohol (usually 10 percent ABV or more), they can sometimes be hot and overpowering if consumed fresh. This is especially true of American barleywines, which tend to be a hot-hopped mess in their first year. Instead, give them a year or two to mellow. You’ll find that the alcohol and bitterness meld, making these beers the perfect accompaniment to a late night bonfire. This writer breaks out Stone’s Old Guardian each fall. The rich, malty flavors pair well with crisp autumn air and whiffs of campfire. Forgot to stock your cellar? No worries! Most of the better beer retailers will have a few older vintages available on their shelves.

Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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