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Gutes Bier Ist Hier! [good beer is here]

The fall's seasonal brews have arrived

Polish up your steins—fall is here, which means it’s prime time for Oktoberfest and copious amounts of seasonal beer.

Nothing evokes the coming of fall better than pumpkins, and pumpkin ales are popping up in craft breweries all over the country. It’s not a new phenomenon—Americans have been using pumpkins to brew beer from as far back as the early colonists, where it was used as a more accessible alternative for malt. It was even rumored that George Washington, a brewer among his other titles, had a recipe for a pumpkin porter. The modern pumpkin ale incorporates spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger to complement the pumpkin, which is usually (but not always) puréed or chopped up whole and dropped right into the mash. Pumpkin ales are typically mild, smooth, and aromatic, but vary greatly depending on the brewer.

Across the pond, the Germans have been brewing their own their own fall seasonal for centuries: Märzen beer. Dating back to 16th century Bavaria, Märzen would be brewed in March and stored in caves or on the sides of hills so it could be preserved during the hot summer months. The strong, hearty brew was served at the first Munich Oktoberfest in 1810 to commemorate the marriage between Bavarian Prince Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The anniversary of their wedding was celebrated annually in the Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s fields”) outside of the city with Märzen as the signature festival beer. The 16-day Munich festival now attracts more than six million people a year, who consume 1.5 million gallons of beer. Märzen, also called Oktoberfest beer, has a robust, malty flavor with a toasty, warming quality that makes it the quintessential fall beer. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the first Oktoberfest, but you don’t need to travel to Munich to get a taste of German hospitality—you can find Oktoberfest festivities at the Buffalo Central Terminal (September 25), and at the Fall Festival in Ellicottvile (October 9-10).

Of course, the best part of fall seasonal beer is trying them, and there are hundreds to choose from. So raise your stein this Oktoberfest and make sure there’s some good beer in it. Here’s a rundown of some favorites:


Southern Tier Brewering Co.

Pumking lives up to its name, being light-years ahead of other pumpkin ales on the market in terms of quality. This is due to the fact that the guys over at Southern Tier use actual pumpkin purée in the mash, as opposed to just adding pumpkin spices or flavoring. The aroma smells strong of pumpkin pie, and I had to fight the urge to not take a fork to this thing and shovel it into my mouth. The flavor is also more pumpkin pie than pumpkin spice, with a sweetness that prevails but doesn’t get overpowering. At nine percent alcohol, it’s pretty potent, though the alcohol is masked by the downright deliciousness of the pumpkin pie flavor. Brewed in the spirit of Halloween, pour Pumking into a goblet glass, because it looks cool, and, it’ll let the aroma run free.


Great Lakes Brewing Co.

There’s nothing that Great Lakes brews that I don’t like, and their Oktoberfest is no exception. Ingredients include Munich malt, the name for the traditional German malt used in Oktoberfest beers, and Hallertau hops from Bavaria. It pours a clear amber color, with a perfect balance between bitter and sweet.


Magic Hat Brewing Co.

Phil Internicola

Pearl Street Grill & Brewery

76 Pearl Street, Buffalo

“There aren’t any specific rules for fall seasonal beers but they are usually malty with a toasted nutty character to them. We try to keep them balanced, not too sweet. Beers like Oktoberfest wouldn’t work any other time of the year. It’s by far our most popular fall beer for two reasons: It’s a classic seasonal beer. People get caught up in the festive mood. Number two: This happens to be an excellent beer. I’d put this beer up against Spaten any time. Asking me to choose my favorite fall seasonal is like asking me to choose my favorite child, but I tend to enjoy beers like the black IPA and beers with significant body and flavor. My seasonal pick is the black IPA paired with hot Buffalo wings.”

—jill greenberg & cory perla

Magic Hat is known for putting twists on traditional beer styles, and Hex is their take on Oktoberfest. Dubbed “Ourtoberfest” on the bottle, Hex is a heavy, malty German ale with hints of toffee and caramel and a slightly smoky finish brought on by cherrywood smoked malts. It has more hops than you might find in a typical Oktoberfest, but the flavor was a welcomed surprise.


Ayinger Brewery

This is the real deal, a traditional German Oktoberfest brewed in Aying, Germany, about 15 miles from Munich. A very drinkable, medium-bodied lager with hints of spices, caramel, and toffee. The beer is still brewed in accordance to the “Reinheitsgebot” purity law of 1516, which required brewers to use only three ingredients: water, barley, and hops. As far as I’m concerned, they can put whatever they want in it—these guys know what they’re doing.

Imperial Pumpkin Ale

Weyerbacher Brewing Co.

This might well be my favorite pumpkin ale if Pumking didn’t exist. Nonetheless, Imperial is stronger and heartier than some of his pumpkin brethren out there. While Pumpking has a sweetness that borders on a dessert beer, Imperial is darker and spicier, with lots of cinnamon, nutmeg, and a touch of cardamom. It takes a bit to get to the real pumpkinyness, but it’s there.

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