THERE IS NO BETTER TIME OF YEAR than the fall for drinking beer. Sure, there are people who will espouse the virtues of summertime drinking, what with the baseball games and backyard BBQs and all that, but this line of thinking is somewhat outdated, failing as it does to reflect the breadth of styles currently being offered by craft breweries. As temperatures begin to drop, and qualities like “refreshing” and “sessionable” become less important, a whole new world of flavor opens up to us: Beers become richer, heartier, more complex; they’re warming and comforting, the kind you want to enjoy alone in the calm of your living room late at night, or with friends and family over big holiday meals. Fortunately, many of our finest local breweries are churning out beers that will be a perfect match for the season.
An odd choice, perhaps, but let’s start with a beer that you probably won’t be able to get unless you become one of those weirdos who trades rare beers on the internet. On a Friday night in late August, Other Half Brewing announced that its first-ever bottled release would be going on sale the following morning, at $20 per bottle, with a limit of two bottles per person. Expensive, yes, but worth it for a labor- and time-intensive red wine barrel–aged version of their already delicious 10.5% ABV Imperial Stout. If you manage to track one down, drink it right away and marvel at the way the red wine characteristics blend with hints of dark chocolate. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on two, toss one of ’em in a cool, dry place and leave it alone for a year or two—it’s only going to get better.
Over in Queens, Singlecut Beersmiths is getting ready to release another barrel-aged beer. They’ve taken a batch of their awkwardly named but delicious Eric More Cowbell! milk stout and let it sit in Jamaican rum barrels, which will provide a pleasant oak presence, of course, but also a little bit of fruitiness.
Sixpoint is taking a different approach to their fall seasonal this year, with an IPA featuring hops that are added to the beer within 24 hours of being harvested. In the past, they’ve released versions of this “wet-hopped” beer at around 7% ABV; this time around they’re keeping it to 4.8% “to really allow the hops to shine without being overpowered by the malt or alcohol.”
There’s a bevy of activity going on at Brooklyn Brewery, too. The third installment of their B.Q.E. (Brooklyn Quarterly Experiment) series is Hand & Seal, a beer they’ve brewed to celebrate Garrett Oliver’s twentieth anniversary as brewmaster. It’s a big one: a 10% ABV bourbon barrel–aged barleywine they describe as “one of the richest, tastiest beers” they’ve ever released. Also on the docket from Brooklyn is the debut of their stellar lemon-tinged saison, Sorachi Ace, in four -packs of 12oz bottles. Previously available only on draft and in 750mL big bottles, it’ll be nice to be able drink one without having to head out to a bar or commit to getting loaded on 25.4 ounces of it.
For a fine take on a more traditional fall offering, consider KelSo’s Kellerfest, an unfiltered Oktoberfest, or Märzen, that boasts lots of caramel and toasted malts with a nice, big dose of spicy, earthy hops. They’re also planning an 8% Imperial Pumpkin Ale that, along with Barrier’s Saazsquatch Ale, which is brewed with butternut squash, honey, ginger, and Sichuan peppercorns, is among the only pumpkin-type beers worth tracking down—especially since most of the others have been sitting on shelves since the beginning of August anyway.