Anything but Cloves

Pass up the pumpkin ale in favor of these fall brews.

This week's On Draft started as a comparison of pumpkin ales, but after five brews, I decided that pumpkin pie spice was the patchouli of the food world. How anyone can tolerate such toxic levels of clove and nutmeg in their beer is beyond me. Pumpkin is just a wee category of fall beers, anyway, so I decided to broaden my horizons. I am as much a creature of convenience as anyone, and the last thing I want to do is yammer about brewing esoterica week after week. Since most of us buy most of our beer while also procuring our eggs and Oroweat, I cruised the local grocery stores to see what was popular by way of harvest beers. From lightest to heaviest, here are the most cart-worthy fall beers I tasted: Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen ($2.49 for 16.9 ounces): Why does this beer have two months in its name? Germans celebrate October by drinking the beer they made in March, with a tapping of the kegs and a grilling of the knockwurst. This top-drawer amber lager has a color near that of autumn leaves and a head so tight you could float a penny on it. The aroma is lightly nutty; it's heartier than most American amber but still approachable, and the flavor smooth. It will do your brats proud (try boiling them in some first). New Belgium Brewing Co. Saison ($1.40 for 12 ounces): New Belgium beers are a top supermarket grab, and this is the best drink-it-anytime fall beer. The one weird thing I've noticed about all of New Belgium's beers is the smell: like Red Vines. It must be their yeast. The farmhouse-style Saison starts out smelling like a rich, sweet ale, but the flavor is surprisingly light and the finish sharp. My husband, quick to distill everything in life down to a movie pitch, called it "High Life Does Belgium." Out of the mouths of the amateurs. Hale's O'Brien's Harvest Ale ($1.40 for 12 ounces): I forget how much I like this beer, malt and freshly picked Cascade hops living together in graham-crackery harmony. The Irish would be proud to adopt this brown. Its hoppy bite makes me want to finish my six-pack with a Crock-Pot of pork roast. Elysian Brewing Co. Night Owl Pumpkin Ale ($3.49 for 22 ounces): I purged my memory of all the liquid pumpkin pie I tasted except for this brew. I can smell the pumpkin, and the spices run more toward oatmeal cookie or carrot cake, with a definite ginger streak. The ale manages to be both fair and balanced, whether you like spiced beers or not. I'd drink this beer with either of the desserts mentioned above or with a very rich cheesecake.

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