Unlike wearing white shoes, there's no rule against drinking witbier after Labor Day. Truth is, though, there's no real category for September beer. It's not quite cold yet, but it's no longer hot, and the seasonal ales of fall are already sharing shelf space with summer beers. This quandary is less like spotting Santa figurines moping next to jack-o'-lanterns and more like having your blackberries and cider, too. There's nothing like Indian summer for the variety—of weather, food, and beer.
When one day calls for refreshment and the next for comfort, what makes the perfect Indian summer ale? Exaggeration intended, it should be the liquid version of being outside in your favorite sweater—no jacket required—with the still-warm sun on your face and a cool breeze crawling up your sleeves. From burnt gold to dark rust, Indian summer ales fall on the beer continuum somewhere around amber. They're a little deeper in flavor than witbiers, but should still have a thirst-quenching, invigorating quality unlike the intense browns of autumn.
Consider these ales early fall essentials:
A six-pack of Pyramid's Broken Rake inspired this column. When I found it, the Broken Rake was aptly—if unintentionally—nestled between a Kolsch and a pumpkin ale. Anything pumpkin should cool its jets for a few more weeks, and light, fruity Kolsch just doesn't seem to cut it right now. The Broken Rake is a light amber ale that has a mild, nutty aroma and sweetness with an oomph of extra hops. It tastes even better straight from the tap—maybe before that Mariners game you've been meaning to catch, grasshopper.
The beautifully balanced Fish Tale Organic Amber Ale, from the Fish Brewing Company in Olympia, dials down the hops in favor of malt. The beer comes off like a "winter light" to me. It has a mild, toasty aroma of malt and graham crackers, but also a citrusy edge that comes through in the end. I also taste a few subtly spicy notes, a great teaser for winter seasonal ales.
Eager to get a jump on fall, Widmer's OKTO has been on the shelf for weeks. It's a faithful homage to Oktoberfest brews, which are somewhere between lagers and amber ales. Compared to its German brothers, this beer is much more easygoing. The OKTO has a malty-sweet flavor at the start and a lagerlike zing on the finish. It's a beer for mixed company, something for everyone to enjoy and not much for anyone to dislike.
Belgian-style saison ales, otherwise known as farmhouse ales, are the archetypal Indian summer beer, traditionally served through harvest time. Every craft brewery is producing Belgian-style beers these days, but saison ales are less common. Bison Brewing's Farmhouse Ale from Berkeley, Calif., is a knockout rendition of the type (bonus: It's also organic). It smells and tastes like the last bits of summer—all creamy lemon, sweet spice, and shortcake. The heady aromas hint at a much heavier drink, but this saison is lighter than expected, with a clean, hoppy finish.
Stock up on your fall beers because they do sell out fast—but don't give up on summer just yet.