unusual fall beers that aren't pumpkin

Long before fall pumpkin fever became an annual American epidemic, there was pumpkin beer. Unlike pumpkin spice cheese and pumpkin spice Dole Whip, colonists were brewing with pumpkins out of necessity, not novelty. “The founding fathers were trying to make their brewing malt stretch since most of it was coming from England and costing them a fortune,” says Tyler Jones, executive brewer for Black Hogg Brewing Co. “Using what was on hand…to get sugar for their brew was logical and frugal.”

Trick or Treat?The Origins of Pumpkin BeerNowadays, despite an abundance of alternative fall produce, pumpkin beers dominate the seasonal market, a fact that would perplex early American brewers considering the familiar orange squash doesn’t offer much of anything in the brewing process. “Pumpkin alone does not impart much flavor, says Alexis Albert, brand manager for Branded Brewing Co. “Many pumpkin brews use additional spices or flavoring to create those ‘tastes of fall.’”

In fact, several “pumpkin” beers don’t even contain any pumpkin at all. That’s not to say there aren’t some great pumpkin beers—Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale and Cigar City’s Good Gourd always impress—but if you’re looking to capture fall in a bottle (or can) plenty of other options abound.

Rye Sweet Potato Soufflé – Odd Side Ales

Though this Great American Beer Fest gold medal winner certainly rises to the occasion, the flavor profile leans more in the direction of pie than soufflé. At the forefront, there’s the filling represented by a decadent combo of old ale, sweet potatoes, traditional pie spices and a light caramel booziness that shines through as a result of six months of aging in rye whiskey barrels. The grain bill, which includes a touch of rye, provides a crust-like backbone while the addition of lactose acts as a welcome stand-in for whipped cream. Combined, these elements offer up a hearty slice of pastry beer perfection.

Carrot Cake – Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery

Virginia’s Lickinghole Creek prides itself on brewing bold beers that defy convention and the nine percent A.B.V. Carrot Cake certainly fits the bill. Fresh carrots—courtesy of nearby Van Dessel Farm—provide a subtle yet distinctive sweetness and orange tinge to the hefty imperial amber base. Cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, cloves, and vanilla beans are added to the mix, allowing the beer to live up to its pastry billing. Cream cheese frosting sold separately.

Wheat ‘n’ Potatoes – Banded Brewing Co.

This low A.B.V. session I.P.A. from Maine’s Banded Brewing is the perfect vehicle to highlight two of the Pine Tree State’s signature crops. Locally sourced potatoes (of the savory variety) are tossed in the mash along with wheat, oats, and additional malts to provide a soft mouthfeel, moderate haze, and slight dryness that allows the hops (of the citra variety) to shine. The result is an easy sipper that’s ideal in the fall, winter, spring, and summer.

Beet Weiss – Crane Brewing Company

Crane offers a wide variety of Berliners brewed with everything from tea to kumquats, but Beet Weiss is the one that put them on the map. The boldly-colored root brings slight vegetal notes and a berry-like sweetness that work harmoniously with the tart wheat beer base. As great as it tastes, the beer’s appearance is the real showstopper—a striking electric crimson that is sure to entice Nosferatu and his fanged ilk.

Delicata Squash Saison – Black Hogg Brewing Co.

Black Hogg proves you can keep it in the family when it comes to pumpkin beer alternatives. Freshly picked delicata squash—seeded but skin-on—takes center stage alongside white peppercorns and cinnamon in this gorgeous farmhouse ale. A little bit funky, a little bit creamy, a little bit spicy, this is the quintessential beer to help amp up your fall leaf-watching experience.

Candy Cap – Kent Falls Brewing Co.

While this magical mushroom stout from Connecticut’s first farm brewery won’t alter your mind (at least not in that way) it will satisfy your taste buds. The fungus of choice here is the namesake candy cap which provides complex earthy notes and its signature maple aroma. That sweet scent is enriched by the addition of toasted maple bark harvested from trees growing onsite. If you’re looking for the ideal beer addition to any boozy breakfast, this is it.

Related Video: How to Open a Beer with Another Beer

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David is a food and culture writer based in Los Angeles by way of New York City. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, CBS Local, Mashable, and Gawker.
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