Top 10 Fall Beers for Tailgating and Winter-Prep

Oktoberfest campfires never tasted so good!

(first appeared in The Skinny) We’ve all heard it said before, with falling temperatures, burning leaves and football season in full tilt…”this is beer-drinkin’ weather”! Add on Oktoberfests, tailgate parties and community bonfires and there’s a spirit that resonates with all beer lovers, driving our lust to drink these special brews in the great outdoors before we move it inside for the winter.


To create this list of best fall beers, we called on Zak Rotello, beer aficionado and tap curator at The Olympic Tavern in Rockford, IL (28 beers on tap), for his expertise of seasonal brews. Zak tells us, “The important thing is to drink seasonally! A lot of breweries seem to be in a race to rush the seasons and beat the other guys to the shelf. Given that we’re in Northern Illinois, we do everything possible to prolong summer. We refuse to tap Oktoberfest brews until the last week of September, and pumpkin beers don’t hit our taps until October. There will be plenty of time to sit by the fireplace with a goblet of barley wine this winter. Why rush?”

TIP: The sheer number of fall styles can dumbfound even the most experienced beer drinker. Fortunately there are several excellent web sites and apps (BeerMenus.comBeerAdvocate.comPintleyRate Beer) that offer reviews and locations of thousands of beers, far beyond these Top 10 Fall Beers listed below. Prost!

Pumpkick (New Belgium) 6.0% ABVMade with cranberry juice and lemon grass in addition to the usual pumpkin and fall spices, Pumpkick has a pleasant tartness not found elsewhere on this list. From New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series, this beer’s a bit more easygoing then of last year’s “Kick”.
Ichabod (New Holland) 5.7% ABVIf you’re looking for a traditional pumpkin ale that doesn’t overwhelm (like you’ve just ate a whole pie), then this is the beer. Vibrant with pumpkin, nutmeg and cinnamon that leads the way to a complex aroma. The taste is very smooth, creamy and easy to drink with a nice balance of malts and hops. Even if you don’t care much for pumpkins, don’t be scared away from Ichabod.
Atom Smasher (Two Brothers) 7.7% ABVAlthough Atom Smasher flirts with the style, it’s much different from a typical Octoberfest, and it sparkles with flavor! You still get the bready malt with a toasty, caramel/spicy end, but the slight hop bitterness and oak barrel aging gives this beer a chardonnay like chew. How do ya do!
Flipside Red IPA (Sierra Nevada) 7.7% ABVSays Zak, “Flipside is a great new addition to SN’s lineup this fall, although it’s replacing a favorite SN Seasonal (RIP Tumbler). You’ll quickly fall in love with the aroma of this beer, and its wonderful balance of toasty malt with the Citra, Simcoe & Centenntial finish.” We concur!
Breakfast Stout (Founders) 8.3% ABV“Usually released twice a year, this is one of Founders’ greatest inventions…a sweet stout with coffee and chocolate. The alcohol is well hidden behind a massive wall of dark malt and coffee flavor,” states Zak. Breakfast Stout is a perfect cold weather beer and winner of the best beer label of this list!
Best Brown Ale (Bell’s) 5.8% ABV“The prototypical American brown. This is a perfect example of what to look for in fall beer with a huge amount of flavor from the malt, and an easy hop background. Food friendly, or great by itself.” –Zak Rotello. This is currently on tap at The Olympic and many other places with a smart selection and is one of our fall favorites.
Autumnal Mole Stout (Ska) 5.5% ABVSka has fun and that’s what makes their beer worth seeking out. This ale is brewed with cocoa nibs, spices and three varieties of chile peppers: Mulato, Ancho and Hatch green chiles, (also known as Anaheim Peppers.) Pitch black, it smells like it tastes, with mild pepper up front and a rich, toasty cocoa finish, tingling the throat all the way down. There may be some coffee and cinnamon notes afloat as well.
Red Zone (Prism) 6.6% ABV
Self-described as the Lady Gaga of the beer world, Prism’s Red Zone welcomes football season with this spicy fall Irish! They add a thoughtful blend of fall spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice) with local Pennsylvania maple syrup. The perfect beer to savor in the cooler weather, watching a game, or enjoying holidays with friends and fam.
Chasin’ Freshies IPA (Deschutes) 7.2% ABVNot your typical fall brew, Deschutes super smooth I.P.A. is the result of the Amarillo hops harvest. With a mix of pilsner malts and flaked oats resulting in a sweet biscuit front and ultra-fresh (not bitter) grassy hop finish, this beer shows that not all fall beers are created equal, and neither are all I.P.A.’s.
Okto Festival Beer (Widmer) 5.3% ABVFirst, the Widmer site is one of the best for learning about styles and ingredients as they tell you exactly what malts and hops they use. Okto hits a home run for a German style Altbier with a great balance of malts and hops. Medium and roasty, yet crisp and dry with a sweet finish and a surprise bitter hop ending. Widmer always has craft quality at affordable prices, allowing Okto to burn all night.

Like all seasons, there are a variety of choices and styles in the fall. Everyone has different tastes and preferences and this list is meant to provide a well-rounded recommendation. Think of it as just a starter to the awesome selection of fall & Oktoberfest craft brews available in any good bar or liquor department in your region. Enjoy them while they last!

You can find , tweeting about ways to save money @brentsheltonnow, or jamming the night away with Mana Kintorso.

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Brent Shelton

Brent Shelton

Brent is a home brewer with a passion for brewing lagers and continually modifying his recipes, a podcaster, dog lover, lead guitarist for Mana Kintorso, HeadTechie for Forest City Brewers [Rockford, IL] and PR dude for @BosparPR {San Francisco]. Follow him on Twitter via @BrentSheltonNow.
Brent Shelton

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