Hot Takes, Quick Tastes: Let’s Drink Some Fall Beers

In Beer Reviews by Karl

Since it’s well past Labor Day and there’s a whole hell of a lot of brown ales, porters, pumpkins and Oktoberfests to drink, here’s a quick check-in with some of the beers we’ve been enjoying lately.

Finally, Labor Day is way back in the rear-view-mirror and while we might still be mourning the end of another summer, I think that most of us are really loving these sixty-degree-high days where you can throw on your best hoody, crack open a Bell’s Best Brown and luxuriate in some Pure Autumn Feels.

So yeah, you don’t need 1000 words about this pumpkin ale or that wimpy festbier. Let’s just get you some info on what’s good, or what could have been better. I mean, if you’ve got $10 to burn on a sixer or a 4-pack of cans, and you’re in front of a wall of seasonal beers, what should you get?

Let us help you dial it in a bit.

Bell’s Oktoberfest:

A nice surprise from a brewery that hasn’t made this for the better part of a decade Sweet, toasty, crisp, clear, a solid lager. Not super flavorful – I would ask for some amped up malt and a little thicker body for a nice sticky feel. Just a dash of lightly herbal hops for a kiss of Germanic character. Easily repeatable if not entirely craveable.

Anchor Porter:

Exceptionally nutty and fruity – lots of plum and red grape. Pretty much absent the roasty coffee malt flavors and the piney, bitter, needle-sharp hops I tend to crave in a porter. Relatively light bodied and not really scratching the itch I get for porters.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest:

It pours deceptively light-colored, a straw-gold that is a major contrast from the crayon-brown that I expect from the style. But it hides a nice, deep buttery caramelness with a little kiss of simple syrup on the end, augmented by some nice grassy hop character on the end. There’s a slight haze to it but otherwise it’s nice, light and sparkling — if I had this poured for me at a Cicerone exam I’d have a tough time nailing this as a Oktoberfest, but it’s still an entertaining beer. I ain’t mad at it. I’ll look elsewhere for something to scratch my true Oktoberfest itch.


I dunno, man. Surly just hasn’t been ringing my bell lately, other than a Todd the Axe Man here and there — I certainly understand why that’s $14 for a fourpack. This, however…thin, flabby, minimal nutty malt character and just a quick flyby of American hops. Some lagers can be light, crisp and still retain a lot of character but I’m not getting that here. Not sure why…but my most recent pass at a Furious left me bummed out a bit too, and not just because I was paying ballpark prices (and before you ask, yes, it was only packaged 7 weeks before I cracked into it for my last beer during a Sox/Tigers game at the Cell). What’s up, Surly? (This beer was received gratis, unrequested.)

Arcadia Jawjacker:

Starts with a weird zip of orange Crush soda. Nose is not much more than a lot of nutmeg — maybe a touch of allspice. Kinda dull flavors. Muddy. Not refined. Medium body, and you get the amber malts but not much pumpkin spice character. Earthy bitter hops on the finish have a long, dry, harsh tail that obliterates any lingering pumpkin character.

burnt city oktoberfest fall beers

What up, #Oktoberex.

Burnt City Oktoberfest:

First, how can you not like a beer that features a T-rex with a hat on. What dinosaurs have to do with a German holiday I don’t know, but I’m not really asking questions because at a certain base level, it just makes sense. I look forward to more dinosaur matchups with other drinking seasons — a Santa Stegosaurus Winter Warmer, for example.

Anyways. I’ve been a fan of the Atlas/Burnt City beers for a while now, and this one is another good example of their apparent ethos – squared-away, dialed in, and a nice and clean example of the style. A little sweet, nice and easy drinking, and the only Oktoberfest I currently am hanging onto one last can of in my fridge because I want to savor it.

Goose Island Oktoberfest

A few years back, I ranked this as a solid “s’allright.” Nothing more, nothing less. This year they’ve turned up the volume on the sweet nutty malts and made a real quality true-to-style Marzen that I was surprised to find myself quite enjoying.

Southern Tier Pumking

I think it’s safe to say that the King is back. Or at least well on his way.

For about 3-4 years running now, I’ve been more and more let down by the previous gold standard for pumpkin beers: Pumking. Once capable of inducing madness amongst the pumpkin-minded, Pumking over the last few years had (to my palate, at least) dropped in both flavor and body in favor of something a little milder and easier drinking for the larger array of drinkers that Southern Tier was able to sell their beer to. I can still remember the first draft pour of Pumking I had at Hackney’s in the South Loop back in like 2008. I barely recall the disappointment of last year’s bomber aside from the shrug I gave it.

This was a real bummer to folks like me who just want a massive wallop of pumpkin pie packed into 22oz. of liquid. The pumpkinsanity of the last few years has certainly faded overall — I haven’t even had a single pumpkin spice latte yet this year, and I’m usually good for two or three of those high-calorie syrup-bombs — and ST has apparently decided to return to the game of rich, roasty, rough-edged pumpkin goodness with a big punch of graham cracker crust that really pleased me this time. I think I might grab another one tonight. They’re only like $7, anyways.

Bells Best Brown

Two Hearted is the perfect IPA. Oberon is the perfect wheat beer. And if Bells only had Best Brown as a third and final beer, they’d still be batting 1000% because it’s the perfect brown ale. Love this beer.

This has been Hot Takes, Quick Tastes. As always, if a beer is received gratis, we will disclose at all times, including birthday beers. If you’ve got a beer you’d like us to try, we probably won’t accept it (we ignore most “hey want some free beer” emails because we’re happy to buy our own), but you can try to email us and maybe you’ll catch us on a good day.

Bonus points if you can name the brewery flight in the lead photo. No one has yet.

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About the Author



Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Thrillist, Time Out Chicago, AskMen and more. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, is now available via Amazon and other booksellers.If you're buying, he's likely having a porter or a pale ale.

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