BEER'S THE THING
As the weather turns crisp and chilly, beer preferences change from light sours and refreshing watermelon beers to suds with a bit more substance. The sheer number of choices, thanks to the fast-growing craft beer movement, makes it almost overwhelming to choose the best budget-friendly brew in a style that complements fall dishes and cool-weather events. With a little help from a friendly beer professional, Cheapism created this essential guide to delicious, well-made beers for fall that cost about $2 a bottle.
There's something about pumpkin and the accompanying spices that combine so well with beer. Brewed with real pumpkin, this beer style is one that many beer drinkers hanker for as the release date approaches. It's also one that can be rather costly. Shipyard Pumpkinhead and Saranac Pumpkin Ale offer flavor-packed bottles of this seasonal favorite without spilling beyond the cheap zone.
Related: 11 Ways to Cook or Bake With Pumpkin
As the outside temperatures settle into a stable chill, beer drinkers typically reach for more substantial brews that are comforting and warming. Porter is a heavier, often creamier, style that satisfies palate preferences for dark, hefty beer. Founders Porter is a robust, velvety beverage with flavor tones of chocolate, vanilla, and caramelized malt, and slightly over 6 percent alcohol.
Infused with actual vanilla beans during the brewing process, which leaves a perfumed scent in each sip, vanilla beers have become popular over the last decade. They're a little lighter in alcohol and body than porters, though certainly not in flavor. One affordable option is Breckenridge Vanilla Porter, a dark beer that's full of chocolaty and roasted nut aromas that add a touch of coziness to cool autumn evenings.
Brewed longer and higher in alcohol, Oktoberfest beers start their journey in March and are traditionally enjoyed during fall Oktoberfest festivals. Known for its crisp drinkability, this style tends to be malty with plenty of caramelized and biscuit-like flavor. Zachary Mack of Alphabet City Beer Co. in New York City describes it as "a party beer with a purpose: to be drunk by the stein." Two options that are cheap yet true to this full-flavored style are Festbier from Victory Brewing Co. and Hoss by Great Divide Brewing Co.
While the flavor profile of fall is caramelized and spice laden, having a light and refreshing beer on hand is always a good idea. Southern Tier Harvest Ale is a balanced and snappy early autumn choice. It's an extra special bitter that's more assertive than an ordinary bitter, aka pale ale, with lingering flavors of baked bread and a strong hoppiness reminiscent of a fresh pile of leaves.
Pilsner is a light lager style that originated in the Czech Republic. The various brews display subtle differences depending where they were produced, but generally present a balanced profile — sweet and earthy bitterness with a light, foamy body. An inexpensive and widely available option is Firestone Walker Pivo Hoppy Pils. Noted for its easygoing character, the refreshing citrus and lime zest flavors let drinkers imbibe a fair amount without overwhelming the palate.
Sour beers are bright and tangy, often appealing to those who enjoy wine as well as beer. Their piquant acidity makes them light and refreshing even while delivering a load of flavor. Peekskill Simple Sour is one of the best fall beers for its straightforward flavor and dry finish, qualities that let it stand on its own or accompany classic harvest dishes such as pumpkin pie and rich casseroles. This is easy to find on tap, often as one of the cheapest draft pours.
Stout is typically a rich and full-bodied beer that is the perfect companion for the cooler side of autumn. Milk Stout Nitro from Left Hand Brewing Co. might attract a crowd owing to deep flavors of brown sugar, coffee, and hints of vanilla that linger under a malty and bitter chocolate finish. Nitrogen, rather than forced carbonation, creates the effervescence, which leaves a velvety texture that pairs well with the strong body. Bold flavor for just a few dollars a bottle, this is a choice pick for chilly fall nights.
Perhaps the most popular style of beer in the U.S. right now — if you go by the press coverage and beer sales in major coastal cities — IPA is a hop-forward style favored for its bitter and fruity overtones, which pair well with food. Founders All Day IPA is the brewery's response to demand for an inexpensive beer loaded with refreshing hoppiness. This low-alcohol beer is ideal for all-day sipping, as the name suggests, and a friendly companion for back-to-back sports watching.
Pairing beer with desserts is a growing trend, and there's no better time than fall to indulge this taste, as home bakers return to their ovens in cooler weather to show off their baking skills. Sin Mint Temptress from Lakewood Brewing’s Seduction Series is an imperial milk stout sweet enough to be dessert on its own and may taste familiar to fans of Girl Scout cookies everywhere. The fresh mint flavor, ornamented with chocolate and cool finish, serves as a perfect companion to cookies and s’mores.