PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- As much as beer lovers look forward to the fall, taking in all the beer it has to offer can get a little daunting.A fan of pumpkin beer, are you? It's been on shelves since July. Want a beer brewed with fresh hops? You're just about out of time to taste one. Love some Marzen and Oktoberfest beer? Well, if you didn't get over to Munich and have some Spaten, Ayinger, Paulaner, Lowenbrau, Augustiner Brau or Hacker-Pschorr -- or didn't get to your U.S.-based Hofbrauhaus -- you're left with either not-so-fresh imports or reasonable local facsimiles of said Bavarian brews. We're not even a month into actual Autumn yet, but the beer aisles and tap suggest the season is almost over. Fortunately, there are a lot of breweries and beers out there that aren't such sticklers for beer dogma and don't feel that fall selections should be limited to regions with hop vines, brewers with piles of canned pumpkin sitting around or German imports. Somewhere in the middle is a lovely little group of malty, smooth and ingenious brews that stick out among the seasonals. They don't smell like handfuls of hops, don't taste like a rack full of pie spices and aren't generally served up in liter steins. But these 10 fall-friendly beers will get you through the rest of the season without boring you by winter.
Long Trail Brewing Bridgewater Corners, Vt. Yes, it's out during the hop harvest, but those little, bitter green cones aren't the only things being plucked this time of year. For brewers a bit removed from the hop trellises and the floral, citrusy brews their hops produce, "harvest" means making the most of what's around. Long Trail, which has been making beer in Vermont long before hop-addled neighbors such as Hill Farmstead and Heady Topper-producing The Alchemist opened shop, still sees the value in the mild brown ale favored by the first generation of microbrewers. Long Trail's Harvest flows over a drinker's palate with hints of brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup and roasted nuts and, at 4% ABV, is timid enough to have more than one by a crackling Southern Vermont fireplace.
Great Lakes Brewing
Cleveland In a state steeped in some fine German brewing tradition -- and home to Hofbrauhaus locations in Cincinnati, neighboring Newport, Ky., and a planned hall in Cleveland itself -- having some easy-drinking Marzen around is just a smart move. Great Lakes, with its huge Cleveland brewpub and menu of pretzels and sausages, is just the kind of brewery you'd want to brew it, too. Using a classic Marzen recipe, Great Lakes' take is smooth, deeply amber and just a bit maltier than a traditional Oktoberfest, but is also a bit more potent at 6.5% alcohol by volume. The Munich malt gives the Oktoberfest its trademark flavor, while a little caramel malt give it the pleasant color that beckons another sip. By going easy on the Mount Hood hops and not messing with an already beloved formula too much, Great Lakes Oktoberfest gives U.S. drinkers perhaps the best approximation of a true Munich Oktoberfest they'll find on these shores. It's worth savoring.
Southern Tier Brewing
Lakewood, N.Y. Let's explain something about an Extra Special Bitter style of beer really quickly: There's often little "extra," and it's almost never particularly bitter. For a brewery such as Southern Tier to make one, especially when it specializes in high-potency imperial brews, it requires a bit of forbearance. Using a modicum of English hops for some bittering and flavor, Southern Tier is content to let those hops give off a pleasant pine aroma while leaving all of the heavy lifting to the milder, sweeter malts. With a deep, ruby color and a flavor that's part caramel and part hop bite, Harvest has enough of a presence to remind you of its 6.7% ABV, but enough mellow flavor to keep you snug as sweater weather sets in.
Downington, Pa. We understand that, in Pennsylvania, it's tempting for a brewer such as Victory to put out its own Marzen and join the state's big German brewing party. This is the same brewer that produces Hop Devil and Hop Wallop, though. It's going to use a heavy hand during the hopback, and its version of Oktoberfest beer proves no exception. But so what? Again, they're in a state in which far older, more traditional breweries fall all over themselves to make the perfect Marzen. Victory's own little touch, which adds a little more hop bite to the flavor, pierces that smooth layer of Vienna and Munich malts and gives a drinker just enough of a respite from its sweetness to catch his or her attention. At 5.6% ABV, it isn't nearly as strong as its hop content would suggest. It's also just mild enough to sneak into the Oktoberfest mix and pleasantly surprise drinkers normally put off by a malty style.
Full Sail Brewing
Hood River, Ore. One of the better parts of the fall beer season is the transition from the lighter offerings of summer to the dark porters and stouts of winter. This lager -- a take on the dark Czech Cerne Specialni -- is effectively a bridge between those two seasons. Though not a porter or stout -- or an ale at all, for that matter -- this limited-edition offering is still packed with caramel and chocolate malts that give it the chocolate and coffee notes usually reserved for those styles. Full Sail brewed this as a 7% ABV holiday warmer and plans to keep it around from October through December, but it's a brew just as suited to the early portion of that limited run as it is to the later, more wintry days at its end.
Brooklyn Center, Minn. There was just about no way that this off-center brewery was going to play it straight and put a traditional Marzen into its 16-ounce tallboy cans. Oh, there's Vienna malt in it, but it's overpowered with Sterling Hop aroma and beaten back by three kinds of rye. Those expecting a sweet, malty flavor better brace for some dry, biscuity bite to go with those hop overtones. The "fest" is in there, but -- in fairness to Surly -- they never mentioned nor tried the Oktober portion. This one stands on its own all-American merits.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Milton, Del. While the beer geeks were out playing with their hop vines, it just happened to be wine grape harvest season as well. Dogfish founder Sam Calagione realized this at a West Coast beer-and-wine dinner and decided to put those two hands together. Using a witbier -- the citrus-and-coriander tofu of the beer family -- as his base, he fermented a batch with some pinot noir juice before aging a percentage in pinot noir barrels and another portion in oak. Once blended together, they make a 10% ABV brew that's a refreshing, robust departure from everything else on this list. It even comes in a 750-milliliter bottle that's just at home in a beer fridge as it is in a wine rack. Our recommendation: Find a nice al vino (aka Drunken Goat) cheese and enjoy another side of harvest season.
Abita Springs, La. We've tried our share of hazelnut brown ales, and there always seems to be one element missing: any trace of nutty flavor. Abita smells like roasted pecans and has a bit of pecan flavor at the end. In between, there's a whole lot of Munich, biscuit and caramel malt that tilts it a bit toward Oktoberfest territory but lands firmly in smooth, sweet brown ale territory. At 5.1% ABV, it's a tasty little fall treat that will make a fan consider seconds. In prime pecan pie season, it deserves a place at the table.
Anchor Brewing San Francisco Anchor's craft beer history dates back to former owner Fritz Maytag's tenure with the company, but every so often it throws out a new variety that's worthy of as much attention as its flagship Anchor Steam Beer. This year, that favored brew is Bigleaf Maple Red. While teeming with malt and sweetened with just a touch of maple syrup, all of that mellow fall flavor is belied by a strong undercurrent of Nelson Sauvin, Citra and Cascade hops. This isn't some Northeast, leaf-peeping fall seasonal. It's a 6% ABV West Coast red ale with a bit of fall flavor mixed in. Like some of the early foliage, however, expect this one to disappear somewhere around late October or early November.
Sierra Nevada Brewing
Chico, Calif. As dispiriting as it is to see a full display of Christmas decor at Costco in September, it's conversely uplifting to see cases of this beautiful brown ale in that megastore's beer quadrant at the same time. Sierra Nevada is known first and foremost for its heavy-handedness with hops. When its already hoppy Pale Ale proved too mild for expanding taste, it backed up a few more truckloads of hops and dumped them into its increasingly popular Tornado IPA. Even its winter seasonal, Celebration, is loaded with Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops and drinks more like an IPA than a winter warmer. While the brewery's Flipside Red IPA takes a similar tone for fall, its more traditional Tumbler is the antithesis of a typical Sierra Nevada beer. The flavor is just about all malt, with roasted caramel, chocolate and smoked malts giving it a deep brown body and a nutty flavor. At 5.5% ABV, it's also one of the mildest beers in the Sierra Nevada lineup, which makes reaching for a second a bit more palatable. Sierra Nevada has already established that it knows its way around a hop. During this time of year, though, it doesn't hurt to work a little magic with malt. -- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: email@example.com.