It happens every year around this time: the days get shorter, leaves begin to change color, and breweries start putting pumpkin in all their beers. For some, this is a somber reminder that a Michigan winter isn’t too far away, but, for others, the thought of cardigans, corn mazes, and pumpkin spice lattes has been in the back of their minds since the first 90-degree day. No matter which camp you find yourself in, fall beers are a welcome reprieve from the citrus-heavy offerings of summer. I’ve come up with 10 fall-inspired Michigan beers (and a couple ciders), perfect for bringing to any tailgate or bonfire. Whether you like a brew reminiscent of biting into a pumpkin pie or you prefer a harvest ale brewed with freshly picked Michigan hops, the thriving Michigan beer scene has something for everyone this season.
The most popular fall beers these days seem to be the ones that are infused with fall flavors such as pumpkin, cinnamon, and/or nutmeg. While these are certainly not the only options for your autumn drinking pleasure, I would be remiss if I didn’t start our discussion there.
For many, this is the quintessential fall beer. Brewed with malted barley, real pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg, Ichabod takes a straightforward ale and infuses it with some of the best flavors of the season.
The addition of a little molasses to go along with the pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves adds a nice touch of sweetness to the Screamin’ Pumpkin. A light, crisp, and drinkable ale that gets more fragrant as it warms, this pairs well with a meal or is perfect for tailgating (it even comes in a can!)
Unlike most pumpkin-inspired brews, Arcadia doesn’t actually put any of the orange stuff in their fall beer. Instead, they add all the typical spices – cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg – to their wheat amber ale. The wheat adds a little sweetness and mouth feel to ensure the pumpkin isn’t missed.
Instead of adding the usual suspects (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc) to add spiciness to their pumpkin ale, Saugatuck decided to add herbal chai tea to impart those aromatic flavors. The result is a slightly drier and spicier take on a pumpkin beer. Though certainly not a dark beer, it does feel a little heavier than some of the other pumpkin ales.
If you’re not quite ready to get rid of the hoppiness of the IPAs that you’ve spent all summer enjoying, but you still want to join in on the pumpkin fun, this is the brew for you. Brewed with real pumpkin and the usual spices, but also teaming with Citra, Centennial, and Chinook hops, Hooligan is a hybrid beer that is truly the best of both worlds.
Way back in the 1500s, Bavarian lawmakers forbid the brewing of beer from April through September to ensure quality and consistency, since warm weather wreaked havoc on the beer. So, of course, when October rolled around, they kicked it into gear and celebrated their ability to brew again! While we don’t have to worry about the warm weather with modern technology, we certainly don’t turn down a reason to celebrate beer. Keeping with tradition, these German-style lagers are malt-forward in taste and amber in color, due to the German malt (Munich or Vienna) used. There is not an overwhelming hop presence in this style, as the malt is allowed to speak for itself.
In typical Short’s fashion, this is a unique take on a classic. With toasted caramel malt flavors and a slight spiciness imparted by the Noble hops, this is a complex and tasty version of the Oktoberfest.
Brewed with a traditional Munich lager yeast, Dauntless is very malt-forward, which is befitting of the style. There are just enough hops to balance out the sweetness of the malt, making it very drinkable.
Bell’s has been a pioneer in the beer scene with genre-defining beers such as Two Hearted and Oberon. With Octoberfest, however, Bell’s shows that they can also pay homage to a traditional style and do it justice. Octoberfest is lightly hopped and, like most beers in the category, exceedingly drinkable.
More a celebration of a successful harvest than a specific style, Harvest Ales feature freshly picked hops to give their beers a delightful and fresh flavor and aroma. Harvest Ales tend to be wet hopped, which just means that the brewers throw fresh hops in the fermenter to add flavor and aroma to a finished beer.
This wet-hopped Harvest Ale clocks it at 70 IBUs and has a very juicy and citrus-forward hop profile. This is the perfect fall beer if you are still craving an IPA.
Hops from Leelanau Peninsula are the star in this hoppy Harvest Ale. The hops add a hint of earthiness, and a little sweetness from the malt shines through. Short’s has been brewing this beer every fall since 2009 when it was brewed as a single batch.
I know, I promised a list of beers and now I’ve resorted to listing ciders; however, Michigan autumns and apples go together like Michael Phelps and gold medals. Here are a few of my favorites.
From the creative minds behind Short’s Brewing Co., Starcut offers four delicious ciders, though Squishy is my current favorite (and not only because the packaging is super cute). A semi-sweet cider made with Michigan-grown apples is blended with Michigan cherries which results in a ruby-red cider that finishes with a pleasing tartness. Short’s currently has a maple bourbon barrel aged version on tap, which is sure to be exceptional.
Adding pecans, cinnamon, and vanilla to a lightly-sweetened cider really pulls out the roasted qualities of the pecans and accentuates the cinnamon which screams “fall” to me.
As a small, family-owned newcomer to the hard cider scene, Painted Turtle has not been afraid to take chances which is evident in their Vanilla Java Cider. Blending their semi-sweet cider with vanilla and coffee from Schuil Coffee Company, this is a delicious and unique cider offering that successfully blends the bitterness of coffee with the sweetness of Michigan apples.
With great craft breweries opening constantly throughout Michigan, there are likely hundreds of worthy candidates to make this list that I have neglected. What are your favorites that I must try before Christmas music hits the radio and the Lions have been eliminated from playoff contention?