Pumpkin beers are great. I could dive into that statement more, about how pumpkin beers balance spice and rich, dessert-like flavor and create a perfect sipper for watching football on a chilly Sunday, but that would be wasting words. Pumpkin beers are great.
That being said, they’re not all “fall beer” has to offer. “Fall,” as a concept, has a richer flavor palette than simply tossing some pumpkins into the mash and calling it a day, and a whole bunch of creativity can be used to find some comforting and fun beers. With that in mind, I scoured the Pittsburgh beer scene to come up with my five choices for non-pumpkin-related beer you should definitely hunt down this spooky season.
Penn Brewery — Oktoberfest
800 Vinial St., North Side. pennbrew.com
Sometimes, you shouldn’t overcomplicate things. Shut up and play the hits, etc. Which is to say, Pittsburgh’s most iconic fall beer has to be Penn Brewery’s Oktoberfest. If you think of German-style beer in the city, you think of Penn, which has been brewing under its current name since 1986, with the original brewing space dating back to the 1940s. Oktoberfest is one of its staples, pouring a classic orange-ish color, with a roasty and nutty taste that is as drinkable as it is hearty. At 5.5%, it's balanced and perfect for consuming outside on a fall day at their taproom, or in the comfort of your own backyard.
Dancing Gnome — Okta
1025 Main St., Sharpsburg. dancinggnomebeer.com
I’ve certainly done my fair share of “research” on the subject of the best fall beers, but I was still curious as to what other Pittsburghers thought about the topic, to see what I may have missed. And never one to go against the will of the people, I had to include the overwhelming favorite answer that I got, Dancing Gnome’s Okta, a 5.2% Märzen-style lager. It’s a gorgeous expression of caramel and malty fall flavor, but I may as well just do a movie trailer-style cut-up of people raving about it. “It’s the finest fall beer in town.” “I could die happy with this local stunner.” Or simply: “Okta, Dancing Gnome.”
Arsenal Cider House — Snowbound Cinnamon
Various locations. arsenalciderhouse.com
I don’t purport myself to be any sort of expert when it comes to cider. While certainly enjoyable, I don’t always grasp the nuance of what makes something great in that particular world. However, I do have this particular piece of analysis to offer: “Oh, yeah, that tastes really good.” And that’s what Arsenal’s Snowbound Cinnamon achieves. It packs a wallop at 8.5% but drinks far smoother than that. It feels a lot like their core cider base, but the addition of copious amounts of cinnamon gives it a completely different twist, more a perfect beer for a fire or a pumpkin patch. (Speaking of which, you can catch Arsenal at Soergel’s Orchard all fall.)
Brew Gentlemen — Mexican Coffee
512 Braddock Ave., Braddock. brewgentlemen.com
This is a little bit of a changeup, but a worthy one. There aren’t many styles that Brew Gentlemen doesn’t do an excellent job with, but Mexican Coffee deserves an extra special shoutout. The 6.5% stout isn’t a Märzen, lager, or traditional “fall” style, but it’s a once-a-year release that captures everything you want out of a stereotypically cozy fall beer. It uses coffee that’s as fresh as humanly possible — usually sent to BG the day after it’s roasted. They then add vanilla and cinnamon, creating a roasty and rich stout, made for sipping. (Also, if you ever get a chance to try the barrel-aged version, run and do so).
East End Brewing — Big Hop Harvest Ale
Various locations. eastendbrewing.com
A little beer nerdy here, but let’s talk whole-cone hops. Unlike “dry hops,” which are processed, pelletized, and able to be used for a long period of time, whole cone hops or “wet hops” are as fresh as you can get and must be used within a couple of days of being harvested. Therefore, East End’s Big Hop Harvest Ale is a uniquely fall beer in that it can literally only be made during this time, while they get their hop harvest from Hop Stop Farms in Mercer County. Expect a fresh, dank, and hoppy beer here that you should seek out when you can.
Of course, this is leaving out a whole host of great beers, so if you’re around any of these places and see them around, try and scoop them up:
Cinderlands — Danville Train
Voodoo — Schnitzeniggle
Four Points — Märzen
Trace Brewing — Festbier
Golden Age — Oktoberfest
Hitchhiker — Oktoberfest
Abjuration — Oktoberfest Märzen
Two Frays — Gemütlich Märzen Lager