Dark Beer for Lighter Times: The Flyer's Fall Beer Guide 

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Autumnal Memphis evenings were made for light jackets and dark beers. Lucky for us, our local breweries have brewed up enough roasty/toasty beers to keep us cheerful well after we've raked the last of the leaves and put up the Christmas tree.

For this year's fall beer guide, we rounded up a bunch of the best Memphis seasonal beers. All are available in cans almost anywhere, so you can pick them up or have them delivered if you're uneasy about walking into a bar or taproom.

Some brewers haven't liked all of our staff comments in past beer guides. But our crew was asked to be honest. We taste and comment, not as beer experts, but as the typical Memphis beer consumers. (I mean, we don't even have Untappd accounts.)

But we did have expert help. As in years past, we had a beer wise man to help us understand the different styles and to pick out flavors of the beers we tasted. This year, Kelvin Kolheim, founder of Beale Street Brewing, shined a light on our path forward, joining us in an undisclosed Midtown backyard as a few staffers socially distanced, drank beers from a cooler, and wrote about them — as part of their job. Hell yeah.

There are plenty of beers to love on this list — and we did love some. But don't take our word for it. Grab a light jacket and a dark beer for yourself and (I can't believe I'm typing this) happy fall, y'all! — Toby Sells

click to enlarge PHOTOGRAPHS BY JESSE DAVIS
  • Photographs by Jesse Davis

Huggy Bear

(honey brown ale)

Memphis Made

This ale's been around the Memphis Made taproom before, but this is the first time it's in cans. So now you can take all that toasty, honey goodness wherever you go. — Toby Sells

I've never been a huge fan of browns, but this Memphis Made concoction was a pleasant surprise. The combo of roasted malt and hops flavors is offset by a few hints of honey tones to provide just a little bit of sweetness. — Samuel X. Cicci

Huggy Bear is a 5 percent ABV beer meant to comfort. It's sweet, but not overwhelming, with a subtle but persistent honey note and a smooth mouthfeel to help it go down easy. You might expect more bold flavor from a beer named for Starsky and Hutch's flamboyant streetwise ally, but that's not what Memphis Made is going for here. — Chris McCoy

Smooth. A little sweet and talkative like Huggy Bear. Unlike Huggy Bear, it lingers after the shit goes down. This beer is pimpin'. — Julie Ray

It tastes a lot like I just took a huge bite out of a dark chocolate bar. It's the perfect beer for a burger and a fire pit. — Matthew Harris

Huggy Bear is unsurprisingly sweet, given the name. It tastes a little like brown sugar and has a hint of dark chocolate. For me, it can't beat Fireside, but it would be a great addition to mix up a build-your-own six-pack. — Jesse Davis

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Calculator

(doppelbock lager)

Wiseacre

Calculator equals the fall afternoons we've been having: bright and sweet with a hint of those autumn flavors mixed in there. Extra credit: Find the "HELL.O" Easter egg in the can art. — TS

One thing Memphis breweries seem to be really good at is can design, and the Calculator container is proof of that. This is a malty doppelbock with a sharp finish, which might be a turnoff to some people, but not to me. — CM

Adds up to 0.7734 yeahs! Rich and dark — like I like my men and my beer. — JR

At 9.42 percent ABV, Calculator might just be the variable that balanced the equation for a drunken night. Two cans of Wiseacre's Calculator plus one Flyer writer equals a rough morning. — JD

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Crosstoberfest

(Festbier)

Crosstown Brewing

No Crosstoberfest event this year. (Thanks for nothing, COVID.) But Crosstown kept the Oktoberfest party rocking in spirit with its well-crafted Crosstoberfest beer. The beer would taste better in a one-liter beer stein surrounded by thousands of friends. Alas. Here's to 2021. — TS

Why do people in the know go on about German beer? The secret of Teutonic zymurgy is balance. The standard four elements of beer — hops, barley, malt, and water — are kept in careful proportion. That principle is in play in Crosstown's take on the classic Oktoberfest table beer. If you can't sit at a picnic table in Munich, this beer will take you there in your mind. — CM

You don't love it, you don't hate it, but you can't stop drinking it. The beer hits the full mouth, but it's not overwhelming or aggressive. To me, it's one of the best party beers I have ever drunk. — MH

This is the brightest Oktoberfest I think I've ever had. It tastes like a PBR or High Life but higher quality. You could easily drink these all day if you happened to be at a fall festival where such shenanigans were encouraged. — JD

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Oktoberfest

(märzen lager)

Ghost River

Darker märzens dominated Oktoberfest's early days, until the light Festbiers came along. Ghost River's märzen is a great example of the style. It had some odd sharp note that gave me pause, though. — TS

I really like this beer. Light and airy like falling fall leaves but heavy enough to rake a few bags for the curb. — JR

Making a well-balanced beer takes attention to detail. It's a passable enough brew for casual consumption, but its clinging, almost chemical aftertaste will get old after the first pint. — CM

It's beer ... In all seriousness, I have not had a beer that was just flat out of the can. It leaves a lifeless taste in your mouth after one swig. — MH

This one is warmer with a cutting edge to it. It's a bit like a flat Fireside. — JD

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Viva Las Lager

(honey lager)

Grind City

What a name! But after that, I didn't immediately take to this brew. It was light, and sweet, with a slight honey taste, but seemed a bit watery, too. In the end, it felt like it was lacking something. Afterward, I was notified that the sample was gluten-free. That explains it! — SC

This gluten-free concoction is not so much a beer as it is a beer-flavored hard seltzer. I didn't hate it, and it might find fans among the celiacs and the legions of White Claw cultists, but it will more likely than not disappoint discerning craft beer drinkers. — CM

Low calories. No gluten. No thank you. I only have so many hours for beer in my life. This ain't it. — JR

If you like La Croix, this is the beer for you. It's not bad ... but it's almost not beer. — MH

The Viva Las Lager is sweet as hell. It's not unlike a cheap white wine, with a hint of honey. This beer should definitely be named after Elvis Presley's Vegas era. It ain't no hound dog, that's for sure. — JD

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Scottish

(Scottish Ale)

High Cotton

Scottish is easily one of High Cotton's best (and maybe most sought-after) beers. It's a little spicy, a little nutty. While it's a perfect fall beer, it's available year-round (lucky for us). — TS

It's got a strong, thick mouthfeel to the point of being almost chewy. It smells fantastic — the best nose of any beer in this tasting. This is a near-perfect example of what Scottish ale is all about. — CM

It's like wearing a kilt with tighty-whities underneath. Bold choice while keeping the junk snug and comfortable. I really like this beer. — JR

It has a super-rich smell that pulled me in instantly. It has an initial heaviness but goes down smooth like a light beer, and with a light aftertaste. — MH

High Cotton's Scottish Ale is the ideal winter brew. It tastes like oats and nuts, and it would pair well with a hearty vegetable soup, a comfy chair, and a warm fire. — JD

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Soulbier

(dark lager)

Grind City

I'm a sucker for a nitro beer. Those tiny bubbles make the drink so velvety, rich, and smooth. Grind City's Soulbier does not disappoint on the mouthfeel. While it pours like 10W40, it drinks like a light beer. — TS 

The secret to the fine bubbles of the Guinness foamy head is the use of nitrogen to get the fizz instead of carbon dioxide. Soulbier takes that trick, as well as the chocolate malt for color. It looks big and scary, but it's actually quite effervescent, with a slightly bitter finish and big legs. — CM

What I don't like: It fizzles out very quickly and the taste is too light for my liking. What I do like: The aftertaste is a smooth soul song on the 8-track while riding in a Gran Torino. — JR

Grind City Soulbier tastes like darkness distilled and chilled, thanks to the addition of chocolate malt. — JD

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Starless

(schwarzbier)

Wiseacre

Wiseacre's description of Starless reads like a children's fantasy story. (There's a Mr. Raccoon and an Archduke Flying Bear.) The beer is, indeed, as dark as a starless night, but it drinks as cozy as a campfire. — TS

Wiseacre's got the toasted malt balance dialed in, and lost the stickiness in the aftertaste that plagues American schwarzbiers. A fine winter brew. — CM

Starless is a star! I fell happily into the raccoon's abyss (see the acid-trip backstory for reference). — JR

At first glance it looks like a dark beer. but after a sip it's clear that the beer goes down really smooth. The perfect beer for a night of stargazing and relaxing. — MH

I'm not going to be journalistic about Wiseacre's Starless — this is a good damn beer. — JD

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Alt-Radio

(altbier)

Memphis Made

Alt-Radio is packed with fall flavor. It's spicy and fruity. I wasn't sure what an altbier was supposed to taste like, but this beer made me a fan. — TS

I live for super-strong flavors and extra, extra, extra helpings of seasoning, and the Alt-Radio just screams flavor. Even with all the different components (Allspice? Nutmeg? A little pepper?), the beer still comes out smooth and easy to drink. — SC

If the words "cloves" and "allspice" turn you off, this might not be the beer for you. But I think it's worth a shot. It's certainly the most complex beer of the tasting. Memphis Made took a chance with this brew, and it paid off. — CM

First thing that hit my nose was an orangey/citrus aroma. Tasted clove and nutmeg. Finished with a heavy aftertaste. What we have here is a beer pumpkin-spiced latte. — JR

It smells like a spice cabinet but tastes amazing. It's not a traditional beer, but it's a damn good one. — MH

Totally drinkable, if a bit off the beaten path. — JD

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Burn the Witch

(black lager)

Meddlesome

Burn the Witch has the most metal name of any beer you'll drink this fall. My drunk-ass notes on this one say "Roasty and toasty! Good-ass beer!" I stand behind that. — TS

The black lager looks a little red when examined up close and provides a smooth feel that I don't usually associate with black lager. Overall, it was surprisingly easy to drink, with the dark malty tastes coming out almost like licorice. — SC

Black lager: It just sounds dangerous, doesn't it? Burn the Witch is what we should have been drinking at the nonexistent Halloween parties. It's bold, but quite drinkable. Highly recommended. — CM

This witch burns nicely. Crackles in the mouth. Aftertaste is warm — like glowing witchy embers. — JR

I don't hate the beer, but it's a bit too dark for me. The overpowering dark licorice taste of the beer feels like it's bullying me with every sip. — MH

Burn the Witch is dark, toasty, and tasty. I think I still may prefer Meddlesome's Broad Hammer Brown, but this is a nice autumn beer. — JD

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Hopnotizing Minds

("juicy" IPA)

Beale Street Brewing

We got a preview of this beer. It drops this Friday the 13th. DJ Paul and Juicy J fans will recognize the beer's name inspiration and its can artwork. It don't get more Memphis than that. — TS

The aptly named Hopnotizing Minds is, indeed, quite hypnotic with its can design that incorporates oodles of Memphis symbology. Scents of citrus floated around as I sipped and are a pleasant prelude to a mild hoppy flavor. And the citrus sticks around, too, leaving a great fresh taste in your mouth. — SC

The Great IPA Debate has been raging for the better part of a decade. One side says, "You're not a man unless you're swilling West Coast face-melters!" The other side says, "This stuff tastes like hay on fire." Beale Street Brewing takes the usual IPA tricks, like dry hopping and a citrusy punch, and tames them in this juicy tribute to Three 6 Mafia. Check out the killer can art from Holtermonster! — CM

This beer tastes like you just bit into a juicy grapefruit and tempts you to take more sips. — MH

There's no bitterness, and the hoppiness is within reasonable bounds. This is an IPA that's not trying too hard — and it's better for it, flavorful without being overpowering. — JD

Hatch Me Outside

(blonde ale)

Crosstown Brewing

Some of those pepper beers take it too far. Hatch Me Outside does not. The pepper flavor is right up front, but it won't burn you. Tastes so good and so real, I wondered "How'd they do that?" — TS

I'm not gonna lie — as a former New Mexican, seeing the big green chile design plastered on the front of the can sent me into giddy excitement when we first pulled Crosstown's latest brew from the cooler. While the brewery focuses more on the green chile taste than the spice level, I certainly wouldn't mind if they kicked the heat up a few notches in the next batch. — SC

How many times have I been burned by jalapeño- or habanero-flavored spirits? I mean that both figuratively and literally. It's a gimmick, but the Hatch Me Outside gets it right by emphasizing the vegetable flavors of the New Mexican green chiles. This would be great with a lime wedge. — CM

This is the beer to drink with heavy foods. Flavor is not overpowering — light kick and smooth finish. — JR

Hands down one of the best beers I have ever had. I don't know what magic Crosstown Brewing used to take green chiles and put them into beer, but they not only tried, they succeeded. — MH

This is alcoholic salsa. You can't convince me that Hatch Me Outside isn't equal parts green salsa and beer. This beer is just begging to be sipped between bites of a taco. — JD

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