The Flyer's Guide to Fall Beers 

The best (and not so best) of autumn's new brews take us to the dark side.

Leaves litter the lawn, crockpots crowd the counter, and it's pumpkin spice as far as the eye can see. All of this can only mean one thing: The fall beers are here!

Beers change with the seasons, a fact many Memphians know thanks to the city's maturing beer scene. Shandies, pilsners, and light lagers are great for the summer heat, but beer lovers bundle up when the mercury falls, layering on full-bodied beers — stouts, porters, and brown ales.

"When it's 100 degrees in Memphis, nobody really wants a hearty stout," High Cotton Brewing's Nikko Carlson says. "Fall gets us transitioning to a darker style of beer: a little more body, a little more residual sweetness."

To help guide you through what's on tap and in stores this fall, I once again assembled The Memphis Flyer editorial team: Chris McCoy [CM], Chris Shaw [CS], Alexandra Pusateri [AP], Bianca Phillips [BP], Micaela Watts [MW], and, Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden [BV]. This intrepid squad gathered once again at Central BBQ's downtown location and tasted more than 16 beers.

This year I also recruited some local experts to taste with us and give us their takes on the season's bounty. Mike Erskine [ME], Mike Brown [MB], and Richard Heath [RH] all have years of experience brewing beers, judging beers, tasting beers, and, of course, just drinking beers.

High Cotton's Carlson played spirit guide, explaining the various styles and fielding any questions we had about beers, flavors, the brewing process, and more.

Everyone found something they really liked, and a few they didn't. But that's how you learn. It's time to try new things and embrace beer's dark side. — Toby Sells

click to enlarge The Flyer staff hard at work - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • The Flyer staff hard at work

Wiseacre Brewing Company: Neon Brown

I'm not a huge brown ale fan, but I love this beer. Nice malty body, balanced with a hop finish. — MB

The aroma imparts some hops, while notes of coffee and chocolate tend to come through in the flavor. The finish is an assertive bitterness. I guess I prefer the more balanced English brown over the American counterpart, but that doesn't make this a bad beer. — RH

Pretty similar to Newcastle, except maybe with a stronger bite. Really good local version of a brown ale. The aftertaste doesn't linger, so very drinkable. — CS

These days, many craft breweries are approaching their brown ales like their pales, pumping them with more and more hops. With its Neon Brown, Wiseacre sticks to a more traditional American brown model, with chocolate and caramel flavors and mild hop notes. — ME

Memphis Made Brewing Company: Hundo IPA

Hops are flowers, and this floral IPA makes the most of their flavor and aroma. One of the best IPAs I've had in a while. — CM

Memphis Made IPAs are different to me than most other IPAs on the market. There is a lot more malt-forward flavor, and the 100-percent Centennial hops offer a nice hint of pine, but not overly bitter. — MB

The aroma is slightly more earthy that some of the more common American IPAs, making me think almost of an English IPA. There is a solid, supporting malt backbone with just a hint of some caramel. The hops provide a nice bitterness in the finish. — RH

A great IPA, and probably one of my favorite Memphis Made beers that I've had. Is this on tap anywhere? It should be. — CS

Memphis Made has experimented a lot with IPAs, with varying degrees of hoppiness. Hundo is easily one of the brewery's best. Hundo's Centennial hops give it shades of Bell's Two-Hearted Ale, nicely balanced by dark Munich malts. — ME

Cheery, zippy, palate-friendly. Nice color. Easy to drink. — BV

High Cotton Brewing Company: Island Wheat

Fantastic and refreshing mango aroma with a great balanced, light body and hop finish. I would drink more of this in the summer than the fall, but look forward to sampling again. — MB

A wheat beer with a huge tropical fruit aroma as a fall seasonal? Maybe they want to take your mind off the cold and whisk you away to a warm beach. Whatever, it works! This light amber-colored beer packs a wonderful mango nose that continues into the taste along with grapefruit and a smooth, silky mouth-feel. — RH

Almost tastes like fruit punch compared to what we've been drinking. Pretty good. I wouldn't drink a six pack of this, but it's great after a fall work day when the temperature hasn't dropped yet. — CS

Take a whiff, and your nose will be filled with pineapple and mango. Sip it, and the fruity hop flavors take center stage in this nice American wheat. — ME

This is the beer I'd drink after mowing my lawn — on Christmas Eve. — BV

Memphis Made Brewing Company: Fireside

Classic amber. Dig it. — MB

This amber-colored beer has a bready, slightly sweet malt flavor with a subdued hop bitterness leading into a medium finish that makes for a very pleasant, easy drinking beer. — RH

Probably not a beer you'd drink in the dead of winter, but it's perfect for fall. — CS

Malty grossness. — AP

Pretty sad they had to drop the Ninja from the name, but the beer is still the same delicious amber beer I fell in love with last season. Drinkability that's dangerous. — BP

I could drink this by the fireside any night. This is a nice, mellow amber. — ME

Accessible, tasty, reminiscent of the Wiseacre Oktoberfest. — BV

click to enlarge Kendrea Collins - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Kendrea Collins

Fat Bottom Brewing (Nashville): Java Jane Coffee Porter

The Wiseacre Gotta Get Up To Get Down proved that mixing two seemingly different flavors—coffee and beer—can work great in the right hands. This is another worthy entry in the coffee-stout race. — CM

Big coffee aroma backed up with a well-rounded flavor. Being a porter, the body is a touch lighter than most other coffee beers, which are often stouts. Fantastic. This was hands down my favorite. — MB

Strong coffee taste and smell. A porter can seem intimidating, but the coffee base for the beer is approachable and kind to even uncultured palates. — AP

The nose alone on this coffee porter would be enough to wake you up. The coffee flavors are intense, the dark malts help provide some balance, and the porter finishes with a nice sweetness. — ME

I'm not feeling this coffee stout as much as the other ones. The coffee overpowers all other notes, except for some stubborn malts that keep hanging around even though they've been told by the coffee to go the fuck home three times now. — MW

If Starbucks were smart, they'd jump on this for the drive-through. — BV

A perfect breakfast beer! There is a heavy aroma and taste of fresh-brewed black coffee along with just enough roasty malt and hop bitterness. And, at only 4.2 percent ABV, you can have a second! — RH

High Cotton Brewing Company: Paul's Rye

Starting with a pleasant aroma, this beer is tight all around. It comes on strong, then cleans itself out, leaving virtually no aftertaste. I'm not an IPA fan, but this is delicious. — CM

Doesn't have the big aroma I expect out of IPAs, especially after being told it was double dry-hopped, but this is a solid, balanced beer. The malt sits forward with a light hint of the rye. — MB

This seasonal release takes the spicy, peppery notes of rye and adds them to a balanced IPA. Very drinkable. Not as heavily hopped as some IPAs out there, this allows for the rye, along with sweet caramel and bread-like flavors of the malt, to come through. The finish is crisp and dry with a lingering hop bitterness. — RH

It has a very sweet smell, and tastes kind of like candy before the hops kick in. Smells like you walked into a candy store but has a pretty strong bite. I didn't think I liked rye IPAs, but this one is great. — CS

Definitely a far more balanced IPA than the norm. There is a spiciness that could ease non-IPA fans into embracing it. It's definitely a starter IPA. The malt definitely comes through in the taste. — AP

This is my idea of a perfect IPA. The right amount of hops. Not too floral. I could drink a growler of this. Right now. — BP

This is also a hoppy beer for folks who don't like hops. Somehow, I'm tasting flowers and butter all at the same time, which blows my mind. There is a lingering aftertaste, but I ain't mad at it. — MW

Ghost River Brewing Company: Midnight Magic

Without the extreme heavy mouth-feel of a big stout, this beer is tasty, but it seems rather neutered, like a dark beer for people who are afraid of dark beers. — CM

The flavor doesn't back up the aroma. Light, roasty, and very little body. — MB

One of my favorite local fall beers. It has a slight pine flavor and a toastiness that reminds me of a campfire. I look forward to this one every year. It's dark without being heavy. Nothing against heavy stouts and porters (love those!), but Midnight Magic is a lighter beer, so I can drink five or six (or 10, don't judge). — BP

The name has changed and the recipe's been tweaked, but Midnight Magic remains a solid black ale. — ME

This beer is roasty with a medium body. I'd classify it as a "Stout Jr." Coffee-esque and smooth. If you've ever wondered what it would feel like to lick a velvet painting (just me?), try this beer. — MW

Drinkable even for a lighter beer fan. — BV

This thick, oily, black beer would go well with a cigar around the firepit on a cool fall evening. Big and bold, it has a roasty aroma and flavor with hints of coffee finished off with a dry bitterness. — RH

click to enlarge Chris McCoy - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Chris McCoy

Blue Pants Brewery (Madison, Alabama): Fall Festbier

This combination has lots of hops and leaves a weird aftertaste on the back of the tongue. Unbalanced. — BV

The hops arms race continues unabated, creating lip-puckering concoctions that seem like they're only drinkable on a dare. While this beer does have a strong hoppy flavor, it's actually pleasantly integrated into the overall taste profile. It'll wake you up, but not smack you in the face. — CM

I love hoppy beer, so this drinks smooth to me. I don't get the malt sweetness I was expecting in a fall beer, but instead get blasted by the great piney aroma and a finish that is nice and bitter. — MB

This "Hoptoberfest" is billed as a combination of Oktoberfest and IPA, and, somehow, it works! You are first met with the aroma of pine and citrus, with the piney, resiney hop character dominating the taste as well. The malt backbone, while not dominant like in a true Oktoberfest, does support the hops quite well. — RH

Smells like an IPA, tastes like an IPA, meaning I like it immediately. Excellent beer with a piney and citrusy taste. The first one I could drink more than one of. If you like bitter IPAs, you'll love this. — CS

Hoppy as fuck. Tastes like a goddamn flower. Somebody get this out of my mouth. — BP

A blend of an Oktoberfest and an IPA, it's the IPA half that truly shines. The malt flavors are scant. The beer has a strong piney nose, followed by a surprising hop bitterness for a fall beer. — ME

This beer is the game-changer in our tasting. It has a super-floral, citrusy nose. It's definitely hoppy, but delightfully so. Brewed with hops that can win over hop-haters like myself. It's balanced, flavorful, and kinda naughty. Basically, this beer is a woman I'd like to date. — MW

Yazoo: Fall Lager

If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. Flavor just falls flat. Oops, I still said it. — MB

An Oktoberfest by another name, perhaps? Copper-colored, slightly sweet caramel notes up front, and a light hop bitterness. Just slightly too sweet for my palate. — RH

A crisp, strong fall beer, slightly sweet, with a light brown color. Seems like it could be a session lager (does that exist?), and maybe a good beer to tailgate with before a November football game. — CS

The beer had an off-putting sour taste at first, but then something magical happened, and it took on a yeasty flavor. It's like sourdough bread is baking inside of my freakin' mouth right now. I like it, but liking it makes me feel kinda dirty. Probably 'cause it's from Nashville. — BP

Yazoo's seasonal offering lacks the malt punch you'd expect from a fall beer. It goes down smooth, but it's almost bland. — ME

Flashy like a Nudie suit. Reminds me of the CMA awards. — BV

Wiseacre: Oktoberfest: Gemütlichkeit

A nice malt-forward, smooth body with a light hop finish. This well-balanced beer has become my favorite of the Oktoberfest beers in our market. — MB

This local version has an ample bready malt flavor with a slightly assertive hop bitterness that leaves a taste in your mouth that makes you want to come back for more. — RH

Smells sour but has a smooth finish. There are a lot of different flavors going on, but it didn't overwhelm my palate. A pretty standard Oktoberfest, however the aftertaste was slightly watered down. — CS

Good solid Oktoberfest. Creamy-ish. Slight hoppy aftertaste. Tastes like how fall smells. This beer is definitely my favorite Oktoberfest this year. — BP

This crisp, malty märzen is full of flavor and perfect for the cooler days ahead. A standout. — ME

Smooth, nutty, with a vague sweetness and a medium body. If it wasn't considered a "problem," I'd enjoy this beer with breakfast on bleak fall days. — MW

New Belgium Brewing Company (Fort Collins, Colorado): Ben & Jerry's Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale

If you're gonna make a gimmick beer, make it good. This one is not. — MB

With a name like that, coming from NB and B&J, this one has to be good, right? Wrong. I have no idea what their thought process was here, but this overly sweet, slightly salty mess should never have ended up in a glass. — RH

Doesn't really taste like ice cream or a brownie, but the caramel comes through. And it's delicious. — BP

I expected a more compelling beer with a name like that. It's malty and sweet and not very good. — ME

I'm super let down by this beer, considering the affection I have for both New Belgium and Ben & Jerry's. Fail. — MW

Tallgrass Brewing Company (Manhattan, Kansas): Buffalo Sweat

Now this is how you make a stout. I love this big, chewy beer from its rich head to its swirly dregs. Very complex in taste, yet not so overwhelming as to make you want to stop after just one. It's perfect. — CM

A great example of an oatmeal cream stout. Roasty, yet sweet and creamy. — MB

Tastes like pouring coffee on mash potatoes and then drinking it through a straw. — CS

I was happy to see Tallgrass enter the Memphis market this year. Their Buffalo Sweat — try not to think about the name too much — is one of the better oatmeal cream stouts I've tried. — ME

I shall call this "The Invisible Beer" because I'm not entirely sure I just swallowed anything. Don't shout "stout" if you can't back it up. — MW

Tastes just like Buffalo Sweat. Mission accomplished! — BV

Come drink with us.

The Memphis Flyer's first Crafts and Drafts event starts Saturday, Nov. 14th at 10 a.m. (Yes, that's a perfectly fine time to start drinking beer.) It's free, open to the public, and takes place in Crosstown at the corner of Autumn and N. Watkins.

High Cotton's ESB and Chocolate Rye Porter and Memphis Made's Fireside Amber and Hundo IPA will be there. If you want a beer from Memphis history, Goldcrest 51 will be on tap. If seasonal stuff isn't your bag, many fine beers from Miller and Coors will be there.

Food trucks will be on hand to give you a slight break in between beers.

Also, more than 40 local vendors will bring the "crafts" part of Crafts and Drafts with a curated exhibition and sale of original art and handmade goods.

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