Pumpkin beers have been on store shelves since the middle of summer, and I think I've seen more pumpkin beers this year than ever before. I view pumpkin beers as a novelty, and am good for one about every three to five years. My novelty theory is anecdotally reinforced by the lack of pumpkin beers on draft at better beer bars. I searched TapHunter to find a pumpkin beer on draft and came up empty. No self-respecting beer snob is going to order a pumpkin beer in front of other beer snobs, unless it's The Bruery's Autumn Maple, but then that's brewed with yams not pumpkins.
Oktoberfest beers - once the only, but now the other fall beer style - don't thrill me, and unfortunately seem to have lost their marketing edge to pumpkin beers. It's akin to a classic rock band being eclipsed by a winner of American Idol or The Voice. A proper Oktoberfest beer is too malt-forward for me, and half a glass is about my limit. That being said, I do want to try Karl Strauss' Oktoberfest beer this year.
The best fall beers are fresh hop ales, in particular pale ales, IPAs and double IPAs. Fresh hop beers are also known as wet hop ales, and are brewed with fresh hops, not the standard dried hop pellets. Fresh hop IPAs are the wet hop sweet spot. Pale ales get the juicy taste but don't have the backbone to match the muscle of the hop bitterness, and the alcoholic strength of double IPAs detract from the hop freshness. IPAs provide the perfect mix of complementary malt and alcohol that showcase the just-harvested hop freshness. The best wet hop ales are highly juicy, like they were fresh-squeezed rather than brewed. They are intensely hopped, emitting a concentrated, terroir bitterness.
These fragrant, juicy ales should arrive at breweries and better beer bars over the next few weeks. Pizza Port Ocean Beach had its fresh hop Monkey Tail Pale Ale on tap last weekend, and its Get Wet IPA and a double IPA are expected sometime this week. Get these beers while you can. A fresh hop IPA is like cut flowers in a vase - beautiful for a short period, and once wilted there is no revival.
There are some bottled fresh-hopped beers. Port Brewing bottles its High Tide Fresh Hop IPA and Sierra Nevada has its Northern and Southern Hemisphere beers. These are fine beers, but the best way to enjoy a wet hop beer is to get it on draft at a brewery as close to its release as possible.