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8 Ales for Fall Holidays

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Halloween is a gift that keeps giving. If you like things classic and sweet, there's the evocative nostalgia of the Margaret O'Brien featured part of "Meet Me in St. Louis." If you like things contemporary and dirty, there's the whole world in a naughty and more than likely zombified fill-in-the-blank costume. And if you like to drink, there are not only lots of parties but also lots of special brews. To prepare you for the big weekend (and beyond, as many of these will make fine Thanksgiving pairings, too), here's a look at eight spooky, pumpkiny, and in one case ooky ales, mostly from California.

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Alesmith Evil Dead Red
With all the newer, flashier breweries in the malty mecca that is San Diego, it's easy to forget these guys who simply make great beer. The Evil Dead Red packs a host of hops and malt into its caramel core, plus it does pour red, its ABV is supposedly 6.66%, and the bottle features crude yet cutely drawn bats and undead. What more could one want?

Anderson Valley Brewing Co. Pinchy Jeek Barl
The one misfire of the tasting was from the usually reliable brewers in bucolic Boonville. It has almost a buttered popcorn taste -- is it aiming to be the beer for folks who like those big chardonnays? -- not tons of that bourbon despite being aged in Wild Turkey barrels. The burnt notes on the finish make you wonder if it's from those popcorn kernels that got stuck in the popper for awhile.

Avery Brewing Pump[ky]n
Not a beer for everyone as it clocks in at over 17% alcohol; even as a 12 oz. bottle it's meant to be shared. But as a huge stunt beer, it's sort of wonderful; a porter aged in bourbon barrels (hence the KY for Kentucky) that you taste and smell to the point you'll feel like you fell into one. This ever-adventurous brewery from Boulder, CO has made beer on its way to sherry.

Aztec Brewery Noche de Los Muertos
An imperial stout brewed with cinnamon from Vista, CA, you get more cocoa than the spice, actually, plus this is one of the most highly hopped of the beers in this tasting, so you also get that good pucker balancing the sweet. You'll be feeling the Night of the Dead yourself if you drink more than a bomber of this, as it clocks in at 10.2% ABV.

Bruery Autumn Maple
As with much of the product from this cherished Placentia brewery, you have to like Belgian-style ales, with their distinctive sour yeasts, to enjoy Autumn Maple. But if you do, that tang balances the maple and yam -- it's brewed with lots of yam -- flavor. Perhaps break it out with some gingerbread cookies or a pumpkin pie. In a word, complex.

Coronado Brewing Co. Punk'in Drublic
This one gets props for the clever spoonerism name and some perfect balance for a surprisingly big ale at 8% alcohol. It seems more squash-y than pumpkin-y, if that distinction makes sense, and there's spice, but not so much you feel you've been to the bakery. A good place to dive into the pumpkin ale scene.

Ska Brewing Aztec Molé Stout
Think of this beer from Durango, CO as the smaller cousin of the Aztec; while the flavors and alcohol (5.8%) are less, it makes up for that with a hit of chile spice. Think more chipotles in adobo than something like the pepper punch of Ballast Point's Habañero Sculpin Ale. That heat, plus the coffee and cocoa, make for a lovely quaffer that would no doubt match with molé delectably.

Uinta Crooked Line Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin
Somewhere between the Coronado and the Avery you might find the Uinta, a "mere" 10.3% alcohol, and not so much a woodshop like the Avery, but still bringing the oak. This beer from Salt Lake City is just scary enough, and pumpkin enough, to give you a good Halloween thrill.

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