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Fall Brews to Choose

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It's that wonderful time of year when we wake to a chill in the air, and the leaves turn magnificent. Wait, this is Southern California. So to celebrate fall, we do things like brew special potent potables to commemorate the season -- deeper, darker, and spicier. Here's a rundown of some of the fun stuff out there now, with two wild cards -- a new cider from a cherished longtime producer and a beer from New York that's too cleverly marketed to ignore.

Almanac Beer Co. Pumpkin Sour Ale
The ale, a fascinating entry in Almanac's Farm-to-Barrel Series, is brewed with pumpkin and spices and then aged in bourbon and wine barrels. Yes, both, so you get that fuller liquor feel from the former and the sharper sour from the latter. Far from gonzo about the gourd, it's more about the sour wild ale, but it stops far short of a challenge beer, too. Nutty, spicy, lactic, and lovely -- fun to pair with full-flavored foods.

Anchor Brewing Co. BigLeaf Maple Autumn Red
Ever miss the comforts of AM radio when it still played music, including all the ones you grew up with, and can still sing at a moment's notice? BigLeaf is the beer equivalent of those golden days. Copper-colored in the glass, full-roasted malts on the nose, hip enough to have New Zealand's hot Nelson hops as its bittering agent. And then just enough maple for flavor, not sweetness. Your beer (6% ABV) for raking leaves, assuming you found a deciduous tree somewhere.

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Anderson Valley Brewing Fall Hornin' Pumpkin Ale
A bit more spice than pumpkin, but so often seasonal beers go for the markers of the season. This ale has that down -- it's not really cinnamon, which comes off sweet, but hearty allspice and nutmeg. This easy-going ale is good drinking, especially at 6% ABV.

Aurum Cider Co. Wildcide Hard Cider
Don't let the name fool you -- this new cider is made by veteran Dan Gordon, one of the co-founders of Gordon Biersch. Contents: apples. Check out most ciders, and shudder at the length of the ingredient list. This tastes as pure as it's made, clean and almost an apple wine. You'll want to bob for these apples (Fuji, Granny Smith, and Red and Golden Delicious). Pair with everything from pork chops to cheddar.

Eel River Brewing Co. Raven's Eye Imperial Stout
This isn't seasonal, but a Russian Imperial Stout (RIS) dark as night, with a name that recalls the haunted Edgar Allan Poe in many ways. (He drank a lot, you know.) Eel River from Humboldt County is 100% organic, and this stout has plenty of coffee, licorice, raisin, and kick (9.5% ABV). Raven's Eye might not be as deep as some RIS (like North Coast's Old Rasputin, say), but it's a fine way to end an evening.

Shmaltz Brewing Co. Death (of a Contract Brewer) Black IPA
From the makers of He'Brew Beers, this isn't just an attempt to ride the once trendy black IPA wave. It celebrates sevens -- seven malts, seven hops, 7% ABV -- and that leads to an incredible complexity, with unusual accents like licorice and a whiff of burnt leaves (how fall). Shmaltz used to be contract brewers, now have an actual location in Clifton Park, NY, hence the name shift to sell for the season.

Stone Collaboration (with Juli Goldenberg and Monkey Paw) 24 Carrot Golden Ale
The fifth annual winner of Stone's home brewer competition, Juli Goldenberg came up with this "carrot-caked inspired Belgian-style ale brewed with carrots, cinnamon, raisins, and vanilla beans." To create the beer for mass market, Stone turned to San Diego local fave Monkey Paw for help to brew this unique, vivid ale. You'd swear there's cream cheese icing in there, but not in a scary way. A fine dessert beer, especially at 8.5% ABV.

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