Put these brews in your growler and guarantee yourself a fine fall season of beer drinking.
Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen makes me want to turn down the whole peninsula's thermostat. In German, Märzenbier means "March beer." Traditionally it's brewed that month, lagered over the summer, and served during Oktoberfest. Ayinger's Oktober Fest-Märzen has a spectacular pour: clear, deep amber with a finger of stark white head. The malt forward style does not disappoint. A pronounced caramel sweetness in the nose translates pleasantly into the flavor. The body is bold and round, drinkable but chock full of character. Can't go wrong with 600 years of German beer drinking tradition.
The beers made by Brouwerij Boon in Lambeek, Belgium, vanished from Charleston last year. Luckily, they have returned this fall. Boon produces traditional Belgian lambic, a spontaneously fermented sour beer aged in oak barrels. Boon's cloudy Oude Geuze blends differently aged lambics to produce a tart and complex beer. An 18-month-old lambic is mixed with a bit of both 3-year-old and fresh lambic to make this version. Oude Geuze pours a hazy light-orange with a billowing head. The dense nose sports lemon, sour apple, vinegar, and musty funk. Biting citrus flavor notes wrap around a malty backbone, carried by effervescent carbonation. At 7 percent a.b.v., it's strong, but the price is low given its authenticity. If you're new to the roots of sour beer, this one's an excellent gateway.
This is a fall beer roundup, but Westbrook Gose (pronounced "GO-suh"), arguably the local beer of the summer, deserves a nod. It's great for summer not just because the cans are portable and outdoor-friendly but because it's refreshing, thirst-quenching, and only 4 percent a.b.v. Gose is made using a centuries-old, nearly forgotten style of German wheat beer recipe characterized by a tart sourness (via a sour mash) spiced with salt and coriander. Something about that initial lemonade-like shock balanced by the salt makes this a magical heat antidote. If you didn't sit in the sun and drink one of these this year, you should rethink your priorities. Fall around here is usually warm enough to require a cool refresher.
Palmetto's Aftershock returns again this fall. The specialty brew harkens back to the Great Earthquake of Aug. 31, 1886 that decimated Charleston but left standing the original Palmetto Brewery, which was back to brewing within a week. Three months after the quake, ye olde Palmetto brewed a beer for a post-earthquake extravaganza. Palmetto's modern Aftershock is a "Carolina Common," their twist on California Common/Steam Beer, a likely candidate for old-timey, warm-weather brewers. It tastes like a clean, full-bodied lager, popular at the time, but is fermented with yeast that doesn't require a standard lager's cold-conditioning. The aroma is all biscuity malt, but the malt flavor is cut by razor-sharp hop bitterness. That interplay makes for very well-balanced lager. Even better, Palmetto donates a portion of every six-pack sale toward earthquake relief in Japan.
Devotees of North Charleston's COAST Brewing have been bowing to Boy King since its initial 2009 release. This most regal of Double IPAs has garnered national acclaim, holding ratings of 96 and 99 on BeerAdvocate and Ratebeer. Many Double IPAs are overly bitter, unpleasant bombs. But COAST is all about balance. Boy King's malt goes toe-to-toe with Cintra hops, bringing an intense tropical fruit nose, solid bitterness, a key note of syrupy sweetness, a huge chewy mouthfeel, and requisite belly-warming to the table. While it's tough to improve, the recipe undergoes constant tweaks. A Vienna malt was added to the recipe a few versions ago, and Galena hops were used in the boil for the first time this year. At 9.4 percent a.b.v., it's deceptively drinkable, so take heed.
"Adjuncts," or unmalted fermentables, are funny things. Rice and corn are routinely derided as cheap shortcuts used by macrobrewers to produce bodiless swill. With Stillwater Classique, Baltimore-based gypsy brewer Brian Strumke seems determined to obliterate the hate. This so-called "Postmodern Beer," packaged in a badass 12-oz. can, is boldly made with rice and corn, but also Pilsner malt, Cascade hops, and saison yeast. The result is a flavorful, 4.5 percent a.b.v., straw-colored beauty, leading with an elegant, floral nose from the hops and yeast esters. The body is tame but never thin. Classique is the offspring of Stillwater Premium, originally brewed at Westbrook, but Classique is made without funk-inducing Brettanomyces yeast.
Timmons Pettigrew is the author of Charleston Beer: A High-Gravity History of Lowcountry Brewing, and co-founder and editor of CHSBeer.org. Follow him @CHSBeer.