Like flannel and seasonal lattes, beers laced with spice and squash may have become more of an indicator of seasonal change than the weather itself. Lucky for us, Charlestonians have their pick of widely available fall beers and some even better local options.
First of all, know that if you're looking for the latest seasonal beers from local producers, you likely won't find them on the shelf at your favorite bottle shop. Your best bet for finding non-flagship local beers is to go directly to the source. (Just in case you needed an excuse to stop in at a local brewery.)
For instance, you can find COAST's excellent Hop Art IPA and 32/50 Kölsch year-round on store shelves, but you likely won't be able to taste their take on Oktoberfest. Poured cold right from the brewery cooler tap, COAST's bright orange version isn't your traditional beer garden brew, but satisfies nonetheless. Full-flavored and slightly sweet up front with a tiny bit of spice, the beer mellows as you drink it while retaining the heft of a nice transitional weather brew.
If it's traditional Oktoberfest beers you're after, like the ones thrown back across the pond, steer away from the brown and orange-labels that land on shelves this time of year from the national brew houses. Instead, look for imported Marzen or fest-type beers (or just ask the storekeeper, it's likely the type they would buy too, so they'll know what you're looking for). Grab any Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen if you see it, but it may already be snapped up by mid-October.
One exception might be Sierra Nevada, which partners with a German brewer each year to produce a limited release Oktoberfest-style beer here in the States. This year's creation with Brauhaus Miltenberger in Bavaria produced a deceiving brew that drinks bigger than it looks. Its pale amber color belies the strong, complex flavors that run through the beer. Mild initial tastes give way to sweet and slightly bitter, but satisfying flavors. Snap this one up if you see it on store shelves too.
Some local releases may get wider distribution, though. Revelry Brewing Co.'s Eden's Lot landed in bottles last month, and it's worth grabbing if you're looking for something a little more tart and funky. This American Brett beer brings bright, sweet tropical flavors at first, with a bit of the slightly bitter Brettanomyces funk coming in soon after, complementing the passionfruit and guava used in brewing.
Don't resign yourself to pumpkin spice lagers this fall. With so many quality beers available around town now, there's no reason to stick to the basics.