What the Bay Area may lack in dramatic, Norman Rockwell-esque seasons, we make up for in seasonally appropriate booze. From traditional favorites like pumpkin beer to more obscure specialties like sloe gin, these nine options are ideal for your Thanksgiving table, holiday party, or for simply sipping while enjoying the last days of fall.
San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery offers two pumpkin beers in their He Said four pack: a Belgian style tripel, and the He Said Baltic-Style Porter, a style of porter that’s sweeter and more alcoholic than the kind we see today. 21st Amendment’s version is dark and smooth, with a sharp sweetness from the Vietnamese cinnamon, and goes down dangerously light for its 8.2% ABV.
The He Said Belgian-Style Tripel is novel for a few reasons: instead of relying on stalwart pumpkin pie spices like cinnamon or ginger for their fall seasonal, they include galangal, a spice more often seen in curry paste; it’s rare to see a canned tripel; and even rarer, it mashes up a traditional European beer style with the very American, often maligned, pumpkin beer. It’s sweet without tasting obnoxiously pie like, with a slightly herbal bitterness from the tarragon, and it’s ideal for the beer snob at your table who thinks they’re too good for pumpkin beer. And if you’re interested in either of the He Said beers, act fast: they’re a seasonal release that’s not available after November.
Before the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice latte, before the pumpkin spice vodka, bagel and dog treats, there was Buffalo Bill’s Original Pumpkin Ale. As Serious Eats points out in their history of pumpkin beer, the Hayward brewery was the first to revive the pumpkin beer tradition that started in colonial America. The copper-colored ale—allegedly based on a recipe of George Washington’s—is light, sweet, and heavy on the pumpkin pie flavor trifecta of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. It can be polarizing, but if you’re looking for something authentically American to complement your heritage turkey, pick this one up.
The label on the Berkeley-brewed Bison Organic Gingerbread Ale promises light spice, and true to their word, the spices in this porter are subtle, and less sweet than most of others on this list. Chocolatey and on the lighter side, but with enough body and bitterness to balance the fair amount of ginger, it’s a perfect not too sweet holiday treat.
Upon opening Almanac’s Heirloom Pumpkin, you’re immediately hit with the sweetness of the caramelized pumpkins that went into it—1,000 pounds of local organic pumpkins, to be exact. It tastes sweet too, but not in the pumpkin pie kind of way: unlike the majority of “pumpkin” foods that instead taste like cinnamon and nutmeg, this tastes like the actual squash, complimented by a spicy sharpness from the brandy barrels it’s aged in. It’s a barleywine, so expect a heavy body and a high ABV, 12% in this case.
Sloe berries are common in the UK, where the plum relative is widely available during autumn. The most popular use for the sour berry is infusing it in gin to make sloe gin. Sebastopol’s Spirit Works distillery, using a family recipe and sloe berries from Europe, produces a remarkable version: the rich berry flavor compliments and softens the juniper, producing a velvety, just sweet enough liqueur that’s ideal to serve to the gin-haters in your life—or just to sip after dinner.
Like pumpkin beer, applejack was a popular drink in colonial America: it was produced by the country’s first distillery, Washington’s troops drank it, and it was even used as currency. For years, Laird & Company in New Jersey has been the sole makers of applejack. But recently, smaller outfits like the Novato husband and wife team behind Arkansas Black Applejack have started producing the booze formerly known as “Jersey lightning.” Their version is warm, barely sweet, with a strong apple flavor on the finish. Drunk straight, it’s potent enough to get you through any number of family holiday fights, but it’s also good in cocktails like a Jack Rose or Pomme en Croute.
Since 2011, Alameda’s St. George Spirits has produced an apple brandy for New York’s Eleven Madison Park, where it’s served at the end of the meal with chocolate-covered pretzels. This year, they’re releasing an aged version of that brandy, made with 15 varieties of California apples, and it’s extraordinary: smooth enough to sip, clean and woody from the oak barrels it’s aged in for 2 to 3 years, with a warm caramel finish.
Anchor Brewing never reveals exactly what goes into their Christmas Ale, released every year from November to January. This year’s batch is the 40th anniversary edition, a dark, slightly hoppy ale that’s subtly spiced and tastes pleasantly like toasted bread. Barely carbonated with a hint of fruit, it’s an ideal winter beer: rich, comforting yet not too heavy.