Fall in the high country is winding down. A few breezy days have stripped most of the golden-orange leaves from the aspen trees, and the cold days and nights mean that Arapahoe Basin and Loveland are leading the snowy charge by opening this week. But before we say goodbye to autumn and hello to ski season, let's take one last fond look at some crisp fall beers. Like those aspen leaves, much of this season's beer selection has been stripped from local liquor store shelves, but a few tempting brews are still clinging on and are worth grabbing up.We know that cooling weather demands spicier beer with a clean finish for sun-spotted autumn days, but what else makes certain brews the perfect companions to this dwindling season?"While we do choose seasonal ingredients for our fall beers, there is also a historical context for how these beers came to lend themselves to the fall season," said Jennifer Glanville, brewer for Samuel Adams. "Traditional Oktoberfest beers, like Samuel Adams Octoberfest, are marzen-style lagers. The term marzen - German for the month of March - gets its name from the last month in which the beer was traditionally brewed." Before refrigeration, Glanville said, March was the last month that beers could be "lagered," or put into cold storage, to survive the warmer summer weather. "By doing this, the beers could age during the summer and be enjoyed around this time of the year for the annual fall harvest," Glanville said.Oktoberfest lives onMunich's annual party to end all parties drew to a close on Oct. 7, but the festive spirit lives on in Oktoberfest brews. Though not all brewed in the marzen style, lager Oktoberfest beers claim a large chunk of the fall brewing market. David Courtney, of Beaver Liquors in Avon, said a couple of favorites that can still be found at his store are the Santa Fe Brewing Oktoberfest, a lighter, lager-style, sessionable brew, and the New Belgium Red Hoptober, which is darker but also easy-drinking.Hoptober has also been popular at Riverwalk Wine & Spirits in Edwards, said Tim Consadine, along with Beck's Oktoberfest, another traditional marzen-style lager brewed in Germany. He said he's also sold a lot of the aforementioned Samuel Adams Octoberfest."Our Octoberfest ... blends together five roasts of malt to create a brew complete with sweet flavors, including caramel and toffee," Glanville said of the Sam Adams incarnation. "The malty sweetness found in Octoberfest pairs well with some of my favorite fall dishes, such as bratwurst and roast pork."Mickey Werner, of Alpine Wine & Spirits in West Vail, said the Sam Adams brew also has been a popular one at his shop, along with Left Hand's Oktoberfest. Left Hand brews in the marzen style, starting in the spring and eating up two months to get the beer to its medium-bodied lagered finish."Oktoberfest beers have a deep red amber color that itself is characteristic of autumn and the color of the changing leaves, together with a rich malt complexity," Glanville said.Don't shy away from pumpkinOne of the great things about being a woman is that you can drink fruity beer without worrying what your friends will think or whether it will somehow ruin your masculinity. I'll happily guzzle a framboise or a shandy alongside an IPA or a stout because, as they say, variety is the spice of life, and I want to grab it with both hands.Consequently, pumpkin ales are my favorite fall style of beer. Brewed infrequently in limited batches, they disappear quickly. There are still a few six-packs of pumpkin brews to be had here and there around the valley, so stock up while you still can.Consadine said Riverwalk is home to a diminishing supply of Tommyknocker Pumpkin Harvest Ale, brewed with a bit of molasses and spice, and Woodchuck's Pumpkin Cider, a private-reserve selection that combines Woodchuck's signature cider flavor with a pumpkin finish.Also spotted around the valley this month were Dogfish Punkin Ale, which comes in at a higher price point and is packaged in a four-pack, and Uinta Punk'n Harvest Pumpkin Ale, one of my personal favorites. If you're looking for something a little more main stream that's a little less flavorful to ease you into this style of beer, try Shocktop Pumpkin Wheat or Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale. Both of these beers dial down the pumpkin and spice ingredients, making for smooth, easy-swilling suds.Finally, if you want to venture into the unknown recesses of fizzy pumpkin lore, loiter around the Fireside Bar at the Vail Cascade Resort and try to get your hands on some Avery Rumpkin, the crme de la crme of pumpkin beers. This monster of a pumpkin brew is finished in rum barrels and spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger. I'd be willing to shoulder blue-haired ladies out of the way for a bottle of this stuff. To me, it captures that last bit of fall.
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