It’s that time of year again – the leaves are changing colors, there’s a chill in the air and the holidays are right around the corner. It’s also that time of year when American craft brewers start rolling out some of their more interesting seasonal offerings. One seasonal option that you will find on the market through the end of the year is pumpkin beer.
Love it or hate it, there are plenty of different varieties of it out there. If you’re contemplating taking the plunge and enjoying some pumpkin spice ale or stout, it’s a good idea to know your options. Below, you’ll find a list of what I consider 10 of the best beers for the confirmed (or experimental) pumpkin lover. (Cue up the hate mail. Note: I’m not calling this the top ten list and there are many other great pumpkin beers out there.)
If you are still in the dark about Dogfish Head, then you have not delved into the craft brewing world very much. This is one of the most talked about breweries in the US, and you’ll find that their Punkin Ale is right up there with their other options in terms of taste and quality. If you don’t like sweetness, this might not be the brew for you though.
Straight from New York, Pumking is brewed with a lot of sweetness and “pagan spirit” according to the label. It’s also an exceptionally strong beer with an ABV of 8.6%. If sweetness is not really your thing, then you will not care for this beer. However, for those who like a bit of beer with their sugar, this is a great choice.
Unlike the previous two mentions, this pumpkin beer is not overly sweet. In fact, it seems to be an ideal blend of pumpkin and spices with plenty of hops flavor as well. If you prefer a well-polished beer with a hint of seasonal pumpkin, this brew is worth checking out.
Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale might be the best starting off point for those interested in trying this seasonal offering but unsure where to begin. The beer itself has a decent amount of flavor, but it’s far from overpowering so you’ll get plenty of beer taste as well as a hint of pumpkin and spices.
Sam Adams has traditionally put out a range of seasonal beers, from their Oktoberfest to their Harvest Pumpkin Ale. If you are in the mood for something with plenty of pumpkin, then their entry to the market is definitely worth your time. You’ll find tons of ginger and smoked malt, as well as an enormous amount of pumpkin flavor (but crafted with the polish one expects from the nation’s largest craft brewery).
New Belgium/Elysian - Kick
If you’ve tried the company’s 1554 Enlightened Black Ale or any of their other innovative options like their Lips of Faith series, you know how serious New Belgium is about creating an amazing brew with plenty of flavor and character. Their collaboration with Elysian and park of their Lips of Faith series, “Kick” is no exception to this rule. You’ll find plenty of pumpkin in the brew but you’ll also enjoy cranberry flavor and woody overtones thanks to blending it with wood-aged beer during the process. Technically this beer is a sour pumpkin-cranberry beer but the pumpkin is prominent enough that I feel it hold its own on this list.
If you’re looking for something a bit different from your average pumpkin ale (is there such a thing?), then this entry from Elysian is just the thing for you. The brewery used roasted pumpkin seeds in their recipe to add some interesting new flavors, but you’ll also find more than a hint of pumpkin and spice in there as well. It’s an imperial style ale as well, so plan on plenty of punch.
If you are looking for a strong ale (8%) with plenty of complex tastes, then this is the brew for you. You’ll find that it includes plenty of malts (bready malts), as well as tons of spices (like cardamom). All that goes into creating one of the boldest pumpkin ales to hit the market this season. If it’s a bit too bold for you, consider aging it a little to allow the flavors to mellow and blend (there’s nothing wrong with drinking it fresh though!).
If you have access to Cisco beers (they’re from Nantucket), then this is a great entry point for those who haven’t tried any pumpkin beers yet. It offers a good balance of flavors, and the pumpkin pie spices are not overwhelming while still being present.
Coming in a bit different from the beers listed above (most of which are ales), this option is actually a pumpkin stout. If you like dark beer and enjoy the flavor of pumpkin pie, you’ll find plenty to love about this brew. It offers a nice roasted flavor with plenty of pumpkin overtones but it’s not overbearing.
What to Look for in Pumpkin Beer
What should you be looking for in one of these seasonal brews? It’s really all about personal preference, but most drinkers prefer something that offers a relatively complex flavor without any syrupy sweetness (unless that’s your thing). A decent balance of spices, malt and hops is a good hallmark of a decent pumpkin beer but don’t despair if you find a lot of un-hopped options out there. Many pumpkin beers are not as hoppy as regular brews. Look for a good aroma (it should be reminiscent of pumpkin pie to at least some extent) as well as it will definitely make for a better experience.
These are only a few of the pumpkin flavored brews that will be on offer through the end of the year. If you have never explored your options here, it can be well worth your time. However, it’s important that you choose carefully because some brews are very different from others. With that being said, there’s plenty of room for experimentation with end of the year seasonal brews. And in the end, that’s really what the craft beer movement is all about – having the ability to explore your options with great beers from innovative brewers around the nation.