I'm a recovering pumpkin beer obsessive. Early in my craft beer drinking days, it seemed like there was no sating my appetite for them. If it involved gourds, nutmeg, or any of the other requisite pie spices, you could sign me up. From early September until the shelves were cleared for Christmas ales, I was a sure thing. Then, somewhere along the line, I started burning out. I lost the taste for them. Which isn't to say breweries weren't producing fine pumpkin beer; I'd just become like the chocolate factory worker who couldn't stomach the thought of eating another bonbon.
So this year I tried a different path: I went looking for pumpkin beers that fell outside my norm. I steered clear of the standard heavily spiced amber-colored ales and sought out pumpkin-spiked riffs on other styles. Along the way I found pumpkiny pilsner, Belgian dark strong ale, porter, stout, funky farmhouse beer, and even lambic. Beers I'd never thought would, could, or should incorporate pumpkin. Though it wasn't an exhaustive search, it turned up a few delicious brews that reinvigorated my thirst for this seasonal beer.
Here are 6 pumpkin beers that don't taste like pie.
Elysian Hansel & Gretel Ginger Pumpkin Pilsner
Elysian always plays hard come pumpkin beer season, creating more than a dozen different beers for their annual Great Pumpkin Beer Festival. This year they bottled up a limited run of their Hansel & Gretel Pumpkin Pilsner (4.5% ABV), a Czech Pilsner with the nontraditional twists of pumpkin added in the mash, kettle, and fermenter, and a ton of fresh ginger.
A wave of ginger hits first in the aroma and continues to be this beer's dominant element throughout. Some sweet, grainy malt hides in the back. Bright, slightly burning ginger comes with the first sip, playing over the pale malt before the pumpkin peeks out toward the end. The ginger, combined with a healthy dose of Saaz hops, provides a snappy finish. It's a bit thick for a pilsner, which is perhaps the pumpkin's biggest contribution. Try pairing it with sushi.
The Pike Brewing Co.'s Harlot's Harvest
The Pike Brewing Co.'s Harlot's Harvest (8.5% ABV), a nod to the location of Pike Brewery's previous life as a brothel, smells slightly earthy and vinous, with a blend of brown sugar, spice, and concord grape. Deep mahogany in the glass, this is pumpkin beer in the dark and strong Belgian abbey style. Dark caramel, vanilla, allspice and nutmeg weave together with sweet pumpkin in the background. Warming alcohol adds complexity, carrying over into a long finish. If tasted blindly, pumpkin may be hard to pinpoint, but the blend of spices works well here.
Midnight Sun Brewing Co. T.R.E.A.T.
T.R.E.A.T. (7.8% ABV), an imperial chocolate pumpkin porter, opens with with a hefty dose of cacao nibs and roast, accented by clove and nutmeg. Creamy milk chocolate, sweet pumpkin, and cinnamon meld on the palate with a tinge of alcohol. Medium bodied and fairly sweet overall, T.R.E.A.T. finds balance in the bitterness of the dark malt. This would be excellent with roast lamb, a rich dessert, or on its own after a meal.
Elysian Brewing Co. Dark o' the Moon Pumpkin Stout
Roast, cinnamon, char, and dark fruit aromas combine with a hint of cola. Dark o' the Moon (6.5% ABV) incorporates pumpkin seeds and, like Hansel & Gretel, pumpkin additions at three separate points in the brewing process. Dark chocolate, caramel malt, and cinnamon-spiced pumpkin play well with the moderate roast flavor. This is lighter-bodied for a stout of its gravity, but it's not thin. The roasted malt and spice linger in the finish. This is a pumpkin beer I wouldn't easily tire of and it's perhaps my favorite Elysian beer to date.
Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela
For years there was a running joke—and repeated questions—about Jolly Pumpkin not making a pumpkin beer. They cleared that up a few years back with La Parcela (5.9% ABV), their own funky farmhouse take on pumpkin beer. This savory brew smells of cacao nibs and pumpkin seeds. It's also nutty, slightly funky and tart in the aroma. It carries over in flavor with added layers of lime peel and pumpkin meat, followed by nutmeg toward the end of the sip. The beer has a good balanced acidity framed in oak along with the Jolly Pumpkin's trademark wild house character. There's a lot going on, but it's all on a subtle level at this point in the beer's evolution, and very well integrated. La Parcela would be an incredible companion with roast turkey and root vegetables—stash a bottle away for Thanksgiving.
Timmerman's Pumpkin Lambicus
Sometimes curiosity gets the best of us. As it's poured, Pumpkin Lambicus (4.0% ABV) releases an aroma of almost artificial sweet pumpkin with a faint lemon lime. The combination continues with the first sip of this sticky sweet, highly effervescent beer. This base beer rests firmly on the more saccharine side of modern lambics, with only a slight tartness in the finish. It misses the mark in terms of depth, without any of lambic's trademark barnyard character or funk. We'd hoped that pumpkin's naturally sweet earthiness might lend an additional layer of complexity, but ultimately the flavors seem at odds with one another in a forced combination.
Note: Elysian, Jolly Pumpkin, and Pike provided samples for review consideration.