With Halloween next week and Thanksgiving on the horizon, pumpkin beers have taken center stage in just about every store with a decent beer selection. Love them or hate them, they're here to stay—for the season, that is—and they have quite a long history.
While pumpkin beers are typically brewed with an amber or brown ale base, many brewers are now getting creative with their recipes and using pumpkin in a variety of unusual styles. Jonathan Moxey curated a list of 6 unusual pumpkin beers to check out last week.
But which pumpkin beer is the best? Some have gathered quite a bit of hype, so I recently assembled some of the most highly regarded and sought-after pumpkin brews (along with a few that are widely available) for a little blind tasting. Some were brewed by tiny craft breweries, others by much larger ones. Each beer was rated blind, solely on aroma, flavor, balance, and overall experience. Would we like the most coveted, cult-favorite beers? Or would something else stand out from the crowd? Of the 17 pumpkin beers we sampled, here were our favorites.
Schlafly Pumpkin Ale
This top-scoring beer likely came as no surprise to those living in the Midwest—Schlafly makes a darn good pumpkin beer. This pumpkin ale smelled like Thanksgiving at Grandma's house. The beer has heavy spicing without letting that dominating the palate, allowing the pumpkin to shine.
Uinta Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin Ale
Uinta's Oak Jacked was a very different beast from the other beers sampled. Clocking in at 10.8% ABV, this beer clearly had some heat, tasting fairly similar to a barleywine (with pumpkin). The brief slumber in oak barrels—combined with added spices and the bit of residual sugar in the brew—reminded us of candied pumpkin and brown sugar. Delicious!
Samuel Adams Fat Jack
This brew really surprised and impressed us. With 28 pounds of pumpkin per barrel, Fat Jack did not lack on pumpkin flavor. But what won the panel over was the use of smoked malts, which evoked roasted pumpkin deliciously.
Southern Tier Pumking
Pumking has grown to a near cult-like following, and our tasters scored it highly. It smells like pumpkin pie with a punch of vanilla and tastes just as good. Fortunately it was much less sweet on the palate than it was on the aroma. The finish: just like fresh whipped cream.
Cigar City Good Gourd
Easily the most heavily spiced beer in the tasting, Florida's Cigar City brews Good Gourd with Ceylon cinnamon, Jamaican allspice, Zanzibar cloves, and nutmeg. But the aroma was filled with fresh pumpkin even with all of the added spice. This creamy-textured brew would make an excellent dessert beer.
Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela
Despite their name, Jolly Pumpkin did not actually brew a pumpkin beer until this one rolled out. La Parcela is a sour pumpkin ale that works incredibly well. A beautiful aroma of spice, funk, and a bit of pumpkin is backed up by a very complex collection of flavors. This is not the beer to drink if you're looking for liquid pumpkin pie, but it's perfect for those who love sour beers.
Tommyknocker Small Patch Pumpkin Harvest Ale
Small Patch Pumpkin Harvest Ale is a brown ale with some added pumpkin, molasses, and spice. The malt profile lends itself to fall flavors with notes of toffee, bread, molasses, and hints of pumpkin. This is a great seasonal beer for those looking for a "spiced-up" brown ale.
Of course, these beers are all really different, and there's no single "correct" way to brew a pumpkin beer. You might prefer one style or another. Have you tried any of our top picks? Which is your favorite pumpkin beer?
About the Author: Sean Buchan covers the Denver craft beer scene for Denver Off the Wagon in addition to doing freelance photography for Colorado breweries. You can also view his beer photography on his blog, Beertographer, here.
All beers tasted: Samuel Adams Fat Jack, Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela, Cigar City Good Gourd (sample provided), Southern Tier Pumking (sample provided), Uinta Oak Jacked, Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin, Elysian The Great Pumpkin (sample provided), Upslope Pumpkin Ale, Tommyknocker Small Patch Pumpkin, Schlafly Pumpkin Ale (sample provided), Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, Shipyard Pumpkinhead, Lakefront Pumpkin Lager Beer, Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale, Buffalo Bill's America's Original Pumpkin Ale, Saranac Pumpkin Ale, Uinta Punk'n