Editor's Note: Ask a what? A Certified Cicerone®. That is, a beer expert who has passed a particular certification exam administered by the Craft Beer Institute. You can think of them as beer sommeliers: these folks have demonstrated significant beer knowledge and tasting skill, as well as professional skills in beer sales and service.
Whether you're stocking up for a Halloween party or just looking for the perfect fall beer to pair with chili, you're likely to see quite a few pumpkin beers on the shelves of your local bottle shop. Which are the best of the bunch? We asked our group of experts to share their favorites. Here's what they had to say...
"My perennial favorite is Weyerbacher's Imperial Pumpkin. It walks a tightrope between pumpkin spice and warm malt characteristics like a deft acrobat, and though high in alcohol, remains superbly drinkable. One of my new favorites is Hardywood Park's Farmhouse Pumpkin. The touch of wild yeast character with its subtle herbal notes is nothing short of bewitching."—Joshua A. Cass (821 Cafe)
"While there are many interpretations of the pumpkin beer style, one stands out to me as the quintessential pumpkin pie in a bottle, and that's Southern Tier Pumking."—Rob Hill (Total Wine & More)
"Luckily for me I live in St. Louis, MO, where Schlafly brews what is widely considered one of the very best pumpkin ales. They do an amazing job of balancing the delicious vegetal flavor of real pumpkin flesh with the spices common in pumpkin pie such as clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Toasty caramel sweetness in the grain bill closely approximates a graham cracker crust giving this brew an authentic homemade, never artificial pumpkin pie flavor. I save a six pack every year for Thanksgiving Day and enjoy one with the meal. I also find that it goes amazingly well with another St. Louis favorite, Gooey Butter Cake."—Chris Kline (Schnuck Markets)
"Many people tend to associate pumpkin with nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves, but actually don't understand that the gourd itself is a lot more savory. When we think of 'pumpkin beer', what we're really thinking of is 'pumpkin pie beer'. That said, the fine folks over at Yonkers Brewing have recently put out a 'Spiced Harvest' beer utilizing pumpkin, but instead choosing to spice with Szechuan peppercorns and ginger. This lends a completely different perspective to this type of seasonal offering. I like having it with some gamy meats, particularly lamb, as it gives complexity to its sweetness while simultaneously balancing out its richness through the drier aspects of the beer."—James Tai (Pinch)
"This is a question that I struggle with every time a customer asks this in my store. I don't really care for pumpkin flavored beers. This year, however, there has been one that I can recommend when asked this question: Pumpkick from New Belgium. This beer takes a 'Thanksgiving dinner' approach to their beer. Instead of being solely based on pumpkin, this beer also has cranberry to add a hint of tartness and make this beer a little more rounded. The thing that I like about this beer is that the pumpkin is in the brew, but not overbearing in nature like so many of the other more traditional pumpkin beers. It would lend itself wonderfully to the traditional meal of turkey and all the fixings."—Brian Hoppe (Hy-Vee)
"The best two pumpkin beers I've had are Mr. Yuck and Yuck, Yuck, Geuze (A blend of multiple years of Mr. Yuck) by Elysian Brewing. They're phenomenal Pumpkin sours. However, they're only available at Elysian's Great Pumpkin Beer Festival and their pubs."—Christopher Barnes (Columbia Distributing)
"Evolution Jaques au Lantern. What makes this beer unique is that they not only add pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices, but then ferment with Belgian yeast. The yeast gives it a roundness and extra level of pepperiness, dark fruit and brown sugar complexity that brings all of the flavors together. A pork loin roasted with garlic, juniper berries and cloves, brushed with a honey glaze and served over a walnut pumpkin puree is a fantastic pairing with the beer."—Judy Neff (Pints & Plates)
"Recently feel in love with 21st Amendment's pumpkin tripel from the He said He said collab with Elysian Brewery. It tastes and smells like fresh cut pumpkin—with most 'pumpkin' beers tasting like spice ales, it was a nice change of pace."—Trevor Sutherland (Heidelberg Distributing)
"Best pumpkin beer I've ever had was Cambridge Brewing Company, The Great Pumpkin Ale. It's something I would always seek out in Boston in the fall. It has the perfect blend of all the flavors of a pumpkin beer without being heavy handed. In comparison to many pumpkin beers out there the malts are on par with the spices creating a beer with a hint of pumpkin pie not pumpkin pie with a hint of beer."—Matt McComish (Whole Foods Market)
"My favorite this season is Elysian's Night Owl. It's a relatively light bodied pumpkin ale with flavored with pumpkin pie spices and you can drink more than one without being overwhelmed by alcohol or flavor. I love to pair with Mexican foods, which seasonally use pumpkins and cinnamon spices. The earthy sweetness from hot corn tortilla pairs will the earthy pumpkin beer. Try Night Owl or your spiced ale with spicy black bean tacos topped with onion, tomato, avocado, corn, and sour cream. The savory spices from the beer enhances the chili spices and actually makes the pumpkin flavor pop."—Valerie Smith (Ecliptic Brewing)
"My favorite is at the Indie Alehouse in Toronto—they make a Pumpkin Abbey beer using a spicy Belgian yeast, pumpkin prepared three-ways and (the key!) blending it with their stout for a drier, roasty finish and a slimmed-down easy-drinking flavor despite the 10 percent ABV. "—Crystal Luxmore (beer writer)
"Alaskan Pumpkin Porter. When I first tried this beer with some friends, some one said it taste's like Rolos candy. Some of my favorite fall spices are dominant in this beer: cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, brown sugar, brown sugar, and of course pumpkin. Dive deeper into this porter and you'll pick up subtle smokiness from the malts. I like a complementary pairing with pumpkin beers, so the best pairing here is mom's pumpkin pie."—Bryan Rounds (Central Coast Distributing)
"Southern Tier Pumpking. Some pumpkin beers can have next to no pumpkin flavor, or aren't even brewed with pumpkin at all. Pumpking has pumpkin flavor in spades and has a solid enough background to let you know you're still drinking a beer. It's strong and spicy, perfect for a chilly Fall night. I've served it on tasting menus paired with seared foie gras, spiced pumpkin puree, maple pickled apples, and crumbled pie crust. It was fantastic."—Jesse Vallins (The Saint)