When I started homebrewing, I found Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale, but I couldn’t find any other similar beers, so I brewed my own. My Great Pumpkin Ale has become a favorite with family and friends, partially because, until the last 3-5 years, there were few other commercially available pumpkin beers. However, with the craft beer boom, many more craft breweries have introduced pumpkin beers.
Last year (and already this year), we tried as many pumpkin beers as we could get our hands on. I will admit I’m pretty critical, since it’s one of my favorite seasonal styles, but here are our favorites:
This year is the first time I’ve seen this pumpkin beer, and it’s only been recently that we’ve gotten Smuttynose beers in our area. The label looks like a photo from a seed package, but don’t judge a book by its cover. This one is nice and smooth and has a great flavor in the middle – tasting much like a pumpkin beer should with pumpkin flavors and a nice mix of spices. However, it finishes with a bit too much hoppiness, overtaking the pumpkin flavor in the end. I like hop bitterness, just not in my pumpkin beer.
I hesitated to add a big brewer to the list (although I guess they still qualify as a craft brewery), but this is one you’ll be able to find almost everywhere. It has a decent amount of caramel maltiness, along with a bit of spices. To appeal to a broader audience, it’s somewhat light in flavor, and drinkable compared to other pumpkin beers.
Initially, they score points with me for coming up with a more unique name than just pumpkin ale. We had this beer last year, and the body was light, and there was plenty of carbonation in it, giving the spices a bit of a sharp bite. The pumpkin flavor and spices had a good flavor, but the carbonation makes it a bit sharp. If they dial in the carbonation better this year, it’ll move up this list.
It’s big and full, but very smooth and creamy, with a slight pumpkin flavor and plenty of spiciness. It’s more like a pumpkin spiced beer than pumpkin pie in a bottle. It’s a big beer, so give this one some time to age until Halloween to let the cinnamon and spices mellow, and then let the 8% alcohol content warm you up on a cold fall evening.
Another big pumpkin beer, coming in at 9.0% ABV, it has a thick creamy head with incredible retention. While it’s a pumpkin beer, it has a maltier flavor than any of the other pumpkin beers. The caramel malt flavor combines with a complex mix of spices in the finish. With the very light pumpkin flavor and big ABV, this one could also make for a great tasting winter warmer.
I’m extra critical of pseudo craft beers from big name brewers, like this one, but I had to admit that this one stuck out in the pack of pumpkin beers. It was light and crisp with a sweet vegetal and sweet cinnamon flavor in the finish. It’s probably one of the lightest and most drinkable on the list, but it also has a nice complexity of flavors. It’s light, crisp, and refreshing enough to have a couple at a time.
A crowd favorite, this one is nice and creamy with a brown sugar sweetness up front before a nice mix of pumpkin pie spices kicks in and covers a bit of alcohol warmth in the finish. While the pumpkin flavor is a bit muted, the mix of spices has a very nice flavor. It’s a good pumpkin beer, but it’s also about $10/4-pack. So, for my money, I’d look lower down on this list.
A favorite of my hometown, this one has a big mix of cinnamon and clove spices, adding to the aroma and flavor. It also has a bit of alcohol warmth in the finish, covered up by the spices. The character changed a bit over time last year, with a bit too much spiciness when it was first released in September, but was perfect by mid-November.
Another St. Louis pumpkin beer, many locals debate which one is better, but based on a consistent experience, this one edges out Schlafly. From the pumpkin pie like aroma to the pumpkin and cinnamon flavors, this one is pretty darn close to pumpkin pie in the bottle. It’s also light, crisp, and very drinkable for those nice warm fall days.
Not only does this beer pack a ton of pumpkin pie flavor, but it does it with a warming 9% ABV in a 22oz bottle. There’s a lot of flavor in this beer to match up to that big of a malt bill. The maltiness is matched nicely with a true pumpkin pie like flavor, followed by a good amount of spices in the finish. My favorite part however, is the combination of the full flavors with the warming effects on the alcohol on a nice cool fall evening.
A Word of Warning on Pumpkin Beers
While many brewers brag about the amount of pumpkins used in making this type of beer, it’s actually the spices – allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. – that give this beer its flavor. The pumpkin actually provides very little flavor in the beer. Spices can be extremely tricky to preserve once they are in the beer. It’s been my experience that brewers often initially put too much cinnamon (and some other spices) in their beers, knowing that the spice flavors will fade over time. Therefore, if you buy a 6-pack of pumpkin beer, try one, and if you find the flavors a bit cloying, let rest sit for a few weeks and you might find you have yourself a great beer after the flavors fade a bit.