Ahh, pumpkin. You either love it, hate it or are already sick of hearing about it.
Sure, things like pumpkin pie and pumpkin spice lattes are the popular ones that everyone is talking about, but that’s just amateur pumpkin love.
As an October baby, I consider myself quite the pumpkin flavor aficionado and that goes full-tilt when you get me around pumpkin beer.
Now that October is finally here, and the store shelves are flooded with the obligatory assortment of pumpkin ales, I simply had to go and try every single one I could get my hands on. Allow me to share the “who’s who,” or rather, “who’s king,” in the war of the pumpkin beer.
The Best (session)
PUMPKICK - NEW BELGIUM BREWING COMPANY, ASHEVILLE, N.C.
Pumpkick is quite possibly the total package when it comes to pumpkin ales. New Belgium created a beverage that perfectly presents all the flavor and spice I want in a pumpkin beer, including the “pie” parts (cinnamon, clove, whipped cream, graham cracker).
At the same time, it also adds in a bright, tart, and unexpected flavor from cranberries that brings out the roasty nuttiness of the malt. It’s like drinking Thanksgiving dinner. This beer takes you on a trip from the crispness of fall, all the way to the warmth of gathering of friends and family on brisk Autumn evenings.
The Best (imperial)
IMPERIAL PUMPKIN SMASH - CROWN VALLEY BREWING COMPANY, SAINTE GENEVIEVE, MO.
I initially didn’t believe I was going to find an imperial pumpkin ale that would really, truly embody a title fit for a king - until, after many recommendations, I finally tried this one.
This is, hands down, the best pumpkin stout I’ve ever had. Upon first sip, you’re greeted with roasted chocolate and toffee flavors that cascade in to a hint of spice and piney hop. The imperial 10 percent ABV body of the beer carries a creaminess that begs you to indulge and believe you’re actually enjoying a chocolate pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream. This is one to sip, enjoy and linger upon.
IMPERIAL PUMPKIN ALE - WEYERBACHER BREWING, EASTON, PA.
As another heavy hitter in the world of pumpkin ales, the Imperial Pumpkin Ale by Weyerbacher is a hearty and spicy brew that reminds you that, yes, winter is coming.
This ale is full-bodied with caramel and toffee flavors at the front, and heavily spiced with cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. The pumpkin is more of the base flavor of which the whole beer is built upon, while providing a slight nuttiness and creaminess to bring it in to balance.
ROGUE FARMS PUMPKIN PATCH ALE - ROGUE ALES, ASHLAND, ORE.
Taking a step away from the land of high gravity beers, the Pumpkin Patch ale is one those few whose focus isn’t on how big and spicy you can be but, but instead how you showcase pumpkin as the star of the show.
This beer makes you want to immerse yourself in all things pumpkin, from soups and sauces to breads and deserts. The first flavor and sensation you get is a creamy, saucy one that develops in to a deliverance of the subtle roasted nut, orange and vanilla. There’s a wheat-like feel that carries the light cinnamon aroma along with a hint of a pumpkin custard flavor.
PUMPKIN DOWN - BALLAST POINT, SAN DIEGO
What gets me most excited about this brew is the fact that Ballast Point chose one of their beers that I already love, Piper Down Scottish Ale, to use as the backdrop for their pumpkin ale.
Bringing along the familiar malt flavors that produce gorgeous red colors, caramel and candied flavors, it’s set up perfectly to showcase the roasted pumpkin. There isn’t a lot of spice in this ale, but it’s there just enough to keep you coming back for another sniff and sip.
PUMKING - SOUTHERN TIER BREWING COMPANY, LAKEWOOD, N.Y.
When this self-proclaimed Pumpkin King hits the shelves, people tend to go a little bonkers for it. It’s got the clout, but does it stand up to it’s bold name? In my opinion, no.
Pumking was one my first loves in pumpkin ales, and as such, I’ve always praised this beer as the best - until it changed.
In the last few years, it has transitioned to one that is more ginger prevalent than pumpkin. Gone is the creaminess and deep amber orange, and the spice has been trimmed back substantially.
What’s left is a bright and cheery, light-bodied, subtle pumpkin and ginger beer, complete with that tartness that’s present in a ginger-ale soda. I suppose that makes it more crowd appealing to those who don’t already appreciate the heavy-handed flavors that can come with other imperial pumpkin ales.
This one is an imperial and does pack in a punch coming in with an ABV at 7.4 percent. The point is, if you’re looking for a great introductory imperial pumpkin ale, this is great. If you’re looking for something big and bold, taste it, but then go on to others.