With fall’s arrival, pumpkin beer frenzy is back and bigger than ever. But not all pumpkin beers were created equal and some are stranger than others.
First, there are several ways brewers can utilize pumpkins in the brewing process. Some will use roasted pumpkin chunks in the mash, but many brewers stick to pumpkin puree. Actual pumpkin flavor is hard to detect in beer since the gourd itself, without any seasonings, has a very subtle flavor.
When it is used in place of malt, the starch is converted to sugar and then fermented which removes most of the pumpkin flavor. As a result, in addition to actual pumpkin, most brewers will use spices commonly associated with pumpkin pie such as clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom to create the modern pumpkin beer dynamic.
If you are a fan of pumpkin spices, keep an eye out for the higher ABV ones that usually have a stronger malt bill to support the heavy seasoning. If sweeter beers are not your thing, there are several very subtle pumpkin offerings on the market as well. Here is a sampler of this season’s crop.
A few fun facts
The practice of brewing with pumpkin can be traced back to the Colonial era when it was often used as a substitution for barley that was either unavailable or too expensive. Although it is a delicacy today, the poor often used pumpkin out of necessity.
Home-brewing founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were known to have brewed beer with pumpkins at Mount Vernon and Monticello.
Buffalo Bill’s Brewery from Hayward, CA reintroduced the style in 1985 with their Pumpkin Ale, the grandfather of the modern pumpkin beer craze.
According to the Brewers Association, seasonal beers (including pumpkin beers) were responsible for over 20% of total craft beer sales in fall 2014 and even outsold IPAs in the fall of 2013
What to try
Schlafly Pumpkin Ale
The Saint Louis Brewery, MO
8.0% ABV. Schlafly’s pumpkin offering is so popular that it typically sells out by October. Brewed with pounds of pumpkin and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, this beer is one of the best in the category.
Southern Tier Brewing Company, NY
8.6% ABV. Tons of allspice and cinnamon dominate the nose of this beer that tastes like a bottle of pumpkin pie. A must-have for the pumpkin spice latte fans out there.
The Great’ER Pumpkin
Heavy Seas Brewing Company, MD
10% ABV. What makes this one special is the bourbon barrel aging. Nice vanilla, oak and bourbon flavors balance out the strong pumpkin spice to create a boozy classic. It is also a very drinkable 750 ml bomber, considering its high alcohol content.
Imperial Pumpkin Ale
Weyerbacher Brewing Company, PA
8% ABV. This easy-to-drink imperial ale is dominated by nutmeg, clove and cardamom. However, its strong malt bill helps balance out the spice flavors and reduce the booziness.
Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin
Uinta Brewing Company, UT
10.31% ABV. Aged in oak barrels for six months, this pumpkin beer packs a lot of booze and spice flavor. It is also unique for its 10.31% alcohol content, a tribute to Halloween.
Flying Dog Brewery, MD
9% ABV. The Fear is essentially a pumpkin porter, with its dark color and roasted pumpkin spice flavors. The bottle artwork is designed by Ralph Steadman, guaranteeing it will be one of the scariest labels on the shelf.
Dogfish Head Brewery, DE
7% ABV. This spiced brown ale is named after Delaware’s annual pumpkin launching championship that draws people, and their pumpkin-chucking inventions, from all over the world. The brewery has switched things up by redesigning the bottle’s artwork each of the last three years.
Fat Jack Double Pumpkin
Samual Adams, MA
8.5%. Classic pumpkin pie spices season this fall beer that boasts 28-pounds of pumpkin per barrel. Its mild seasoning also makes it a very drinkable beer.
Jack-O Traveler Shandy
The Traveler Beer Company, VT
4.4% ABV. Perhaps the only pumpkin flavored shandy you will find this fall, Jack-O Traveler combines typical pumpkin seasonings with lemon peel to create a refreshingly low-ABV beverage.
Long Tra il Brewing Company, VT
5.5% ABV. With subtle pumpkin spice flavors, this medium-bodied ale is sessionable and pairs nicely with food.