Pumpkin Brewfest: A guide to navigating the world of pumpkin beer

I drink more beer in the fall than I do during any other time of year.  I can’t put my finger on why, but something in autumn’s crisp air increases my thirst for hops and barley.  Luckily for me, I have plenty of options with which I can quench my thirst–has anyone else noticed the huge surge in craft beer lately?  More importantly, has anyone noticed the variety of PUMPKIN beer that’s out there?  

I have. 

And I want to share my findings. 

A beer expert I am most certainly not, but I’d like to present an overview after tasting several pumpkin beers, both craft and mass-produced.  This list is by no means all-inclusive, but is a good guide for those of you looking to imbibe in a seasonal favorite.  Rest assured I’m always on the lookout for the next best pumpkin brew!

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale: I was not overwhelmed by the bitterness or the lack of pumpkin flavor in this almost peppery, medium-bodied ale. 

Saranac Pumpkin Ale: Unfortunately I now realize that this used to be an old favorite not because of flavor, but due to where and with whom I typically drank Saranac (many happy Adirondak weekends chez Wieschhoff).  One of the lightest on the list, Saranac has strong notes of vanilla and allspice, but they tend to overpower the already faint pumpkin flavor.

Shipyard Pumpkinhead: An old October standard.  Another lighter-bodied ale, I have a special place in my heart for the Portland, Maine-based Shipyard Brewing Company after my glory years at nearby Bowdoin College.  In fact, this was probably my first exposure to pumpkin beer and remains one of my favorites.  With a nice pumpkin pie nose, Pumpkinhead has a gentle pumpkin flavor complimented by mostly nutmeg.  Bonus points for the Sleepy Hollow-inspired label.

Post Road Pumpkin Ale: I’ve heard from many this season that this reigns as their favorite pumpkin brew.  Good balance of flavor and finish.  I like the bitterness combined with the underlying spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves).  Also has a nice pumpkin pie nose.

Fisherman’s Pumpkin Stout: Although I am a fan of this beer, it is not due to its pumpkin flavor, which I found to be quite lacking.  Don’t be fooled by the dark color–this is actually very easy to drink and has a light to medium body, with a hint of coffee.

Southampton Pumpkin Ale: With a big nose, Southampton has a floral, squashy flavor that is more freshly carved pumpkin than pumpkin pie.

Southern Tier Pumking: Probably my least favorite to date–I’m just not a fan of the buttery, caramel, super-sweet flavor.

Pumple Drumkin Spiced Ale: Another example of a beer I enjoy, but not due to an overwhelming pumpkin flavor.  Although there are some spice notes, this is more indicative of other Cisco Brewer ales over other pumpkin beer.   

Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela No. 1 Pumpkin Ale: This is one of the most interesting beers I have ever tasted.  Rumored to be the only U.S. brewery ageing with oak barrels, Jolly Pumpkin has created a complex sour brew with hints of fresh pumpkin and vanilla.  Although the label claims to have a “kiss of cacao,” I was not able to pick it out.  Cloudy and bright orange in color, this funky brew surely stands out.  Tied with Shipyard for best label.       

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale: Saved the best for last.  My reigning favorite–a smooth balance of the usual pumpkin pie spices, this full-bodied brown ale has just the right amount of complexity and even some notes of brown sugar.  Try it here!

Happy sipping!

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6 Responses to Pumpkin Brewfest: A guide to navigating the world of pumpkin beer

  1. Ba says:

    Yum! I am now anxiously awaiting happy hour chez Lanoue. I’m out in Western Mass with the kiddos on vacation having a blast taking in Fall. So much more of an “event” down here than it is up in Nova Scotia! Beer is my preferred beverage these days…I will have to check out some of the pumpkin selections soon!
    Cheers, Wes!

  2. LadyGouda says:

    Geez Jess, you sure are boozing it up over there these days….

    JK. Thanks for the exhaustive list and details. I think I might need to conduct a bit of a blind taste test myself with the Post Road and the Dogfish Head this weekend!


  3. Monica says:

    Although I happily enjoy all beers, all year round, you’re right on the money about autumn being the best time to enjoy a good brew (Shipyard gets my vote) Nice review!

  4. Pingback: Cider, pumpkins, and cupcakes, oh my! | Eating the Rind

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