Three Cheers for Pumpkin Beers (With List of Those Most Beloved by Queers!)

Pumpkin beer is either this thing you have ridiculously intense feelings for or some type of orangey beer trend you don’t understand. Putting a vegetable into a brew probably sounds like a weird idea, but trust me, it’s infinitely better than carrot beer. Although it may seem like a relatively new phenomenon the practice goes back to Colonial times. If there’s one thing that I love about humanity, it’s the resourcefulness shown when turning seemingly random ingredients into good old fashioned alcohol.

Wheat? Let’s make beer. Barley? Yup, beer. Rye? Beer. Pumpkin? Fuck, we could make that into beer too!

I went to Beer School at Beau’s Oktoberfest in Vankleek Hill on the weekend. Even though I went for the charcoutine, growlers of Lug Tread Ale, German whip dances and my share of tiny free hats, I managed to stay sober enough to learn about my one true autumnal love. Dick Cantwell of Elysian Brewing spoke about the brew’s modern reinvention from an experimental throwback to a cult favourite that causes grown adults to erupt in temper tantrums when they failed to get a sip.

This is a 90% accurate depiction of what I look like at Oktoberfest.

A drunken history lesson is all well and good, but that still doesn’t tell me what a pumpkin beer is! Is it beer? Yup. Does it contain pumpkin? Well maybe. Does it need some pumpkin? Sorta. Wait, can I make pumpkin beer sans pumpkin?! Yeees.

Pumpkin beer is a catch-all term for beers that are pumpkin-ish. Although pumpkin beer may seem like a no brainer, it actually can get to be a bit misleading. In the same way that some pumpkin spice lattes don’t contain any pumpkin, some beers don’t contain any pumpkin.You could blame that confusion on Buffalo Bill, the first  modern day brewer to resurrect the style in the 80s. Although he dutifully mashed the gourds in his original brew, he ended up forgoing the gourd in his subsequent batches. In his hands, pumpkin beer became synonymous with pumpkin pie as opposed to the vegetal sphere. Part of me wants to hate him for showing such disrespect for my hallowed gourd, but if it weren’t for him I probably wouldn’t be drinking pumpkin beer to begin with.

ADVERTISEMENT

For a pumpkin beer to be considered such, most brewers just go with the spirit of pumpkin and the season. Does it remind you of Thanksgiving? Do you wanna curl up by a fire? Did four thousand scarves magically materialize around your neck once you took a sip? Then we’re heading in the right direction. Oversized gourds, canned pumpkin mix, vanilla, brown sugar, tons of ground spices and orange colouring all have their place somewhere under the giant orange umbrella. Brew Do Brew. Some brewmasters will dutifully add the flesh to their mash, kettle and fermenter whereas others will simply finish their ale with grandma’s perfect balance of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice. Heck, Cantwell himself says that pumpkin can be “too vegetal” so that’s why it’s great that Elysian and other breweries are willing to try anything when it comes to balancing out the beast.

Given the loose definition, Pumpkin Beer season has allowed a lot of craft brewers to put on their experimental hats when creating an autumn seasonal. Although beer snobs may firmly rest in Camp Ale or on Team Porter, pumpkin beer transcends all of the labels and can unite these families or tear ’em further apart. Wanna make a chocolatey stout? We could do that. An autumn hefeweizen? Weiss the fuck notA Mexican themed beer using pumpkin seeds, cumin and chiles? Done. Fill a 500lb pumpkin with ale and tap it once it’s finished? That sounds like a most excellent idea that we’ll make into a tradition.

It’s probably disturbing how many pumpkins I have in my house.

Given how diverse the pumpkin beer spectrum is, of course we have a lot of feelings (positive and not so positive).

Punkin Ale – Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

I love this one a whole lot because of the brown sugar/spiced flavors. It has a perfect balance of pumpkin and brown sugar flavor without being overboard. Good for beginners to pumpkin beers, too. – Zeller

I cry about how much I love pumpkin sometimes. – Carmen

Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale – Buffalo Bill’s Brewery

Touted as the original pumpkin beer, this was one of the first ones I tried. It’s a good starter pumpkin, with mellow flavor, spice, and tastes like fall. I don’t drink it as often because it can sometimes taste watered down. – Zeller

Pumpkin Ale – Great Lakes Brewery

This one is a thick rich ale. If you aren’t a fan of sweet this one may overwhelm you. The pumpkin, vanilla and cinnamon notes will stick on your tongue, masking the alcohol notes. If you aren’t a fan of pumpkin spice lattes you should run away now, but if you love them you will drink this up.

Mr. Brown’s Mashing Pumpkin Winter Ale – Mission Springs

This is the surprise winter ale that’ll save the day when every other brewer has run out of their pumpkin offerings. Sweet and well spiced, this beer definitely lies in the pumpkin pie end of the scale. There’s a bit of anise and citrus action in there that stops the sweetness from bulldozing your tastebuds. Although it isn’t my favourite, the fact that it dominates the pumpkin beer scene mid-December means it wins by default.

I want my beer to taste like beer. but i’d prefer if my beer were champagne, or red wine, or possibly chocolate milk.Vanessa

Kick – New Belgium (feat. Elysian)

I’m allergic to an overload of cinnamon (for example, Big Red gum gives me canker sours all over my gums and cheeks) and I find that a lot of pumpkin beers really overdo it on the spices. My favorite pumpkin ale has a blend of sour and Elysian pumpkins. It blends the tang of sour with pumpkin and cranberries. Kick kind of smells like apple jolly ranchers. The sour notes perfectly balance the rich pumpkin spice and hits you in the back of your gums, but leaves you wanting another sip. It’s an 8.5%, so I’m not sure how it measures up to other pumpkin beers, but I usually drink a pint and feel satisfied. Kick is best enjoyed on a warm, breezy Fall afternoon. Hansen

Pumpking – Southern Tier Brewing Company

One of the best ever. It has a very strong pumpkin flavor and taste, doesn’t taste watered down like a lot of flavored beers are. It’s a pretty spicy beer, but I love that. It tastes like you took a bite out of a piece of pumpkin pie. Who doesn’t love that?! – Zeller

I’m basically The Grinch That Stole Autumn. Any and all things that dare to impede upon my hot weather fall into the category of things I don’t want in my life. This includes but is not limited to: Charlie Brown specials, dead leaves, and pumpkin in my booze. – Fonseca

Citrouille – St. Ambroise

I wish I loved this beer more given that it’s my only option, but unfortunately I find it pretty dilute. If you want to get into pumpkin beers but have some reservations, this is a good test run beer. It’s definitely an easy-drinking beer, but I’d rather just have an actual pumpkin pie and their apricot instead.

Pumpkineater Imperial Pumpkin Ale – Howe Sound Brewing

Malty, rich and balanced. Although there are definite caramel notes, the beer still tastes refreshing without being cloying. I often get annoyed when pumpkin beers have too much cloves since I ordered a beer not a macing. Luckily this one is comparatively light! When I tried this one it won all the points, so the only real comment I could make was a pumpkin drawing.

 

The tiny glass pumpkin is entirely optional

If we’ve at least piqued your pumpkin interest, what now? Considering how many pumpkin beers there are nowadays, the only thing you can do is try. You could go about it the methodical route and start a blog to chronicle your pumpkin journey for everyone else to enjoy. You could also start a beer diary and use it as an excuse to go on a pumpkin beer tasting adventure/pub crawl with someone you met off of Oh Gay Cupid. Or if you are really truly moved by all of the Festive Fucking Gourd Beer Feelings, hop on some type of transportation type  device and go to the 8th annual Great Pumpkin Beer Festival in Seattle from October 19th to 20th and get your share of their 60 offerings. Either way, let us know your beer feelings or whether there are any pumpkin beers we have to try.

Related:

Hailing from Vancouver, Kristen's still trying to figure out how to survive Montreal's Real Legitimate Canadian Winter. So far she's discovered that warm socks, giant toques and Tabby kittens all play a role in her survival. Her ultimate goal is to rank higher than KStew in the "Kristen + Autostraddle" Google Search competition.

Kristen has written 140 articles for us.

37 Comments

  1. I’ll second Shipyard’s pumpkin ale. Pumpkiny and refreshing!
    But Southern Tier Pumpking ale is possibly the greatest liquid in the history of liquids.
    I possibly have a few bottles hidden in the basement for when it’s January and everything is terrible.

    • Yes! Southern Tier’s Pumpking is an excellent choice. I find most pumpkin beers to beer too sweet or cloying, or the nose and mouthfeel to be mismatched. The Pumpking is perfectly balanced, smells just like pumpkin pie, and tastes like it too (without being too sweet).

  2. All hail the Pumking! (And an honorable mention to Dogfishhead’s Punkin).

    I’d also suggest (in this order):

    Uinta’s Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin Ale – http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/1416/72838
    Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale – http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/392/25880
    Brooklyn Brewery’s Post Road Pumpkin Ale – http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/45/74

    I guess I’ve got a beer shopping list now! (Because more kinds of beer is EXACTLY what I need in my apartment).

  3. My favorite is Ichabod Pumpkin Ale by New Holland Brewing Company. I’m not sure where all it’s available tho. Actually I recommend most beers by New Holland if you can get them. But Ichabod is delicious and uses actual pumpkin!

  4. OOH i bought that first pumpkin ale at world market thinking it was pumpkin soda (the clerk didn’t card me!) and so I was at first disgusted because “THIS IS NOT CARBONATED PUMPKIN PIE” but then i was like “sweet, beer” that was the best family gathering ever.

  5. I’m pretty sure this is specific to the Northeast, but Saranac’s Pumpkin Ale is superdelicious.

    Also, because I’m know there won’t be an article on it, in the winter months Harpoon puts out a holiday beer that might be my favorite ever.

  6. One of the best I’ve ever had is O’Fallon’s Pumpkin Ale. Sooo good, I don’t know if they use real pumpkin in it but it sure tastes like they do. But I also love Pumpking and if I remember right I think I also really liked that New Holland Ichabod one.

  7. I think there’s some pumpkin ciders out there too–Woodchuck has a pumpkin reserve that’s supposed to be pretty awesome. Ace has one but Ace doesn’t seem to exist in my town. So if you’re unable to consume beer, there’s still a place for you!

  8. Oh hell yes to Dogfish Head Punkin Ale. I haven’t had the others, but they sound delicious. My friends and I brewed our pumpkin ale a few weeks ago (yes we put the real deal pumpkin in that ish) and it turned out fantasticccccccccccc. Ohhhh yummo.

  9. I second the Wasatch Pumpkin Ale! It’s awesome. I actually sell beer for a living so I highly appreciate this post! I co-ran the Oktoberfest and Pumpkin Beer class at my store, and it’s really fun to give people 12 different beers to try and watch their reactions.

  10. This is actually my least favorite time of the year because I like beer, but I can’t stand pumpkin flavored anything so the idea of pumpkin + beer makes me retch a little. I’m ready for all the pumpkin flavored everything to go away again because I am a party pooper.

  11. cameo: malloreigh’s handwriting from last year’s tasting of pumpkin beers! YAY!
    anyway, kristen, wish i’d had your beer book for this year’s tasting fest – instead i have it all scribbled out on a piece of note paper. the handwriting gets progressively messier. shame on me for trying to do it all in one day!

    this year there are 8 (read it, EIGHT) pumpkin beers brewed in BC that can be found at local liquor stores – and that’s excepting elysian, which comes to us up from seattle, and the st ambroise citrouille which is available in BC liquor stores as well. this shit is off the hook.

  12. I read this article while I was sitting at my favorite pizza and beer joint. I ordered a sample of the Punkin Ale from Dogfish Head. Really pleasant, warm beer. The only thing I would add to the description is a hint of vanilla bean. You Do Brew.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!