We generally don't love fruit beers here at DCB, but there's one notable exception...pumpkin beer. Rich, earthy and spicy, these beers offer something very unique that you just don't get from other types of beer. The last time we did a big pumpkin beer roundup was 2008 and we thought it was time to update it! We gathered all the pumpkin beers in our area that we could get our hands on and invited a bunch of our friends to what was to be the Great Pumpkin Beer Tasteoff! We started with 19 beers and we're only going to add more. Pumpkin beers are also great with food so check out this awesome Southern Tier Pumking Pumpkin Beer Bread recipe from Drink Craft Beer's chef, Chef John.
One thing we learned early on in this taste test is that there isn't a
clear winner here. There are certainly some favorites but the flavor
profiles of pumpkin beer lends itself to personal preference more than
your typical beer does. We had a blast tasting all of these beers and
encourage you to gather up your friends to do the same.
Rather than try to rate these we're just going to give you our impressions in the order we tried them.
The Pumpkan smells like a real pumpkin pie, with spices, squash and pumpkin all intermingling in balance. There's a good bit of sweetness and caramel also, but nothing overbearing.
subtle, rounded sweetness and smooth mouthfeel lead off this beer that
ends with a very pumpkiny and lightly spiced finish. There's way more
spice in the aroma as the taste is predominantly "gourdy" and a bit
starchy. This one is all about balanced spice, malt and pumpkin.
Harpoon UFO Pumpkin
Being from Harpoon's Unfiltered Offering (UFO) line, this one is obviously quite hazy. The smell has a lot of spice in it, with a good bit of cinnamon and not much pumpkin to be found.
Upfront the beer is quite dry and it finishes the same way. There's a spicy aftertaste and that cinnamon really sticks with you, not just relegating itself to the olfactory end of this brew. Again, there's a lot of spice in this one, almost like a gingersnap.
This one pours the color of a bright shiny penny while the smell is mostly malt, rather than pumpkin or spice. As you keep sniffing, toasted malt really comes through and you get a bit more than a touch of pumpkin.
This is one of the "beer-ier" pumpkin beers as bright and biscuity, toasted malt and caramel are the first things we notice in the taste. There's a little bit of spice and pumpkin, but just enough to let you know that the brewers were making a pumpkin beer here. This is really more like a toasty Oktoberfest with a clean, malty profile and a little spice at the end. Right after you swallow, the taste is gone and you're ready for another.
Brooklyn Brewery Post Road Pumpkin Ale
The Post Road Pumpkin has a very mild nose with a little hops, a little pumpkin and very little to no spice. The group tried to dig their noses in more but this is a very subtle and understated beer.
As you taste it, you get a bit of citrusy hops upfront which was a little unexpected. The mouth feel is quite smooth while the finish is fairly dry with a bit of starch from the pumpkin. As we mentioned about the aroma, the taste is very subtle, making it quite drinkable. There's a little toasty malt included and those hops really stick out, especially compared to most pumpkin beers.
Wolaver's Organic Pumpkin Ale
As you pour and smell this one, you'll notice that there's a lot of pumpkin going on here! On top of that there nutmeg, as well as other spices...it's strong, but not too strong. It really is quite pumpkiny.
Wolaver's Pumpkin Ale is like drinking "essence of pumpkin pie" as one of the group put it. It's less sweet and spicy on the tongue until you swallow, where that nutmeg and a bit of ginger rears their heads giving the back of your throat a little tingle. There's some good carbonation, making for a fairly light beer that's not to think on the tongue or too heavy on the flavor.
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
Dogfish Head is known for their over-the-top and crazy beers, but this one doesn't smell super pumpkiny. Don't get us wrong, that gourd you all love is there, it's just not over done or super spicy.
The label states that they use brown sugar, and you can taste that without it making the beer cloyingly sweet. There's definitely some all spice and nutmeg in here, playing a balancing act with a brown sugar and mollasses flavor. It's pumpkiny up front, but that quickly drops off leaving just that spice and sweetness.
Cape Ann Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout
For most pumpkin beers, pumpkin is the style. This one adds an extra dimension, though, as Cape Ann Brewing starts by using a stout as the base beer.
There's a little grape smell and some chocolate as you first bring the glass up to drink. It's mostly smooth, though, without much roast. The pumpkin is definitely there, but it's standing behind the stout.
This one is really smooth with a dry, starchy pumpkiny-ness and a touch of unsweetened chocolate. If there is spice in here (and there is according to the label), the brewers used quite a deft hand as it's subtle and very well integrated into the beer.
Long Trail Imperial Pumpkin
Oddly enough, the first thing many of us notice in this big beer from Long Trail is brandy...banana brandy many of us agree on. It's a strong smell, too. Behind the brandy is some pumpkin but, honestly, it's subtle. We're not getting much spice but that's probably because of the rich smell.
As we drank this one, we began to think of it as an English-style barleywine and it made a lot of sense. It's thick, with some very serious malt, but not at all cloying. It's just got a solid body and balanced malt. The alcohol is very well hidden, given that it's a bigger beer, as are the spices. This one is a real sipper and, as you relax with it, notes of marmalade start to come through as well. Over time, the spice shows up more and more, staying with you in the back of your throat.
Lakefront Pumpkin Lager
As the beer is a very clean style, the pumpkin aroma comes through remarkably strong. There's a lot of spice as well which, again, is probably due to the beer itself not having a strong smell only really showing in the very slight sulfur notes of the lager yeast.
With almost a slippery mouthfeel the strong, but far from overwhelming, spices coat your tongue. There's not much else going on in this one aside from the pumpkin and spice, since the base beer is a mild lager. The beer should be more thought of as a pumpkin and spice delivery device than anything else.
Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale
Sam Adams Pumpkin Ale is one of the spiciest smelling that we've seen, with sweetness and almost a little bit of smoke. There's some pumpkin as well, but it comes in a distant follower to the spice.
In the taste, that sweetness seems to be a bit mollasesy and the smoke aroma is confirmed on the palette. Also, as expected, there's a lot of spice. There's a starchiness from the pumpkin that really dries out the back of your throat and plays interestingly with the pronounced (and unexpected) hop bitterness.
Cisco Pumple Drumkin
Right off the bat Pumple Drumkin is the hoppiest smelling beer we've had, with some major citrus hops. Behind those dominant hops is a little bit of spice...and not much else. There's not too much pumpkin here to speak of. But the hops smell great!
Those who like hops should definitely check this beer out! In a tasting of so many pumpkin beers, the citrus notes really make this one stand out. That said, the hops cover up a lot of flavor from the pumpkin and spice. It's definitely a citrusy hops first and everything else after kind of beer. The spices show through lightly in the finish, but they're far from overdone. It's a very bright beer, thanks to the bitter hops.
Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
We've got another hoppy one here, although not as hop-forward as the Cisco Pumple Drumkin, the citrusyness is a definite. There's a good bit of pumpkin in here and, as one taster put it, it "smells like bright foliage!"
Once you taste it the hops come through even more and are quite resinous. The bitterness sticks around as the earthy pumpkin washes over your tastebuds. Simply put, between the hops and the pumpkin, this beer just tastes like the harvest.
Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale
On the spectrum of mild to lots-of-spice, this one scores a lots-of-spice! The terms "spice bomb" and "nose party" were thrown around. On top of the spice, there's a good bit of sweetness and a touch of alcohol as well.
On the palate that sweetness in the nose comes through, again with some alcohol heat. On a cold night this would be a nice sipper. The spice is still strong as well, but it's not as intense as the smell. Although, it sticks around in the aftertaste. If you're looking for super pumpkiny, this isn't your bag. That said, if you like spice check this one out.
Saranac Pumpkin Ale
On the pour you get brown sugar, mildly sweet malt, pumpkin, clove and nutmeg. It's really balanced and, honestly, smells like a delicious pumpkin pie. If you keep sniffing, you'll get some apple and vanilla as well.
As you sip that vanilla comes out a bit more, but it's got a good balance with the pumpkin, spice and sweetness as well. The malt is clean and really serves to showcase the flavors in this brew. Furthermore, the vanilla really serves to enhance all the other flavors, rather than do much on it's own.
Wachusett Imperial Pumpkin
As we'd expect from an imperial, the beer smells a little sweet...although there's not much alcohol. A bit of spice and strong pumpkin aroma serves to liven this one up, finished by some vanilla.
While there's not much alcohol in this nose, it's invigorating in the taste and really amps up the spices in the beer. The pumpkin is more of a mouthfeel thing in this one and creates a smooth and full texture with some mellow sweetness. The vanilla, while strong in the smell, is quite mild as you drink it.
Southern Tier Pumpking
As with many higher alcohol beers this one starts off pretty sweet smelling. On top of all-spice, pumpkin and vanilla everyone could swear that they smelled candy corn and butterscotch. This one smells like a dessert beer, almost like spice cake even.
As you sip it, which is the only way to drink a beer like this, you'll see that it's not as sweet as it smells. The pumpkin is strong and the spice is right there with it. Like we said this one is a sipper, probably best for sharing with friends after dinner with some dessert.
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin
Oddly enough, the first notes we get from this one are apple pie, spice and pie crust. There's not much pumpkin here, but some light spice is there to make it seem autumny. For an imperial beer it's rather bright in the aroma!
Just like the smell, this one is bright up front and crisper than expected. There's a subtle pumpkin alongside cinnamon, allspice and clove. If you let it sit in your mouth you'll pick up some sweetness and the pumpkin lingers around in your nose after you finish your sip. Breathe, you'll notice it.
Smashed Pumpkin's little sibling leads with a good bit of honey and cinnamon/sugar. There's some mild pumpkin and spice in the background, but those definitely taken a second role to the honey.
Compared to many other pumpkin beers, which are on the richer and more malty side, Pumpkinhead is fairly light and crisp. The honey flavor is really strong, but not sweet. In the finish is a good bit of cinnamon, but it's balanced and not overly assertive. This is a solid casual drinker that many of our craft beer-curious friends love.
Samuel Adams Fat Jack Double Pumpkin
Rich, nutty and a little bourbony smelling, this is a solid showing for a cold-weather beer! There's a little cocoa in the aroma and even less pumpkin and spice. The malt, though, is strong and really showing off brilliantly.
As you start sipping, it almost seems barrel aged. There's hints of pumpkin starch, but the spice is quite low. It's like a rich, malty brown ale. This is a serious beer that would be perfect whenever you need some warming up. Towards the finish there's a bit of raspberry and some people even mentioned they tasted "a bit of Cadbury Fruit & Nut bar." We're going to trust her, as she's British.
What Was The Group's Favorite?
At the end of our group-tasting we polled the group about which beer they were most likely to drink this season. The leader was Saranac Pumpkin Ale which barely edged out a two-way tie for second between Wachusett Pumpkan and Wolaver's Organic Pumpkin Ale.
Now what's your favorite pumpkin beer? Let us know in the comments below!
At the time of the group-tasting, not every pumpkin beer that we
get in Massachusetts was available. As a result, we're going to continue
to add more beers as time goes on.