Pumpkin beer: a controversial topic! Some brewers hate the idea, some love it. But the real question may be are you looking for the spice of a pumpkin desert or are you trying to taste pumpkin, the squash itself? Two of our veteran bloggers took on the task of tasting as many pumpkin beers as they can, and just in time for your Halloween night (a stormy one at that). Your choice, open your sack of candy or open a pumpkin beer and get ready to read. Here is what they say:
Schlafly Pumpkin Ale
Always my number one choice, the spices of this beer are so relative to a pumpkin pie, I feel like it is pure, 100% liquid alcoholic pie coming rolling down my throat. Draft or bottle. I’ll always pick this every time.
Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale
This was my first year trying Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale. At a pumpkin ale takeover at Union Brewing Company, the barrel aged paired well with the pumpkin and still had a nice blend of spice. Generally barrel aged beers hold a smooth vanilla taste to my tongue, and I think it compliments this beer like whip cream on pie.
Southern Tier Pumking
The great PumKing! I tracked this bottle down in Chicago, and bought two bombers of it. It has been on tap locally around Indianapolis, but the bottle is still nicely spiced. A little more reserved than Schlafly’s but still wonderful. I’ll be saving my other bomber to next year.
Heavy Seas – The Great’er Pumpkin
A bomber found in Big Red Liquors in Broad Ripple, I was pleasantly surprised. It was darker, still nicely spiced. Not over powering with the nutmeg, but drinking this with food, pair well which a lot of pumpkin ales seem to overpower food with the spice.
Hoppin Frog – Double Pumpkin
Another bomber found out of state, but it is available in Indiana as well. This was very similar to The Greater Pumpkin in spice and also in color.
Jolly Pumpkin – La Parcela – No 1. Pumpkin Ale
This one was interesting because it wasn’t spiced , it was a normal ale, it was more of a sour ale. I’m not sure if it is normally none spiced or sour being this was my first time having a bottle of this beer.
New Belgium – Pumpkick
A new one not only to me, but to the pumpkin ale world. This beer not only has pumpkin spice but also a cranberry splash for a whole thanksgiving meal in each sip. I had a bottle of this at a friend’s house and honestly I think it was too much of a spice and then a tart contrast to really enjoy but I applaud New Belgium for another interesting beer. If I could find it on draft somewhere I’d probably try it again.
Smuttynose – Pumpkin Ale
A newly distributed ale to Indiana, I had this on tap and in the bottle and unfortunately didn’t taste anything relating pumpkin or pumpkin spice. It did have a nice color and pumpkin aroma in the nose.
Blue Moon – Pumpkin Ale or Samuel Adams – Double Pumpkin
Both of these are not complex, simple lightly spiced pumpkin ales. Both from the bottle, both available mostly anywhere, if you like a touch of pumpkin spice, or are curious about pumpkin ales these are a good option to start with.
Local Indiana Beer–
#1 – Bier Pumpkin Ale –
Another spiced liquid pumpkin pie, only available draft and it is amazing. Thankfully as Bier grows it is available on draft many places. Anyone in Indianapolis, needs to try this beer.
People’s Brewing Company – Gourdon Pumpkin Ale
up from Lafayette, I had this beer back at UBC for the Pumpkin Tap takeover. It really is incomparable with Bier, both are great spiced, lightly smooth pumpkin beers.
Flat 12 – Flat Jack
I remembered when this was draft only at the brewery and it is now the bottled seasonal available many places. Heavy on the spice, I think the draft is much better than the bottle, because the bottle doesn’t do all the levels of flavor justice.
Cutter’s Brewing Company – Pumpkin Porter
This is my first pumpkin porter, I love Cutter’s Brewing Company but I was expecting a little more of the nutmeg or cinnamon and it was more of just the pumpkin itself in a lightly malted porter.
UBC Infinite Happiness Pumpkin Ale
This was a great flavored pumpkin ale, albeit slightly timid on the spice. Only available on draft at UBC.
It was quite a challenge tasting more than 2 dozen pumpkin beers on tap and a few in bottles but an enjoyable task. The first pumpkin spiced beer I ever had I made fun of and the bartender put whipped cream on the top! Somehow, many of us have grown accustomed to this rather American flair. It is something to look forward to and savor like Oktoberfest beers or Maifest! Here’s my list and comments.
Schlafly Pumpkin: (draft) After enough 12 oz. samples and 2 “taste offs” with other beers, even after chatting with one of the brewers, Schlafly pumpkin beer is my favorite. This offering provides full body, a complex flavor profile with spice, pumpkin itself providing a great malt along with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. At 8% it delivers a pumpkin punch. My short survey of bar owners and bartenders, plus my friend that is a certified cicerone I find many that agree this is a great beer. This Schalfly beer also has the highest rating of any locally available pumpkin beer on Beer Advocate with over 1000 reviews!
Southern Tier Pumpking: (draft) This is the one I twice did a direct comparison with Schalfly finding this less complex and slightly sweeter, rather than just ‘maltier.’ It is a very good pumpkin beer and also an imperial at 8.6%. I can always tell this from Schlafly because it is much lighter in color.
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin: (draft) This coppery orange beer also delivers a wallop with pumpkin and nutmeg. Maybe I like the use of light Munich malt and Hallertau hops along with Willamette or maybe I just like 9% but I do like this and, like those above, I had this more than once.
Shipyard Pumpkin Head: (draft) In comparison to the big brother mentioned above, this one is less flavorful. Having another sample just yesterday, my opinion increased a bit is has low spice level is light in alcohol and also seemed sweet. Both Beer Advocate and Rate Beer raters seem to agree. I only put it in this order for comparison to the Smashed!
Heavy Seas Bourbon Barrel Great’ ER Pumpkin: (draft). I got a lot of vanilla before I realized this was the Bourbon Barrel expression of this beer. The bourbon barrel notes with cinnamon, ginger, allspice and clove along with brown sugar. A lot going on in this beer! And at 10%, well you can see I like big beers.
New Holland Ichabod: (draft and bottle) Notes of cinnamon and nutmeg combine with the pumpkin for a fairly good version. It is a bit lighter on the spice than many but was still enjoyable enough that when I saw a 6-pack at a grocery store after having it on draught I used it as one of my nightcaps at home.
Southern Tier Warlock: (draft) this imperial stout brewed with pumpkins as they say is another deep complex beer at 8.6% and reminds you of pumpkin pie and strong coffee!
Jack-o-Traveler Pumpkin Shandy: (draft) So I think it is cool that Boston Brewing, brewers of Sam Adams, funded a new brewery to brew (for now) shandy. I think it is cool that the co-founder of Magic Hat teamed up to run this experimental firm. I think it is great that they pack so much flavor in a 4.4% alcohol shandy with real pumpkin. A friend of mine who loves fruit beer also picked this as a favorite!
Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale: (draft) Yet another big beer, at 10%, this one falls in line with other Alltech Kentucky beer labels being a bit too sweet for me. This is the first seasonal beer ever for them and the first year they’ve produced it and I applaud their effort. It has rich flavor.
Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch Ale: (draft) the newest addition to Rogue beers using pumpkins grown on their hop farm and then immediately roasted for the mash. Spiced with …. Ginger, cloves, vanilla beans, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg this is another complex offering. I am not certain all of that flavor comes through but I love the “no chemicals or preservatives” and the “locally grown” nature of this.
Lakefront Pumpkin Lager: (draft): The only pumpkin lager (so they claim, and the only one I’ve seen) this provides a smoothness. They have a proprietary blend of spices from a local firm and they use real pumpkin.
Red Hook Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Stout: (bottle) Read my comments on Cutter’s pumpkin porter below, because it was my opinion of both Warlock and Cutter’s that led me to buy this and have it at home. Complex with maple syrup along with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, this made nice beer to sip on a chilly night at my house! It is in its second year and I hope they keep it around each season.
Buffalo Bill’s Original Pumpkin Ale: (bottle) I like the spice in this beer and, heck, if it really was the first (the Hayward , CA, brewery opened back in 1983) hats off to them for starting a trend. A good one to have at home!
Brooklyn Post Road Pumpkin: (draft) so this is really pumpkin beer, NOT spiced beer and is a tribute to the beers brewed by the American colonists. Okay…. Have you scooped out some pumpkin and eaten it? Bland. Post Road Pumpkin reflects that. Brooklyn brews quality beer and this is good beer. Just don’t expect anything like pumpkin pie.
Fat Head Spooky Tooth Imperial Pumpkin: (draft) A big beer at 9% and richly spiced with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, mace, and brown sugar along with pumpkin. This one does well on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate and I enjoyed it.
New Belgium Pumpkick: (draft) I usually love beer from New Belgium as I love their employee owned, wind-powered, bicycle loving brewery. I like the fact that they tried to out-do others with cranberries and lemongrass plus cinnamon and nutmeg and… pumpkin juice. I rarely write this…. But I just do not like this very well. I kind of enjoyed one on tap in Columbus, IN, but when I had one yesterday I just was not excited.
Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale: (draft) I agree with the brewery statement, “it’s not an obvious pumpkin beer…” spicy, a bit hoppy, a decent beer. I’ve seen it described as a pumpkin saison.
Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale: (bottle) This has a very nice spice level. Yes, this is a big corporate brewer but I am always reminded that Keith Villa, Head Brewmaster, is a Belgian who learned to brew in Belgium. I definitely get the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in this beer and it costs about $1 per bottle in a 12-pack.
And now the LOCAL beers:
Bier Brewery Pumpkin Ale: (draft) This is also my first choice and the secret is the way they spice the beers. This is delicious if you are looking for pumpkin pie in beer! I’ve been told by my cicerone friend that they have a bourbon barrel aged pumpkin porter that is outstanding and to be tapped just before Thanksgiving at the Brewery.
Cutter’s Pumpkin Porter: (draft) the first time I had this on tap I was ready to name it the best local – and maybe it is. I had some from a different keg at a different location that did not deliver quite as much spice as my first. Still, a very nice base porter with richness of pumpkin spice. Actually, from a beer judge standpoint this is exactly what we look for in base beer + fruit.
Zwanzigz Pumpkin Ale: (draft) Columbus, Indiana’s wonderful pizzeria and great brewery produced a very solid pumpkin ale this year. If I could taste the two mentioned above in a side-by-side tasting I am not sure which would win. But the good news is that it does not matter. If you are closer to Columbus than the north side of Indianapolis this may be your best choice for a very good seasonal beer.
RAM Indianapolis Pie’d Piper Pumpkin Ale: (draft) Award winning RAM brewers Andrew and Chris held a great party for the unveiling of this very nice pumpkin beer. This one has very tasty spice levels on a nice base beer.
Rock Bottom (Downtown Indy) Pumpkin: (draft) canned pumpkin with clove, cinnamon, and ginger added to this beer as a very solid local offering from one of Indianapolis most seasoned brewers. Jerry’s tapping received a lot of excitement as people got to try this beer and give it a thumbs up.
Flat12 Flat Jack Pumpkin: (draft) this beer confused me a bit, but I always remember that Head Brewer Rob likes beers a bit different – I would write “off-centered” but that phrase is taken by a bigger brewery. They claim “Indian(a) spices” and I don’t know if there is a spice that is throwing me off. It is good beer. And it is different than others.