Autumn in the Northeast means one thing for us beer lovers. Pumpkin Ales! Yeah, they are beers brewed with real pumpkins, pumpkin juice sometimes and always with pumpkin pie spices like nutmeg, vanilla or cinnamon. The spices are added because, well, pumpkins by themselves are fairly bland. Had to be said.
While the style has been around for hundreds of years (legend has it that George Washington brewed his own beer from pumpkins), it's only been a viable commercial entity recently. From what I've read, Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale out of California is most likely the first pumpkin ale brewed commercially. I've never had it, but it gets some pretty bad reviews. Post Road Pumpkin Ale from Brooklyn Brewery is the first pumpkin beer I ever had. And my friends and I would look forward to Autumn every year for the newest batch.
A lot of bars and restaurants will serve a pumpkin ale in a glass rimmed with sugar and pumpkin spices. That's okay, but I prefer to taste the flavor of the beer itself rather than that extra sweetness. A good pumpkin beer doesn't need it. But it can make a mediocre pumpkin ale drinkable. Just try not to drink mediocre pumpkin ale, all right?
Here are five of my favorite pumpkin ales:
- PumKing (Southern Tier Brewing, NY) - This is the king, as the name suggests. An incredible imperial (high alcohol) pumpkin all that has it all. It tastes like a pumpkin pie with whipped cream in a glass. It can easily replace any dessert you might want to have...ever! The only problem is that it may be too delicious and filling. One (they come in big 22oz bottles) is definitely enough. There are pumpkin beers that are session beers (you can drink more than a few of them, if you want), but this isn't one of them. The one beer is more than worth it, though.
- Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout (Cape Ann Brewery, MA) - This one is unique. The only pumpkin stout that I've ever tried. There may be another regional pumpkin stout out there, but I've never seen it in my area. Very surprisingly smooth with just a hint of pumpkin spice in there. A big-time malt experience, in my opinion. Like a lot of stouts, it maybe has a little coffee or chocolate flavor in there too. Extremely drinkable too, even though it's 6.75% ABV doesn't make it a lightweight beer. So tread carefully.
- Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale (Smuttynose Brewing, NH) - This might be my favorite pumpkin beer if I'm going to be having more than one. A solid offering with a little more bitter hop flavor than most pumpkin ales. And at 6.0% ABV, it's not terribly strong nor noticeably weak. A nice brew that covers all the proper bases. I especially love it on draft.
- Punkin Ale (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, DE) - Probably one of the more popular craft pumpkin ales nationally, and there is a reason for that. It's delicious! It smells like Autumn in a glass. A hint of cloves to go along with everything else in there, but the tastes is pure smoothness. A lot of pumpkin beers go overboard with the sweetness or the spices (or both), but not this one. It's just good beer.
- Night Owl Pumpkin Ale (Elysian Brewing, WA) - I figured I should pick something from the West Coast, and for pumpkin beers I think you can't go wrong with this one. All the beers from Elysian are delicious, even though the labels are a little silly. Very smooth, Elysian does everything right with this one. A great spice aroma and initial taste. It also comes in a large 22oz bottle like the PumKing, but it is a bit more of a session beer than that one.
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