As we move into the latter part of October, grocery store fronts are lined with pumpkins waiting to be carved. Here, we’d rather they be turned into alcoholic beverages so we can drink the results!
Pumpkin brews are a fall tradition, filling beer aisle endcaps from coast to coast. The styles of beer in which pumpkin (the gourd and/or the traditional pumpkin pie spices) can be added seem limitless. But these can be easily digested when broken down into three major categories:
Light and Vegetal – These will most often be light gold to amber in color, focusing more on actual pumpkin flavor.
Medium and Spicy – This style leans a little bit darker on the color spectrum with flavors of caramelized sugar and spices dominating. These beers come off as “pie-like.”
Big, Boozy and Sweet – Lastly, these brew-ding (get it?) beers could easily replace pumpkin pie, altogether. Thick in body, lots of residual sugar and a healthy alcohol kick make for a tasty end to any meal, be it Thanksgiving or any other fall-inspired dinner.
Our tasting tried to encompass all of these styles (or at least I picked up bottles I thought would hit on all of these styles). The panel consisted of 6 enthusiastic beer drinkers and 5 bottled pumpkin ales. Participants were simply asked to jot down what they thought of each beer they sampled, eventually giving it a letter grade (A through F). The tasting was held blind, with no one on the panel knowing what they were tasting before the beers were unveiled after the completion of the session. This format is a direct pick up from that of our hard cider tasting from a few weeks back.
One thing the tasting panel quickly found out is that finding the pumpkin in pumpkin beers isn’t as easy as it may seem.
Here are our results:
Elysian Brewing The Great Pumpkin
Quite possibly the most recognizable pumpkin beer on the market today, but received a generally “meh” response from the panel.
Overall Grade: C
- “Orange-y gold and a bit hazy”
- “Spicy bitterness, but missing any pumpkin flavor”
- “Chewy. Strangely coats the back of the tongue”
- “Smelled delicious, like pie, but that didn’t last”
St. Ambroise Citrouille
Hailing from Canada, our overall runner-up in the tasting showed promise for a repeat purchase.
Overall Grade: B
- “Slight pumpkin aroma with a good amount of booze coming through”
- “Fairly clear with dark caramel color”
- “Not much pumpkin and not much spice. Balanced, but a bit medicinal”
- “Medium body and carbonation”
- “Candy like/artificially sweet cinnamon flavor… kinda like Red Hots”
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
The brewery mantra is “Off-centered ales for off-centered people.” The people tasting are plenty off-centered, but the ale we tasted was simply uninspired.
Overall Grade: C+
- “Smells like nothing. Maybe a HINT of malt”
- “Dark orange… like a sunset”
- “Inoffensive, but not a lot going for it either. No pumpkin flavor!”
- “Bitter finish reminds me of an IPA”
- “I like it, but it’s not a pumpkin beer”
Southern Tier Pumking
A perennial heavy-hitter and fan favorite in the category, but that doesn’t mean a thing when you taste it blind! Only one taster gave it anything above an F.
Overall Grade: F
- “Heavy, sweet baked goods smell. Like a Costco muffin!”
- “It’s too orange.”
- “Tastes like it smells, but worse.”
- “Fairly unpleasant and lingering. It’s the Mother-In-Law of pumpkin beers.”
- “Yuk! I can’t finish it…”
Elysian Brewing Punkuccino
A first-time release from Elysian, claiming to be “a pumpkin ale with the attitude of a world-weary barista.” Pumpkin, cold-brew coffee and warm spices seemed like the ticket for this panel. Our overall favorite by a wide margin!
Overall Grade: A-
- “Cinnamon coffee smell with burnt sugar”
- “Lovely, dark, and deep”
- “Pronounced coffee notes, big and round, but where’s the pumpkin?”
- “This would be great in a chili”
- “It’s the #psl of beers.”
- “Great beer! I would pay for this.”
Let’s put a lid on this tasting. If you like pumpkin pie, it’s well worth your time, calories and a bit of your sobriety to try out a few pumpkin beers this fall. Should you pick up any of the brews we tried? If you like coffee in your beer, then yes! If not, then possibly… Better yet, go to your local beer shop or watering hole and see what they have to offer.
We’d love to hear from you! Are you a fan of pumpkin beer? Any favorites that we should seek out? Let us know if the comments section. Cheers!