With another Halloween come and gone, it’s time to put the pumpkin beer tasting to rest. This is usually a particularly thirsty holiday for me, and this year was no exception as that final blind tasting I had planned didn’t pan out. My final three pumpkin beers were consumed the old-fashioned way, known and from a pint glass. I have included them in the rankings below, so they still do get their chance to be a part of the experience.
And what an interesting experience this was. There sure are a lot pumpkin beers released this time of year and it’s not hard to find a wide variety of options. A few of these options are really good, some are pretty average, and a number of them are not so great. There were times I got discouraged as the not so great ones seemed to be ganging up on me and I now have a greater appreciation of why people sometimes roll their eyes at the whole idea of pumpkin beer. While I am not at that point, I do think that next year I will be more selective in my purchases and go with known favorites or offerings that are of particular interest (more stouts please). The benefit of all this was that now I know exactly what I like in a pumpkin beer: sweet malts, vegetal pumpkin, and a subdued spice presence. So while it wasn’t always great, I really did enjoy doing this and might have even learned a thing or two. But that’s enough rambling, below are the results!
TOP TIER – SEASONAL TRADITION
All the beers in this category were my favorites and ones that I am certain to actively look for and pick up next pumpkin beer season.
- Cape Ann Brewing Company – Imperial Pumpkin Stout: For the second, perhaps even third, year running this has been among my favorites. It’s a bit sweeter than the rest, but it tastes so good. I’m tempted to try and find some more to drink this winter and maybe even save for a vertical tasting.
- Harpoon Brewery – Pumpkin UFO: This beer was the star of the blind tasting rounds and ranked rather favorably (upper second tier) last year. Sweet, vegetal tastes with just a subtle hint of spices is my preferred flavor profile and this beer delivered just that. Also doesn’t hurt that it’s also readily available for a good price in my area.
- Cisco Brewers Inc. – Pumple Drumkin: Another repeat favorite. While I don’t think it had the same excitement for me this time around as it did last year, it was still a very good beer and my only hop fix in this contest.
- Cambridge Brewing Company – Great Pumpkin: One of the few beers where I really appreciated the fall spices. Very balanced and complex. Quality brew.
SECOND TIER – THE GOOD
All these beers I enjoyed, but not quite as much as the previous tier. These are the ones I would still order on draft, take to a party/have on hand for guests, or recommend to a pumpkin beer newbie.
- Dogfish Head Brewing – Punkin Head: A solid beer, this one pretty much defines what a pumpkin ale should be. Not quite as exciting as the ones listed above, but a good choice none the less.
- Brooklyn Brewery – Post Road Pumpkin Ale: It needed a good amount of sweet malts to keep the finishing spices at bay, but this was overall an enjoyable beer.
- Slumbrew – Slumkin Pumpkin: It’s pretty much an exclusive to the Slumbrew establishments, but if you’re in the area of either their main brewery or Assembly Row taproom at the right time of year, this one is definitely worth a try. A great example of a fall spice finish done right.
THIRD TIER – THE AVERAGE
These are the beers that didn’t make a strong impression. They weren’t bad, but there was nothing about them that really captivated me either. I wouldn’t pass one of these up if they were offered to me, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to get them either.
- Long Trail Brewing Company – Pumpkin Ale: Nice mix of malts and subtle spices. It doesn’t particularly stand out but does capture the style well.
- Captain Lawrence Brewing Company – Pumpkin Ale: While it did have a bit more roasty bitterness and a hotter finish than your typical pumpkin ale, these things weren’t enough to elevate an otherwise lackluster brew.
- Blue Point Brewing Company – Pumpkin Ale: It had all the elements of a beer I’d really like, only really muted. It was definitely an approachable beer, but not one I could get excited about. Perhaps too approachable, if that makes sense.
- Ithaca Beer Company – Pumpkin Ale: A touch on the spicier side but for the most part a nice balance between malts and the fall spice mix. If you like spicier pumpkin ales, you might rate this higher.
THE HONORABLE MENTION TIER
These are beers that I didn’t know quite how to place. While I have strong reservations about placing them in the second tier, they were too intriguing to fit into the third tier. Think of these as beers that would be good were it not for some tragic flaw. I’m curious enough to give them another shot, but realistic enough to think they may not earn a higher ranking after re-evaluation.
- Lakefront Brewery – Pumpkin Lager: This one had an odd but mostly enjoyable taste. Earthy, malty tastes up front that turned to vegetal pumpkin combined with a sweet and slightly funky taste in the background. Not sure about 1) how this would hold up when drinking more than one, and 2) how intentional that funk was. I’d be willing to at least give it another try though.
- Magic Hat Brewing Company – Wilhelm Scream Pumpkin Ale: If going by taste alone, this beer would have ranked much higher. Unfortunately, a fairly off-putting mouthfeel dropped it down several notches. I’d be open to picking up one of these next year to see if they get that sorted out.
- Two Roads Brewing Company – Roadsmary’s Baby: This beer had a lot of potential that I felt it did not quite realize. A bit too much roast and vanilla for my tastes, but I would give it another chance as it did enough for me to stay out of the lower rankings.
FOURTH TIER – THE SUBPAR
These are beers that really did not do it for me. I would not seek them out or recommend them.
- Samuel Adams – Pumpkin Batch: As a Saison, this wasn’t too bad. However, it did not taste even the slightest bit pumpkin-like so I cannot recommend it as a pumpkin beer.
- New Holland Brewery – Icabod Pumpkin Ale: The spices came on far too strong for my tastes and there wasn’t much else there to balance them out. That makes this a miss for me.
- Smuttynose Brewing Company – Pumpkin Ale: This beer tasted soapy and astringently spicy. It fared a bit better when left to sit for a bit, but I can’t say I liked this.
BOTTOM TIER – DRAIN POURS
This final tier is reserved for beers I really hated. They will be actively shunned and I don’t think I’ll ever be persuaded to purchase one again.
- Southern Tier Brewing Company – Pumking: Some people love this but to me it was cloyingly sweet, overly spicy, oily mess. To each their own. Fans of this beer rejoice, I’m leaving more on the shelves for you next year.
- Steadfast Brewing Company – Pumpkin Spiced Ale: This beer was WAY over spiced and pretty much undrinkable. I appreciate they tried to put out a gluten-free pumpkin beer option, but it would have been better to go without this one. Try their Oatmeal Stout instead.