October. When all things fall ramp-up. Shelves are covered with Halloween candy, nature has changed from shades of green to shades of gold and rust, and college football teams are starting to play ranked contenders. Oktoberfest beers are going to disappear from the shelves slowly, our love of the German festival waning as September ends. Fear not, because there is one style of beer that is going to be in season late into fall. Pumpkin ales started hitting the shelves in early September, but they do not really hit their stride until we transition into fall. People start looking towards those warming flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice to get through the crisper days.
The beer options on the shelves can be overwhelming. While places like Belmont Party Supply and The Barrel House offer single cans, or even beers on tap, for you to enjoy, there is still a decent selection for you to consider. In service to our readers, we decided to do a small taste test of the beers that are out in the wild right now. A selection was acquired from Belmont Party Supply, and we sat around playing games and tasting beers. All of the beers we tried were generally commercially available; we did not go after any whales or other unique beers. They were also as standard as we could get. We avoided anything barrel-aged or a limited version of another beer. Each beer was sampled considering how it was balanced, the presence of pumpkin flavor, and the pumpkin spiciness in the bottle.
These are, of course, our opinions. Yours will differ, based on your taste buds and love of pumpkin spice.
Ichabod – New Holland Brewing – 4.5% ABV – Holland, MI
This one was primed for us to enjoy. Dark, delicious, good pumpkin and spice nose, everything we wanted in a pumpkin beer. Then we took a sip.
Of all the beers we tried, this was the only one that everyone poured out. It was unbalanced, with the spice being unbalanced and not at all what we were expecting. If there was any pumpkin flavor in it at all, it was buried under layers of spice and hops. Not much to it that we enjoyed, especially with the bitter finish we all detected.
Johnny Rails – Erie Brewing Company – 6.5% ABV – Erie, PA
When we poured this and took a whiff, we were expecting big things. I personally expected good things, as one of our vacation breweries of choice when we are in northwestern Pennsylvania is Erie Brewing. We were, sadly, sorely disappointed.
It is a good beer. We all enjoyed it and expected it to be exceptional based on the aroma alone. But the flavor did not deliver. There was some sweetness of the pumpkin, and some of the spice came through, but it was faint. It is a great fall beer, but not one we would reach for if we needed pumpkin in our lives.
Spooky Tooth – Fat Heads Brewing – 9% ABV – North Olmsted, OH
This one elicited the most diverse discussion from the table. The debate was not over the quality of the beer; we all agreed it was one of the better brews of the night. There were two camps at the table. One felt that it is balanced, with the sweetness of the pumpkin playing a flavorful foil to the spice of the beer. The other opinion was that the pumpkin was not that present, but the spices were still balanced and enjoyable. Either way, this is one to snag before the end of the season.
Imperial Pumpkin Ale – Weyerbacher Brewing – 8% ABV – Easton, PA
This beer was one of the more balanced ones that we tried during the evening. The spices were the more dominant component of the beer, with the sweetness of the pumpkin taking a back seat. You could tell it was going to have a good spice flavor from the first pour, and that part did not disappoint. It was easy drinking enough that someone described it as “the summer shandy of pumpkin beers.” But at 8% ABV, you should not be drinking this half as hard.
The Fear – Flying Dog Brewing – 9% ABV – Frederick, PA
Of course The Fear is going to pour dark. It has to be scary, right? There was a light pumpkin spice nose to it. Combining that with the dark color made the dark beer drinkers at the table pretty excited. The excitement was justified. Led by cinnamon, the pumpkin spice flavor comes through nicely. It was dark and rich and luxurious, lingering on the palate for much longer than most of the other beers. The spice, and the bite it provided, made this beer one of the favorites of the tasting.
Pumpkinville Latte – Ellicottville Brewing Company – 6.5% ABV – Ellicottville, NY
The sweetness in this one was telegraphed right from the beginning. There was a distinct cake aroma to the beer, undeniably sweet, which blended nicely with the spice notes. It certainly was creamier and sweeter in taste than the other beers were, but that did not cut out the spice. It smelled, and tasted, like pumpkin pie with a dollop of whip cream. The coffee was in the background, offering a slightly bitter balance to the sweetness of the beer. All of the richness makes this entry a good end of the night beer.
Pumking – Southern Tier Brewing – 8.6% ABV – Lakewood, NY
Certainly in the argument for one of the best pumpkin beers on the market. The balance of the sweet pumpkin and the bite of the spice is perfect, from the time you catch the aromas coming from the bottle to the time the lovely liquid rolls over your tongue. The finish was smooth, and this was “really pumpkin pie in a glass” according to one taster. In the realm of flavored beers, it is hard to find one that Southern Tier does not do well. This was the hands-down favorite of the tasting.
Pumpkin beers are enjoyed throughout autumn, right up to the point that the first Christmas beers start to show up on the shelves. But while they are out there, they are a warming delight in the chilly days of fall. All of that spice a perfect balance for s’mores and Halloween candy. There are plenty more than the ones we sampled, which we would love to hear about. What are your favorite pumpkin beers? Let us know in the comments. Welcome to fall!