3 Cheers for Pumpkin Beers!

The low down and expert advice on the tastiest gourd inspired beers just in time for Fall.
Story AND PHOTOS by Jeff Stites
Beer is a simple thing—water, malted barley, hops and yeast. The Bavarians decided to codify that definition of beer with the Reinheitsgebot, known to us Americans as the German Beer Purity Law, way back in 1516.

One has to wonder if this law was in response to a similar set of circumstances as we have here today, with brewers putting whatever they happen to cross paths with that day in their brews. We have everything from honey beers and berry beers to coffee beers and jalapeno beers. It gets to be too much sometimes.
I can see where the old Bavarian king was coming from. I too generally prefer my beer to be beer-flavored. But I have a soft spot for pumpkin beer.
Maybe it’s my Halloween birthday, maybe it’s my love of pumpkin pie, maybe it’s just a bit of going with the flow, but I find the seasonal influx of pumpkin beers, usually flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or allspice, to be a welcome sign of autumn.
I’ve sampled seven pumpkin and spice infused brews for you this month:
Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Wheat 5.7% ABV 16 IBU
The Label Says: “Ale brewed with real pumpkin and spices”
My Take: This was my introduction to pumpkin beers many moons ago, and I still enjoy it very much. It doesn’t taste particularly pumpkin-y, but the spices (nutmeg in particular) come though loud and clear. It pours a nice amber color and the spice just seems to fit in really well with the toasted malts and wheat base. It’s simple, but it works.
Ballast Point Pumpkin Down 5.8% ABV
The Label Says: “Scottish Ale with Pumpkin”
My Take: This is Ballast’s Piper Down Scottish Ale with pumpkin and spices added. I’ve never had Piper Down, but I’ll be looking for it. It’s delicious. Trouble is, it’s a bit too hearty for the pumpkin to come through at all. I did get a nice whiff of pumpkin, but couldn’t really taste any at all. I’m not upset though, because the ale itself is top notch.
Southern Tier Blackwater Series Warlock Imperial Stout 10% ABV 40 IBU
The Label Says: “Brewed With Pumpkins and Natural Flavor”
“Contains: 2-Row pale malt, caramel malt, black malt, munich malt, pureed pumpkin, magnum hops, sterling hops, natural pumpkin spice flavor”
My Take: This is a great Imperial Stout, but there is much more chocolate and coffee flavor than pumpkin. I am beginning to think that in these darker beers, the pumpkin lends more to the feel, the thickness almost, than it does to the flavor. It seems to make the beers robust, which is a good thing. Hooray pumpkin.
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale 7% ABV 28 IBU
The Label Says: “Our fall favorite, full-bodied brown ale is brewed with real pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon & nutmeg”
My Take: I’m not so sure about the “brown ale” part, it’s much lighter even than the Blue Moon, but this is another fine brew. Punkin is lighter and more carbonated than the others I’ve tried so far. Still not much pumpkin flavor, but the cinnamon comes through and gives this brew a nice warm finish that feels just right for the autumn.
Cottonwood Pumpkin 5.3% ABV 5.2 IBU
The Label Says: “This dry ale uses cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger brewed with real pumpkin and a blend of North American and British malts to give Mom’s pumpkin pie some serious competition. A fall favorite skillfully brewed by Foothills.”
My Take: Skillfully brewed indeed. This is the first real pumpkin flavor I’ve detected in a beer and it really works well. The pumpkin is subtle, but it’s there and blended with the spices and moderate carbonation producing a truly delicious beer. It’s on the lighter side, a bit darker than the Dogfish Head though. Let’s hear it for the Old North State, Foothills Brewery in Winston-Salem has a winner!
New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Special Release Atomic Pumpkin 6.4% ABV 10 IBU
The Label Says: “Pumpkin Ale featuring cinnamon and habanero chili peppers for just the right amount of heat.”
My Take: Think chili peppers are a good thing to put in your pumpkin beer? No, no you don’t. And you’re right. This beer is the lightest in color and beer flavor I’ve tested so far. The pumpkin is undetectable and, to be honest, so is the beer. This is a liquid that is neither refreshing nor interesting enough to make you not care that it isn’t refreshing.
To be fair, if chili pepper beers are your thing (and that makes you weird, but I’m not judging) this might appeal to you. The heat from the pepper hits you as an aftertaste a second or two after you’re swallowed an otherwise bland brew.
My son suggested that maybe this could be an ingredient rather than a drink. You might be able to marinate your meat in it for barbeque, or maybe make a sauce. I don’t know. It has to serve some purpose, but as for me I’m pouring it down the drain.
New Holland Brewing Ichabod Pumpkin Ale 4.5% ABV 26 IBU
The Label Says: “Ichabod combines malted barley and real pumpkin with cinnamon and nutmeg in a delicious and inviting brew. After dinner, try it with your favorite dessert.”
“Pairings: Roasted poultry, root vegetables, peanut sauce, and carroway”
My Take: Ichabod Ale smells like Thanksgiving. It’s a nice amber color and a little on the cloudy side. It is the second beer I’ve tried that has a noticeable pumpkin flavor. The pumpkin is complimented by some cinnamon spice that really makes me think the label has a good idea; this WOULD be a great after dinner beer. It’s also a good before dinner beer. I imagine drinking one during dinner wouldn’t be bad either. It’s a nice ale, nicely tuned to the autumn season. I am NOT pouring this one down the drain.

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