Here’s a quick cheat sheet about my impressions of some widely available pumpkin beers on the market in the greater Phoenix area. Ratings are on a scale of one to five jack ‘o lanterns, and where applicable, the name of the beer will link to a longer-form review if I’ve done one for it.
Full disclosure – I am not a terribly experienced beer aficionado. I may not have the most refined palette in the world, but I’ve had a lot of pumpkin beers. The beers here are mainly judged by the quality and quantity of the pumpkin flavor, and then by the other traditional beer qualities like mouthfeel, flavor complexity, alcohol content, and so forth.
The Three Kings (Jon’s Top 3)
Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale
The perennial favorite. It may not have the full backing of more experienced beer fans, but for my money nothing tops this one in terms of sheer pumpkinosity. It’s pumpkin pie beer. That’s pretty much all you need to know. Easy to drink and delicious.
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
This is the one that everyone seems to love, and with good reason. It’s fantastic. The flavors are bolder and more complex, which means that, to me, the pumpkin gets the tiniest bit lost in the mix, but it’s still mighty pronounced. It’s got a higher alcohol content which in part makes up for the expense. At a Bevmo or Total Wine, it’s about 10 bucks a four pack. But you really can’t go wrong with Dogfish Head Punkin, which is why it tends to sell out before Halloween. If you see it, get it.
Uinta Brewing Punk
This was a 4-jack beer last year, but it’s been easier to find in 2012, and I found myself turning to it more often. I can’t say whether my tastes have evolved or the beer itself has improved, but I’ve promoted the Punk to a 5-jack pumpkin beer. It’s a little heavier on the tongue than Shipyard, and tastes more substantial. But the amount of pumpkin flavor is just a tad less. It makes the Top 3.
The Special Beers
Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter
You may remember reading about my folly-filled quest for this beer in last year’s Roundup. This year, my prior knowledge made it far easier to come by. I love this beer because it’s the darkest of all the pumpkin beers, and the only one I’ve had that incorporates notes of chocolate into the mix. I’ve heard tell that they have it on draft at Mellow Mushroom, which is just….. capital. I can’t wait to have pumpkin porter and baked potato pizza together.
Sam Adams Fat Jack
They really played this one up on the Sam Adams website, and sadly, I was disappointed. Not with the beer itself, mind you, but by the claims of HEAPS of pumpkin flavor which turned out to be trumped up. A very fine beer, but a mediocre pumpkin beer. I’m being generous with 4-jack, but let’s call it 3 and a half.
Jolly Pumpkin No. 1 “La Parcela”
With a wordy title and an excellent bottle, not to mention being from a brewery with “pumpkin” in the name, I was expecting much more than this. A very unique, somewhat sour, almost tangy beer, but with very subtle pumpkin flavor. If you gave this to me in a blind taste taste, I might not even know it was a pumpkin ale, and it’s pricey to boot. Beer experts may like this more than I did.
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin
Another promoted beer! Last year, I mentioned that this beer was more complex and higher in alcohol content but less pumpkiny than their own Pumpkinhead Ale, and that still holds true. However, possibly due to my more evolved palette, I enjoyed this one immensely this year. I hold it in the same regard as The Three Kings, but the cost prohibits this from being an “every day” indulgence.
Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale
Same as last year, this is a run of the mill pumpkin beer. Not bad, but not great. It tastes like Blue Moon but with a tiny splash of pumpkin. If that description sounds excessively obvious, well, SOR-RY.
Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale
Sam Adams tends to have a history of disappointing me. With all their talk of being true beer lovers with a craft beer mentality, I can’t remember ever being impressed with a Sam Adams beer. Their “normal” pumpkin beer definitely has a unique flavor, but it’s not what I’d call true pumpkin. It tastes artificial, and a little too sweet.
Buffalo Bill’s Original Pumpkin Ale
Alas, one of two pumpkin beers to drop a point in 2012. I really wish I could remember my exact experience with this beer when I first had it, because when I drink it now I am severely underwhelmed. It’s far from the worst pumpkin beer out there, but it’s uninspiring. I’m calling it 2 and a half-jack.
Wasatch Pumpkin Ale
Last year, I mentioned how this beer had a lot of pumpkin flavor but a hint of that metallic “diet cola” taste. Well, chalk it up to experience, but that metallic flavor is unmistakable to me now. It still goes wonderfully heavy on the pumpkin pie flavor, but you kind of have to keep pouring it down your throat to keep that aftertaste at bay. And that kind of behavior has disastrous (and sexy) results. With more beers rising in the ranks with me, this one had to step back.
Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat
I’ll be honest, I don’t have anything more to say about this one that wasn’t said last year. I did have a few this year, and they made no great impression. I think of Shock Top beers as good for teenagers trying their first beer. Their pumpkin wheat is just…. drab.
KBC Pumpkin Ale
What a pleasant surprise! Trader Joe’s has, for the first time in recent memory, carried a pumpkin ale, and it’s pretty damn good! As I type this, I’m still enjoying my very first bottle of it, so perhaps history will alter my opinion, but for now I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It has the flavor of the Wasatch Pumpkin but with much less of that diet cola flavor. Only issue is, while it may not have a metallic aftertaste, it does have a bit of a regular-cola streak. By that I mean, it almost doesn’t taste like beer. For some people, that might be a benefit. A worthy contender.
Indian Wells Spicy Pumpkin Ale
OK, this one isn’t fair. I have not tasted this beer in 2012. But people very frequently ask me if there is any such thing as a bad pumpkin beer, and I tell them about this one. It tastes exactly the way a Michael’s store smells. Like cinnamon sticks and potpourri. And if memory serves it was fizzy and cola-y to boot. Maybe it’s cheating to deride a beer I haven’t drank in a year, when so many others have changed my opinion, but screw it, it’s my website. ONE JACK.