Now that pumpkin spice has entered a “basic bitch” level of ubiquity in our society, my ongoing quest to sample every single pumpkin beer in Phoenix has taken on a different tenor. I can’t help but wonder if the cashiers at Total Wine are secretly rolling their eyes whenever I plop down four six packs and two imperial pints on the counter, all pumpkin flavored beer.
Nevertheless, this new social stigma will not deter me. Pumpkin beer is one of my cornerstone Halloween season traditions, damnit! And it’s remarkable to think of how my tastes have changed in the past eight years. I used to think Shipyard Pumpkinhead was the pinnacle of the form. Now it tastes artificial and syrupy to me. Uinta Punkin, formerly a solid four-jack beer, is now thoroughly middle of the road, while subtler options like Pumpkin Down are rising in my reckoning.
This year I’m forgoing re-reviewing any beers I’ve already covered, unless of course they’ve changed dramatically enough to warrant another look. See previous roundups…
Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale
I’m starting out with my favorite discovery of 2016, Elysian Night Owl. Elysian Brewing makes a pumpkin ale called Great Pumpkin that’s apparently famous nationwide, but has never been available in the old PHX. For some reason, a different pumpkin beer by the same brewery, Night Owl, appeared unexpectedly at Total Wine, and I bought up every last bit. Seriously. I went to three locations that had it, and all three had exactly ONE six pack in stock. It’s a fantastic beer. Pumpkin makes itself immediately apparent, which I love, and the flavor is backed by a complexity not often seen in this kind of thing. A relatively robust 6.7% ABV puts it on the beer snob radar. I’m hoping the Great Pumpkin also makes the jump over here to the valley, because this one’s a rare five-jack.
Upslope Pumpkin Ale
This pumpkin beer from Colorado comes in a handsome copper-colored can (and not in bottles at all at Totes) and boasts a 7.7% ABV. Pumpkin pie spice is definitely on the subtle side, but there’s a telling earthiness that gives away the fact that real pumpkins are included in the brewing process. A good beer that the craft beer bros ought to love, and that I respect, but probably won’t become a seasonal staple.
Brooklyn Post Road Pumpkin Ale
Another day, another barely-there pumpkin ale. Brooklyn Post Road is a small notch above the grocery store classics – your Sam Adams and Blue Moons – but not what I’d reach for when I’m in the mood for a flavor explosion of Halloween spirit. This is a bright and crisp beer and the pumpkin spice is more noticeable on the aftertaste than in the mouth.
Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
Photographs of real (uncarved) pumpkins on the bottle labels are typically bad signs for pumpkin beers, but Smuttynose bucks that trend, more or less. This is a fine, drinkable beer with a fairly unique take on “pumpkin”. Instead of the usual earthy, pumpkin pie style flavoring, this one is sharper and fruitier. It almost tastes like it was made using younger, less ripe pumpkins or something. Fairly middle of the road, but you could do worse.
Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch
I gave this one a glowing recommendation previously, and was excited to revisit it given that it remains somewhat hard to find year after year. The subtle name change belies a more noticeably apparent change in the actual beer. I remember this thing hitting you with a blast of pumpkin spice right at the top, and following through with the depth and complexity you’d expect from a Rogue beer. This year’s batch, I barely detected pumpkin at all. A lot of drinkers prefer that quality in their pumpkin beers of course, but I still like immediate gratification.
Buffalo Bill’s Black Pumpkin Stout
Stouts are somewhat rare in the pumpkin beer world. Southern Tier Warlock is pretty much my favorite pumpkin beer ever, and Wasatch makes a decent one called Black O’Lantern. And that’s about it… as far as Phoenix is concerned. But I recently discovered this in Total Wine’s “special release” section. And I kind of love it. It’s not quite as much of a pumpkin pie kick in the face as Warlock, but it’s no slouch. This is a thick, chocolatey, pumpkiny 8% stout, sadly with the price tag to match. Good special occasion pumpkin beer. There need to be more of these on the shelves.
Ballast Point Pumpkin Down
Last year I gave this beer a fair to middlin’ review, and to be perfectly honest, I think when I wrote it I didn’t have the clearest memory of what the beer tasted like (I admitted as such). All I knew was it didn’t blow me away, but it didn’t disgust me either. Now that I’ve matured somewhat and have an open bottle of the stuff sitting beside me as I type, here’s a legitimate review: Ballast Point Pumpkin Down is pretty good! Yeah, it’s still no game-changer, but given that here in Phoenix it’s one of the only (maybe THE only) pumpkin beer that BevMo carries and Total Wine does not, if you’re located close to a BevMo this is a totally solid beer to watch horror movies with. The taste is heavy and earthy, with pumpkin spice that doesn’t knock your socks off but doesn’t fizzle away at the first sip either. I’d say it tastes kind of like Four Peaks Kiltlifter with pumpkin added, which ain’t bad. Ain’t bad at all.
Nebraska Brewing Wick for Brains
Just look at that can. Magnificent. I’ll admit, the design of the can/bottle, along with the name of the beer sort of raises my reckoning of its quality. I can’t help it. Nebraska Brewing didn’t put some generic pumpkin image into a standard label and shove it onto shelves, oh no, they made sure you’d notice this beer sitting among all the other in the seasonal aisle. I wish I could spend this whole review just talking about the can design, but as for the beer itself, well, it’s OK. I don’t typically go in for the more tart, fruity brand of flavor in a pumpkin beer, and that’s where this one hits the tongue. Pumpkin spice is quite noticeable, but that tartness kind of bullies the flavor. It almost made me think I got some of last year’s batch, but I didn’t. Buy for the amazing can art, and let your buddies drink the beer.