I don’t remember my first pumpkin beer. I wish I did. It would have probably been Buffalo Bill’s Original Pumpkin Ale, which they still sell, or Michelob Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale, which they do not. What I do remember is that around 10 years ago, there weren’t very many choices in pumpkin beers, at least not here in Phoenix. Total Wine and Bevmo had yet to invade these lands, so you were limited to grocery stores, convenience stores, or venturing to one of the few independent, beer-centric liquor stores that carried all kinds of exotic craft beers you couldn’t get anywhere else. It was a strange time. Strange that those days were so recent.
Things have changed considerably. It was somewhere around 2009 that I decided pumpkin beer was an integral part of the Halloween season. My review roundups started in 2011. From that year on, it seemed more and more pumpkin beers were showing up on store shelves every September and October. Now we’re pretty much swimming in the stuff. Of course, it’s not just the beer. If you can name something that takes any sweet flavor well, you can bet there’s a pumpkin spice version of it. This has led to a backlash among the general cynic community and earned pumpkin spice the dreaded badge of “basic”.
Nevertheless, I persist. Pumpkin beer is one of my traditions now, and it’ll stay that way as the popularity of it waxes and wanes.
Following is a list and brief review/rating of every new* pumpkin beer I was able to obtain this season. For all other pumpkin beer reviews, please see the Reviews page. Onward!
*”New” meaning new to me – as in never was able to find in stores until now.
New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Atomic Pumpkin
That is a mouthful! And like that name, sometimes more is less. In this case, New Belgium took a quirky approach and one-upped their Pumpkick concept by adding cinnamon and habanero peppers to their pumpkin beer, creating a bizarre combination. The cinnamon hits the tongue first, followed by the subtle pumpkin and finally the habanero, which bullies the other flavors into submission. It doesn’t taste bad, but I’ve never cottoned to spicy beers myself, and this one is kind of hard to drink because of that spiciness.
Wasatch Nitro Pumpkin Ale
Wasatch pumpkin beers get a big thing right: plentiful pumpkin pie spice, and a big thing wrong: metallic, soda-y flavor. The nitrogenated version of their pumpkin ale tastes exactly like their standard, carbonated sibling, but the texture is creamier and less fizzy. No surprise, as the bottle/can itself proclaims that it’s the same beer until gas is added. I think the texture of the nitro helps, as I find myself more willing to forgive the somewhat flat, artificial flavor in this form.
Acknowledging both my fondness for Elysian’s Night Owl pumpkin ale, and the beer community’s high regard for this “Great Pumpkin”, I was beyond thrilled to see this finally appear in Phoenix. And it doesn’t disappoint. This belongs right up there with Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin and Southern Tier Pumking in the Mount Rushmore of big bottle pumpkin ales. Pumpkin pie flavor splashes the palette and provokes images of glowing jack o’ lanterns and falling leaves. Overall taste is smooth, bold and complex, and the >8% ABV doesn’t fool around. A delight to find.
Elysian Dark o’ the Moon Pumpkin Stout
Oh, did I mention Elysian stocked three big bottle pumpkin beers in Phoenix this year? My glass runneth over! All the pumpkin stouts I’ve had have been good to great, so color me excited for this one. And my final impression…? Quite good, but not spectacular. I’m rating this in comparison to the Great Pumpkin, and I just don’t get as much pumpkin pie spice with this one. I get a lot of cinnamon, coffee, and chocolate, which is wonderful in a sweet stout, but could have used more actual pumpkin. Still, no slouch, and compared to other regular pumpkin beers it’s near the top of the pile.
Elysian Punkaccino Coffee Pumpkin Stout
The third new Elysian pumpkin beer I found. Pumpkin…stout…and coffee? Intriguing! I do see those flavors being quite compatible, and they are in practice. But the Dark o’ the Moon pumpkin stout (above) already has notes of coffee. Punkaccino ups that flavor (obviously), which means the pumpkin gets pushed even further back. There’s still noticeable cinnamon and chocolate too. Interesting, delicious, not the most pumpkin-y.
Southern Tier Cold Press Coffee Pumking
Apparently this is the year of coffee/pumpkin beer. I’ve seen three so far: this, the aforementioned Punkaccino, and a pumpkin spice latte nitro ale that I have yet to try. Building on the popularity of regular Pumking, Southern Tier has released this coffee-infused version alongside a rum barrel aged one, also not yet tried. And, again, the operative word is “interesting”. Weirdly enough, the predominant flavor I get with Pumking + coffee is peanut butter. If I close my eyes and concentrate I can pick out the individual notes of pumpkin and coffee, but sip for sip, you could have convinced me in a blind taste test that this was a peanut butter porter or something. As a result, I find it hard to assign a rating. Is it good? I honestly don’t know. Ummmm…
This can tells a pretty bold story. Says it “hits the palette like a big ol’ slice of pumpkin pie”. That’s pretty much the only thing I look for in a pumpkin beer! Unfortunately, this beer falls on the wrong side of the pumpkin/spice flavor spectrum, evoking a tangy, fruity quality, much like Nebraska’s Wick for Brains (another beer that doesn’t live up to its own can design. There is pumpkin flavor here, so that keeps the score from sinking too low. I’ll conclude the review the way I ended on Wick for Brains: keep a can for display, let your buddies drink the beer.