2020 has taught me many, mostly depressing things about the world and about myself. One of those things is the utter pointlessness of reviewing pumpkin beers for people. My own opinion about which beers are awesome or not now seems to change year by year, to say nothing of other drinkers’ subjective opinions. If I can’t even consistently speak for myself, how can I claim to predict what anyone else will love?
Not to mention, I can only review pumpkin beers that are available in Arizona, and some of the best ones in the country have never made it here. Some of the best ones you can get here can’t be bought outside the Southwest.
With that in mind, rather than stop talking about my pumpkin beer journey altogether, I’ve decided to simplify the review process. Instead of awarding these beers a score on my old five point scale, I will group every pumpkin beer I can think of into three categories: Recommended, Highly Recommended, and Not Recommended. I will also attempt to describe the taste in objective terms so you can determine whether it’s up your alley or not.
Here we go!
Elysian Great Pumpkin
It was already legendary by the time it finally came to Arizona, and I wasn’t disappointed. “Pumpkin pie in the bottle” is kind of the defacto goal of great pumpkin beers and this one could be considered the template for such a flavor. Available in the Elysian Pumpkin Pack with their other three(!) pumpkin beers.
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
A West Coast staple, Dogfish Punkin has been one of the most consistently great pumpkin beers for over a decade. This year it’s my go-to most nights. Too bad it’s so bloody expensive.
Southern Tier Pumking/Warlock
These are both great “pumpkin pie in a bottle” beers, with very similar tastes. But if stouts are more your thing, or you like the sound of a slightly chocolatey pumpkin beer, go with the Warlock. It was once my number 1 favorite, and is still in the top three.
O’Fallon Pumpkin Beer
New discovery for 2020! It has “pumpkin pie in a can” written right on the label. Kind of hard to find but if you can get it, it’s well worth it.
Rogue Pumpkin Patch
Elysian Night Owl
The little brother of Great Pumpkin, Night Owl is what you may want to reach for if you want a big, bold, syrupy blast of pumpkin pie spice without as much alcohol content. I actually find it a bit overpowering some times, but if this description is what you seek you ought to love it.
Wasatch Pumpkin Ale/Black O’ Lantern
Salt Lake City’s twin pumpkin beers are both lighter in taste and ABV than you’d expect, but solid in their own right. I prefer the Black O’ Lantern, which is billed as a stout but tastes more like a porter. Your mileage may vary.
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin/Pumpkinhead
Both of these beers have fallen out of my personal top 5 in the past few years, but I still drink a few each Season without fail. Both hit you with overpowering pumpkin spice, but Pumpkinhead is lighter, more soda-y, and lower ABV than Smashed.
Anderson Valley Fall Hornin’
A nice middle of the road pumpkin beer. Not bad, not spectacular.
Uinta Pumpkin Ale
See above description.
Great Divide Pumpkin Ale
Another new find for 2020, this one is unique in that it tastes very much like a porter but is technically an ale. Pumpkin porters are somewhat rare so if they are your bag, give this one a try.
Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter
Formerly a top 5 pick, after Four Peaks started mass producing and distributing their Pumpkin Porter in bottles and cans the quality noticeably dropped. It tastes like a slightly watered down version of their original beer, but it’s still good enough to recommend.
Trader Joe’s Howling Gourds
Man, what a bitter disappointment. Trader Joe’s used to carry a fantastic, inexpensive Pumpkin Beer called KBC pumpkin ale, but it is now replaced with this, a syrupy, bubblegum pumpkin spice nightmare in a bottle. I only bought one six pack last year, drank part of one bottle, put the rest in the cooler for my annual Halloween party, and still have two left that I refuse to throw away. Avoid.
Elysian Punkaccino Coffee Pumpkin Stout
I only placed this beer in the Not Recommended column because I am personally not a fan of the combination of coffee, pumpkin spice, and beer. Odd, because I do love pumpkin lattes. But if this combination is what does it for you, go ahead and move it up to the Recommend pile.
Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale
Good old reliable, boring Blue Moon. Always there, always underwhelming.
Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin
I haven’t had a Sam Adams pumpkin beer in years, but even back then it was consistently in the lower end of the spectrum, and now it is only available as part of a variety pack that I am not interested in, so I haven’t tried it.
New Belgium Voodoo Atomic Pumpkin
Pumpkin beer plus jalapeno pepper? Hmmm. When I tried this originally, it wasn’t as bad as I expected, but it was simply too weird to consider drinking more than one. Some people are totally into this though, so it’ll have come down to personal taste.
Lakefront Pumpkin Lager
I also haven’t had a Lakefront in a few years. I remember it was pretty OK. Thoroughly middle of the road. Probably still is.
Mudshark Peaceful Pumpkin
The above description also fits this beer perfectly. Some day I will give it another shot, but not this year.
Elysian Dark of the Moon Pumpkin Stout
Every year since I discovered this beer, I try it again and find myself unimpressed. There is certainly no shortage of pumpkin pie flavor, consistent with all Elysians, but for my taste there’s far too much cinnamon, and it ruins the balance. However, I know one other person who has this as his number 1, so I can’t give an objective recommendation here. If you have the Pumpkin Pack you can decide for yourself.
Grand Canyon Pumpkin Springs Porter
I believe this is a simple rebranding of Grand Canyon Brewing’s usual Pumpkin Porter. I can’t quite tell if the recipe has changed or not, but I kept teetering between “recommended” and “not recommended”. It’s just… right on the line. I was actually recently AT Grand Canyon Brewery and had this on tap, and it was exactly like the canned version.
Southern Tier Coffee Pumking
Another coffee pumpkin ale. Having this was what confirmed that coffee+pumpkin+beer was just not a winning combo for me.
Breckenridge Nitro Pumpkin Latte