I like beer. I like pumpkins. And I love when the two come together in perfect harmony. I’d consider myself a lover of good beer, but at best I’m a budding beer snob. I wouldn’t say I have the most sophisticated palette, nor a ton of experience. So if any bonafide beer snobs wind up reading this (I’d need readers first), keep in mind that this is an extremely objective review. That said, here’s my rundown of the pumpkin beers I’ve been able to track down and my opinion of each.
Shipyard Brewing Pumpkinhead Ale
Of the pumpkin beers I’ve been able to try so far, this is my favorite. It may not be the most bold or complex out there, but it has, I believe, the finest and most pronounced pumpkin flavor. It’s like drinking pumpkin pie. At the same time, it’s not overly sweet. The perfect balance of pumpkin and regular beer flavor, and easy to drink.
Uinta Brewing Punk’n
I discovered this one this year. I don’t believe it has been available in AZ until now. It’s a very solid pumpkin beer, with a fairly pronounced pumpkin flavor and good complexity. One of the more bold ones out there, I’d say.
Buffalo Bill’s Original Pumpkin Ale
When I first had this a few years ago I was more impressed by it. I’m not sure if it’s because I hadn’t had too many pumpkin beers before or because the beer has actually changed, but now I consider it serviceable. Good, but not great. The flavor is a little weak. You can definitely taste pumpkin, but there isn’t too much interesting going on besides that. If it’s not ice cold there’s a slightly unpleasant bitterness as well.
Dogfish Head Punk
My other favorite pumpkin beer, and this one also seems to meet the approval of dedicated beer lovers as well. To be honest, the pumpkin flavor could be more pronounced, but it’s certainly no slouch. And it has the boldness and flavor complexity that you’d expect from Dogfish Head. This beer was so popular this year it was actually hard to find. In fact, Total Wine was accepting reservations on new shipments of the stuff. Fortunately I was able to find an ample supply at Bevmo on Happy Valley. Dogfish Head Punk is a pumpkin beer I like on a more academic level. Since it has a relatively high alcohol content and more subtle pumpkin flavor (and higher price tag), it’s not really my go-to pumpkin beer.
Indian Wells Brewing Spicy Pumpkin Ale
I mentioned when I originally bought this that I wasn’t expecting greatness due to the shoddy packaging. Sadly I was correct in judging this book by its cover. It tastes like how a Michael’s craft store smells, and this comparison was confirmed to be eerily accurate. Pumpkiny, yes, but with an overdose of cinnamon and other spices. Too sweet, and tastes watered down. Also has that dreaded metallic, vitaminy taste like diet cola, and too fizzy. At the very least I’m glad I had this if only because I needed a low benchmark to judge other pumpkin beers.
Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale
Blue Moon has a habit of messing around with their seasonal beers, but at least they have the courtesy to alter the name so we know about it. Their autumn beer went from Blue Moon Octoberfest to Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale to Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale, and the beer itself changed slightly each time. Unfortunately what hasn’t changed is the overall quality, which is merely fair-to-middling. It tastes like Blue Moon with a dash of pumpkin, and nothing more.
Lakefront Pumpkin Lager
Lakefront advertises this beer to be “the only pumpkin lager” on the market. All others are ales. I suppose if that helps you stand out in the fiercely competitive pumpkin beer market, more power to you. The pumpkin flavor is easily detectable on the nose, and fairly pronounced on the tongue. I’d say it has a moderate but respectable degree of pumpkin-ness to it, but the beer itself is nothing spectacular. I’d recommend it as a solid, “every day” pumpkin beer (if such a thing exists), but it’s remarkably expensive, negating that distinction.
New Belgium LoF Series Kick
Something I suspected, but didn’t confirm until tasting, was that this beer was a sour ale. That of course turned out to be the case, with the cranberry hitting you like an arrow to the tongue. I have little experience with sour ales, but I loved this. On the first few sips I was afraid the cranberry would be too much, and that it would overpower the pumpkin, but the pumpkin flavor makes itself known in the finish. It’s complex, and surprisingly easy to drink given the high alcohol content. I’d have given it 5 pumpkins if the pumpkin flavor was more pronounced.
Wasatch Brewing Pumpkin Ale
What a surprise this one was. I picked it up reluctantly, and couldn’t even remember whether I’d tried it before. The labeling is so bland and unassuming, but then you taste the beer and get punched in the face by pumpkin pie. I imagine this is what the Indian Wells pumpkin ale was going for but failed to deliver. Only downside is a very slight hint of that metallic “diet cola” taste. Otherwise pretty much exactly what I look for in a pumpkin beer.
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin
Shipyard Brewing actually has two pumpkin beers, the Pumpkinhead Ale rated above, and this, the more “serious” version. It’s higher in alcohol content and has a slightly more complex flavor, but the pumpkin flavor itself is more subtle, not unlike Dogfish Head. I imagine beer snobs would prefer this, but I actually like the more down-to-Earth Pumpkinhead a little more.
Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat
I’m not sure if this one existed before this year. Shock Top is kind of known for their “fruity” beers so I wondered if this would provide a big, sweet kick of pumpkin pie flavor. Not so. The pumpkin is very subtle, even difficult to detect. Beyond that tiny bit of pumpkin flavor it tastes pretty much like a standard Belgian-style wheat beer. Not worth writing home about.
Michelob Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale
I wasn’t able to obtain this one this year, oddly enough. Perhaps Michelob decided there wasn’t enough money in pumpkin beer. But that’s OK, because I remember it being thoroughly mediocre, with barely any pumpkin flavor to speak of and a sub-par base from a mass brewer. The world is no worse off without Michelob’s pumpkin beer.
Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter
Perhaps my opinion is being colored by the ridiculous lengths I had to go to to obtain this beer, but this one lived up to (most of) the hype. I had known that Four Peaks Brewing (a local brewery) made this beer and served it at their own brewery and occasionally at other local bars, and it had quite a reputation. After many failed attempts I finally wound up with a growler of it (thanks Matt), and it’s very interesting. I will say that it’s different from every other pumpkin beer available. Almost all are ales, there’s one lager, but this is porter, a dark beer. I love the nutmeg, chocolate, and coffee flavors. The pumpkin is moderate. It could be more pronounced but it’s far from subtle. I waffled between four and five jack o’ lanterns, so let’s call it four and a half.