Autumn is just days away, and its blustering winds and cool nights make it the perfect season for a drink that's rich, hearty and spicy. Octoberfest is also around the corner, and plenty of 'fest beers have hit the shelves already, but pumpkin beers have shown their crooked seasonal smiles first. But wait, we're not even in October and you're already telling us to drink pumpkin beer? Sure, it's debatable about when exactly this seasonal specialty should be consumed, and plenty find it flat-out offensive that brewers start shipping out pumpkin beer in July. Though we've refrained from indulging until mid-September, pumpkin beers are never going to be fresher than right now.
What’s interesting about pumpkin beers is that they aren't limited to a specific style (though exotic spices are used across the board), so get ready to try some uniquely flavored porter, stouts, ambers and even barleywine! We do suggest getting an early start and trying some now to get a feel for their flavor and going back for seconds to compliment Halloween and Thanksgiving meals.
- Almanac Beer Company: Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine
Almanac made a serious name for themselves this year by highlighting each season’s harvest with beer made from locally grown fruit or hops in their “Farm-to-Bottle” series. Their fall seasonal, Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine, is one of those brews. At 12.8%, this beer sounds like it should be more trick than treat, but the alcohol is barely noticeable, smoothed out from aging in brandy barrels. Huge brandy flavors, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and pumpkin make this a standout. Even over all the other flavors, pumpkin shines through and steals the show. If you can find it, try to get two bottles: one to drink now and one to hold for a year.
- Cigar City Brewing: Good Gourd
Tampa, FL's Cigar City is known for their mastery of funky ingredients, and this 8.5% ABV pumpkin beer is no exception. Ceylon cinnamon, Jamaican allspice, Zanzibar cloves and nutmeg comprise a seriously exotic bouquet of seasonal goodness. Sure this beer talks a good game, but does it live up to the hype? Balancing pumpkin beers is an exact science and using so many spices can absolutely kill a beer, but what we have here is nothing short of impossibly rich liquid pumpkin pie — an end result many aim for and few achieve. It's mildly sweet but still tastes like pie mix, bready crust and vanilla (like whipped cream). Pure dessert in liquid form.
- DC Brau Brewing Company/Epic Brewing Company: Fermentation Without Representation
In a category dominated by lighter ales, a good dark pumpkin beer is a rare treat. Luckily this collaborative effort between the district’s DC Brau and Utah’s Epic Brewing Company isn’t just a witty play on D.C.’s license plate, it’s got spices, whole vanilla beans and oh yeah, a TON of pumpkin. Well, 200 pounds of pumpkin per barrel (which is a lot). What stands out are the roasty flavors from the darker malt, lending itself to a profile of coffee, chocolate, roasted pumpkin and pie crust. If you’re avoiding pumpkin beer for fear of getting a spice bomb, your fears are warranted, but this isn’t one of those. The darker malt profile adds complexity, resulting in a refreshing take on the style.
- Elysian Brewing Company: Night Owl Pumpkin Ale
Though there’s no shortage of pumpkin beers on the market, many are too spice-heavy to the point where you don't want to drink more than one. Friends, look no further than Elysian, the Pacific Northwest’s king of pumpkin beers. This is a refreshing and drinkable pumpkin ale which you should have no reservations about buying by the sixer. Night Owl is just 5.9% and it’s heavier on the pumpkin flavor and lighter on the spices than most. You’ll taste gingerbread, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, bready malt, some hops and lots of great gourd flavor.
- Rogue Ales: Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch Ale
This was one of the biggest surprises of last year's fall beer season, and continues to impress. Immediately after opening, you’re smacked in the face with huge aromas of pumpkin and spice. Pumpkin Patch ale is made from pumpkins grown on Rogue’s farm in Oregon, and that fresh local pumpkin component really shines. Pumpkin and cinnamon are the dominant flavors, but cloves, nutmeg, brown sugar, allspice, a light hoppiness and sweet bready malt are all present. At 5.6%, it’s on the lighter side of pumpkin beers and avoids the pitfalls of wateriness or spice overload. If you’re thinking about keeping pumpkin beers on-hand to drink throughout the year, this one holds up really well to aging, especially for a having such a low ABV.
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