Fall weather is great, but the season of tweed, apple picking and great jazz wouldn't truly be Autumn if we didn't put pumpkin in pretty much everything we eat. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin ravioli--we'll binge on all of it until we can't stand the thought for another nine months when our infatuation begins anew. Pumpkin beer is no exception, and though the release dates for these supposedly seasonal brews keep creeping into Hefeweizen territory in August, we still love the stuff once the time's right.
We tasted four classic pumpkin beers last year--old favorites Dogfish Head's Punkin and Southern Tier's Imperial Pumking alongside Fire Island's Pumpkin Barrel Ale and Hollow Frog's Hollow Double Pumpkin--so this year we decided to expand our reach. We tried six pumpkin ales from across the country that ranged from light-bodied, easy-drinking beers to darker interpretations that reached as high as 9% ABV.
@cptlawrencebeer | 5.5% ABV
Captain Lawrence Brewing Company's take on pumpkin ale includes pureed pumpkins in the mash--the same technique used by early American colonists when they found themselves short on barley. Of all the beers we tasted, this one was the lowest in alcohol and the lightest in color, pouring a clear yellow-gold. We detected aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger snaps along with bready, lightly spiced flavors. We were struck by how easily drinkable this beer was. We could see ourselves making it through a few of these over the course of a lazy fall day.
@ithacabeer | 6.3% ABV
Say what you will about beer puns--we're big fans of the name. Though still very clear, the beer was orange-brown with a strikingly thick mouthfeel. We found hints of anise, clove and even root beer, but it was the minty aroma and flavor that prevailed all the way through to the finish. This was an unmistakably Ithaca Beer Co. brew, reminding us of their year-round Flower Power IPA.
@elysianbrewing | 8.1% ABV
There are two schools of thought when it comes to pumpkin beer labels--you can heed the spirit of the season and take the quaint and decorative approach, or you can opt for the menacing anthropomorphized Jack O'Lantern. Elysian Brewing Company is the undisputed flag bearer for the latter philosophy. Elysian includes pumpkin seeds in their mash, which came through in the nose alongside an aroma of cinnamon. The higher alcohol is very apparent, but the beer remains a clear pale orange, splitting the difference between Ithaca and Captain Lawrence's offerings.
@LongTrailBrwing | 8.0% ABV
This beer, part of Long Trail Brewing Co.'s Brewmaster Series, is a newcomer to the pumpkin ale world, introduced for the first time at the end of the summer. It was darker and cloudier than any of the beers we tasted before it, with a red-tinged color of burned pumpkin or caramel. We were drawn to the aromas of brandy, cherry, mint and apple, while the alcohol apparent at the start gave way to a chocolate middle and a strong caramel finish.
@Weyerbacher | 8.0% ABV
We're very glad that Weyerbacher finally ditched the Comic Sans knockoff on their labels in favor of something a little more grown up and befitting of this dark and savory beer. The nose of this chestnut and caramel-colored brew is all nutmeg, while the flavor procession of apple, sage and cardamom had us pondering recipes to turn pumpkin pie into a main course.
@ShipyardBrewing | 9.0% ABV
While so many of its pumpkin beer peers try to evoke the finer parts of a Thanksgiving dinner, Shipyard Brewing Co.'s take comes straight out of the sugar-stained Halloween nights of our childhood when we tried to gobble down as much of our Trick-or-Treating haul as we could manage before our parents (and our stomachs) forced us to ration the rest. The traditional spices are replaced by caramel and candy apple aromas and boozy flavors of brandy and cherry, while hints of brandy reminded us just how long its been since we wore costumes and toted plastic pumpkin pails.