10 Pumpkin Ales

Squash meets beer with mixed results

By Roxanne Webber

Mavericks Pumpkin Harvest Ale
Mavericks Pumpkin Harvest Ale

Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale
Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale
Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale

Kennebunkport Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale
Kennebunkport Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale

The idea of using pumpkins in a mash to make beer isn’t new—even George Washington used the gourd in lieu of malt. But modern pumpkin beer seems to be more of an attempt to bottle pumpkin pie, spices and all. We tried six of these seasonal brews, and checked in with the Chowhound boards for a take on some of the others. The results were not entirely good. If you’re after some for your own taste test, you might have to hunt around a bit, or order online, because they are selling out fast.

1. Mavericks Pumpkin Harvest Ale. This was a favorite among our tasters because it wasn’t overspiced and had a pleasing amount of hoppiness. “I would definitely scarf this beer while wearing a scarf,” noted one taster, but it fell “a little flat” for another.

2. Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale. There are 150 pounds of pumpkin in each batch of this beer, and nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice are all added during its conditioning stage. Chowhound LStaff says this pumpkin beer is “[o]ne of the few that has a balance of malt, spices, AND hops.”

3. Bison Organic Pumpkin Ale. Bison’s take on the style is particularly wheaty. It’s brewed with pumpkin and spices, but both were subtle. We found it to be OK but unremarkable.

4. Southern Tier Imperial Pumking. This one is a favorite of Chowhound kelarry, who says that it has “a distinct hazelnut and spice flavor in addition to the pumpkin.” Bit it’s too much for Chinon00, who thought it “got to the point where the beer was left behind for the spices in terms of smell and taste.”

5. Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale. This beer is considered to be one of the first pumpkin microbrews. But though you have to give brewer Bill Owens credit for making the first batch back in the mid-1980s from a homegrown giant pumpkin, nobody on the CHOW panel really liked it: “Tastes like watery wheatgrass with cinnamon,” was one verdict.

6. Dogfish Head Punkin Ale. We liked this creamy beer because it tasted more like a strong brown ale than anything else. It is brewed with pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg, but we only detected a faint spice flavor. “Nice body and balance and clean finish,” said one taster.

7. Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale. Brewed with pumpkin and “traditional spices,” this is Chowhound afty698’s “favorite pumpkin beer … fuller bodied than most … with more subtle pumpkin pie spice flavors.” But spork5150 thought the “hops versus the pumpkin spice was just too much.” cannedmilkandfruitypebbles used the ale to make a version of a Black and Tan, and reported that “even with the Guinness on top, you could still smell the pumpkin.”

8. Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale. Tasters thought this wheat ale made with cinnamon and nutmeg was a little watery. It received mixed reviews for its spicing, ranging from “great initial spicy taste” to “cinnamon air freshener.”

9. Kennebunkport Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale. We were told by a representative at Shipyard Brewing that this is simply Pumpkinhead bottled with the Kennebunkport Brewing Company label for Trader Joe’s. For some reason, however, tasters disliked it more than the Shipyard. “Tastes like watery cinnamon Life cereal,” said one. “Way overspiced. I hate this. It’s really gross,” said another. Were we swayed by the cool Shipyard label? Who knows.

10. Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale. Since this is made by Anheuser-Busch, it’s one of the easiest to find. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. Chowhound Lixer considers it to be “the Miller Lite of pumpkin ales.”

CHOW’s The Ten column appears every Tuesday.

Roxanne Webber is an associate editor at CHOW.

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