The Great Pumpkin (Ale)

Good Grief… it’s pumpkin beer season already! Is it me or did the pumpkin ales creep up on us earlier than usual this year? I spotted some pumpkin ales (and Halloween candy) at my local Safeway as early as mid-August… But I’m not complaining. #SummersNotOver but we got an early start on fall with a pumpkin beer tasting organized and hosted by my friend Christina last night. Who knew there are so many different kinds of pumpkin beers out there?

pumpkin beer, pumpkin ale, pumpkin, beer

We’re not big on pumpkins and gourds in France.  But it’s a staple of fall here in the United States and it’s actually been a staple of the beer industry for a long time. In colonial New England, apparently, pumpkin was used to supplement for malt, which was abundant in Europe, but not that available in the new world. Eventually, pumpkin disappeared completely from the recipe, until craft beers made a big comeback in the 1980s and started experimenting with squash pureed and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Today, there’s over 400 different breweries that offer a pumpkin seasonal ale during the fall (and late summer apparently). While we could never sort thru all those (…or could we?) we rounded up 12 different beers that we found here locally. They spanned the country, from South Carolina, Ohio and Virginia. Some tasted like pumpkin pie, others were more subtle. Here are my personal tasting notes:

Epic & DC Brau’s Fermentation Without Representation Collaboration Beer ~ this porter is a collaboration between DC’s own DC Brau and Epic Brewing from Salt Lake City, UT. If you don’t like pumpkin beers this is probably your best bet on this list… it’s smooth, with dominant flavours of coffee and malt, not pumpkin or pumpkin pie spices.

Southern Tier Brewing Company’s Pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale ~ With its deep copper colour, this spicy ale was probably the sweetest that we tried. It’s also one of the most potent at 8.6% ABV.

Frog’s Hollow Double Pumpkin Ale (Akron, OH) ~ Aged in whiskey barrels, this hoppin’ brew is pretty complex though not really well balanced. Spices like cinnamon and nutmeg overwhelm the pumpkin a little but also give it a good flavour. I’m on the fence, but my friend’s David ranked it as one of his fave. I guess it’s all a matter of personal taste 😉

IMG_3644Gruntled Pumpkin ~ this light pumpkin ale style beer brewed by RJ Rockers Brewing Company in Spartanburg, SC, has crisp citrus notes. It’s on the hoppy side, which isn’t for everyone but I personally enjoyed it.

Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch Ale ~ There are no artificial pumpkin flavours in this one: Rogue grows its own gourds on its farm in Independence, Oregon. It’s a full bodied ale, with a hint of ginger. It’s sweet, but not pumpkin pie sweet. I liked it.

Long Trail Imperial Pumpkin ~ The spices are more subdued than in some of the other beers we tried. I don’t really like beers that are too sweet, so I really enjoyed this Vermont ale.

Shipyard Pumpkinhead ~ The Portland, Maine ale lightest colored beer of the bunch has an overpowering cinnamon flavor that overshadows other notes. Like pumpkin. Or beer.  This was one of my least favourite.

Brasserie McAuslan’s St-Ambroise Citrouille ~ Guess who brought this Quebec beer to the tasting? Moi, of course. And I must say I was a little disappointed. But that’s partly because I had really high hopes from the lone non-American beer. The citrouille is a light bodied ale, with a dark red/copper colour but it felt a little watered down.

Heavy Seas The Great Pumpkin ~ There’s 2.5 pounds of spice per barrel in this local-ish (Baltimore is close enough) “imperial” brew but it’s still a pretty well balanced beer with a good pumpkin taste as well. Apparently, Heavy Seas also released a Great’er Pumpkin ale which is bigger and bolder (the beer is aged in bourbon barrels) and if you see one in a DC store somewhere, let me know, because I’d love to try it!

Flying Dog Brewery, The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale ~ though not a porter, this Flying Dog Brewery beer was very dark and definitely had some porter-like characteristics, particularly the malt sweetness. It’s a big bear, and I really liked it. Be careful though, it’s up there at 9% ABV!


Dogfish Head Punkin Ale ~ this full-bodied brown ale, with subtle pumpkin flavours, was my favourite of the evening. Hands down.

Matt Brewing Company’s Saranac Pumpkin Ale ~ With its gorgeous vanilla amber colour this ale unfortunately had too much spices, not enough pumpkin for me. But again, it’s all relative, some of the other people in attendance enjoyed it. 

Starr Hill Boxcarr Pumpkin Porter ~ This Charlottesville, VA brew is deep, pumpkiny, and malty. It’d be a great pick for later in the season, when it starts to get cold.

Overall, the porters and bolder beers were consistently among my favourites, as opposed to the “pumpkin pie in a bottle” brews…  None of use could get our hands on Schlafly’s pumpkin ale, which always receives rave reviews so this list is absolutely not exhaustive. Do you have any good local pumpkin beer in your area? Any favourites I should try? Afterall, the season is just getting started…

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