Ever since I spotted the first Post Road Pumpkin Ale hit the shelves back at the tail end of August (or was it the front end of September?) I’ve had a dream. That dream was simple.
To taste as many pumpkin beers as I could grab a hold of, in one sitting, and compare/contrast them. It was only through this method that I could truly grasp whether they were tasty or just appealing to my fairly inappropriate lust for all things pumpkin. Slowly but surely, I’ve been collecting and hoarding (not unlike my hoarding of koozies and teeth I discovered in my Spring Cleaning Post), waiting for the right moment. The perfect night.
Saturday night was that night.
Armed with 10 pumpkin beers (okay, 8 pumpkin beers, 1 pumpkin hard cider, and 1 harvest ale), and my good friend Melissa (the lady who introduced me to the Death Deck workout), it was time.
We used an incredibly scientific method, and took meticulous notes.
Beers were rated using a 1-10 scale on the following:
- Pumpkinosity (told you, super scientific)
- Overall Impression
The Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale was unanimously voted as the worst of the pumpkin beers (which translates to both of us agreeing it sucked.) It received either a 2 or a 3 in each of the categories. This was the least pumpkiny of all (except the one non-pumpkin beer we tried, I guess. It didn’t have much going on in the way of spices, it smelled a little sharper than the rest, and there was a bitter aftertaste. I wrote on the notes, “don’t love this one”. But honestly, I actively disliked it.
8. Woodchuck Hard Cider – Private Reserve Pumpkin
Ok. I know. Hard Cider, though boozy, is not beer. At first look, this could almost pass as beer. There’s no head, though, and at first sniff, you know we’re not in Kansas anymore (because Kansas is where we drink only beer?) The smell of this beer earned a solid 6. There was a slight hint of pumpkin, but mostly it smelled like sweet apples. Or maybe even candied apples. OR like, if Kool-Aid made a candied apple flavor. There’s no carbonation and it was incredibly sweet, but only received a 2 on “pumpkinosity”. The smell was really the only saving grace here. If you like cider, I’d say this would be great.
If you like beer, get another bottle.
7. New Holland Ichabod Pumpkin Ale
I had high hopes for this beer, I really did. And, honestly, it’s not a bad beer. The smell earned a 7, it was spicy and a little hoppy. However, on pumpkinosity, it only received a 4. It was like all smell, no taste, like a hollowed out pumpkin pie. We both agreed it was a fairly drinkable beer, rating a 6, but aftertaste and overall were both middle of the road with a 5. Not as strong as expected from the scent of cinnamon, while this beer wasn’t bad, it also didn’t hold a candle to some of our other picks.
Here’s one that I’ve heard all about, and recently managed to pick up a 4-pack in Carrboro. It’s been waiting patiently, and I’ve been watching it longingly. At the initial pour, it smelled caramely with some spices, but not too strong. It scored mostly 7s with one 6 and, alas, a 4 on aftertaste. The taste and smell were underwhelming considering all the hype I’d heard regarding this beer. It was maltier than the other beers, both in smell and taste, with hints of caramel. The aftertaste on this one, though, really brought me down. Alas…. while I’m a Dogfish Head fanatic most of the time, this was not my favorite.
Ok, let me start off by saying: this pumpkin beer is NOTHING like the rest of them. Described by New Belgium as “a rich and tart pumpkin cranberry ale blended with wood-aged beer”, the key word here is cranberry. The initial smell was tart and almost juicy. We both agreed that a great term to describe this beer: “drinker friendly”. Each sip made me want to try another sip (luckily, we had 22 oz to go around!). A nice, tart beer, this is like an intro to sour for folks who might not want a sour. With an ABV of 8.5%, this beer definitely does bring a kick to the table. However, on pumpkinosity, this beer only scored a 4. It rated high everywhere else, and I’d totally recommend it to everyone, it just wasn’t all about the pumpkin.
Finally, a hometown hero!! Well…. a Raleigh-based hero. I’ve spoken before of my fondness for Big Boss‘s Monkey Bizz-ness before, and honestly, I love almost all of their beers. But Harvest Time is my favorite thing that comes out of their brewery. We started our tasting out with this beer and, as I placed my nostrils near the glass, I smelled that familiar pumpkin spice that I know and love. It was a great way to start off the tasting, and set the bar pretty high. It’s got a lower carbonation than I normally go for, but the drinkability is top notch. The pumpkinosity at the taste, though, is a little lower than some, as the dominant taste is spices like cinnamon and maybe nutmeg. The smell of pumpkin is definitely stronger than the taste. It goes down easy, has a sweet aftertaste, and is just an all-around fantastic pumpkin beer. In fact, it was nearly tied for #3, but the next one just barely eeked it out.
I loved the smell of this beer. It was cinnamon, it was light, it was sweet, maybe there was some apple cidery action going on… I don’t know, but we tasted it 5th and it was definitely the most spice of the bunch. It actually kind of reminded me of a cinnamony snickerdoodle. It was light with a quality carbonation and reminded me of a warm pie. We loved this beer, it scored high on drinkability, and the smell put it over the moon.
2. Terrapin Pumpkinfest
I just recently reviewed the Georgia based Terrapin’s Peaotch, and this beer, much like that one, I want to make a candle out of this beer. It smelled delicious and ranked 8-9 on nearly all scales. It was pleasantly more pumpkin than spice for once, and handled my tastebuds with a smooth cinnamon and pumpkin taste. My favorite part of this beer, though, was the aftertaste. It was almost as if the flavor changed as it rested on your tongue from pumpkin to cinnamon, as if it was ending with dessert. The carbonation was nice and bubbly without being overwhelming, and it was all-around just a quality beer. Great on all accounts and, if it hadn’t been for our last contender, it would’ve won the title. Alas…..
1. Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale
Oh, Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale…. the pumpkin beer on which all others will be judged. The smell was literally intoxicating (get it…. because it’s beer). It’s the only beer that truly scored a 10 on any level, and that level was aroma. It smelled almost as if root beer had a love child with pumpkin, and sprinkled some cinnamon on that child. It was very low in carbonation, normally a turn off for me, but for this beer… it just worked. It was like the innards of a good pumpkin pie, one that isn’t dominated by sugar and spice, but lets all the flavors shine through. I want it to be a chapstick. It has an 8.0% ABV and doesn’t taste at all boozy, which could be very dangerous. Melissa even drew a smiley emoticon on this one, signaling her approval. This beer was the top of the charts for both of us, and I would suggest trying it for anyone interested in Pumpkin beers.
Honorable Mention: Abita Pecan Harvest
Not to be outdone (but since they have no pumpkin beers [yet!]), Abita wanted to join the seasonal beer party with some Louisiana harvested pecans in their Pecan Harvest! The nutty smell was a great way to break up the spices and pumpkinosity were accustomed to, and the aftertaste was sweet and well-rounded, like a slice of tasty pecan pie! We both agreed that this beer would make a great addition to any Thanksgiving table and, although the pumpkinosity on this one was N/A, the smell, drinkability, and aftertaste gave it a great overall impression. If it’d been in the running, it would’ve been a top contender!
That was a mouthful (and a belly-ful… of beer.)
I know there’s a lot done locally that aren’t available near me, so I tried to make due. I didn’t include the Southern Tier Pumking (a personal favorite, warm and smooth, a great pumpkin choice), either, or quite a few of the ones only available in 22 oz because we were just two ladies and didn’t want to blackout (though it would’ve been in the name of science). Maybe next time I do a massive tasting, I could do it en masse and diversify the options. Then again, these are all readily available in singles, so that might be more approachable.
What I’m trying to say is this isn’t a totally comprehensive list, but it’s a great starter for any pumpkin-beer lovah (like myself). If you’re interested in seeing many more (incredibly comprehensive) pumpkin beer reviews, check out the folks at The Great Pumpkin Beer Review!
What’s your favorite pumpkin beer?
or if you don’t like pumpkin beers….
What’s your favorite Autumn Seasonal/Octoberfest beer?!