The Best Pumpkin Beers!

October 26, 2012

Did you know that my birthday is also National Pumpkin Day!?!? Wheeeee!!

Pumpkin beer is my all-time favorite variety. Most of them are malty, amber-brown, slightly sweet and spiced. I can’t think of a better flavor combination!

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I’ve written about pumpkin beer before in a blind tasting we did in 2010:

Eat, Drink + Be Weary

And this post talks about our favorites and features Matt’s pumpkin beer homebrew recipe:

Drinkable Pumpkin

Matt and I wanted to host a blind pumpkin beer tasting with ALL of our favorites plus some more we had yet to try. And there are so many more that we can’t even get here in Virginia! A notable brew that was missing was one of my favorites: the Schlafly Pumpkin Ale, which is so popular it was sold out all over town.

So here were the 11 beers we tasted, with Matt’s homebrew in the  middle:

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We did the tasting blind and took notes as we went.

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Each beer got a score based on its overall fit into the pumpkin beer category. Here is my ranking (with 10 being the best) and notes:

1. Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale – Hoppy. Bitter finish. Dry. Cidery. Bland. Not very pumpkiny. Like a pale ale trying to be a pumpkin ale.

2. Evolution Jacques Au Lantern – Sour/yeasty. No spice. Tastes flat. Hints of Belgian/banana yeast.

3. New Holland Imperial Ichabod Ale – Slightly sweet. Dry/crisp. Hint of ginger + nutmeg. Bitter on finish. Not much pumpkin, and a little boring.

4. Wolavers Pumpkin Ale – A little yeasty and sour. Apple notes. Not much spice, but well rounded. Hop presence.

5. Cottonwood Spiced Pumpkin Ale – Butterscotch on the nose. Thinner. A little apple-y. Cinnamon present. A little flat. Possibly oxidized.

6. Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin – Malty. Sweet but bitter on finish. Butterscotch. Balanced amber. Soft spices and smooth.

7. Heavy Seas The Great Pumpkin – Slightly bitter. Malty. Balanced. Slightly smoky. Higher in alcohol. A nice big beer.

8. Dogfish Punkin’ – Caramel. Medium sweetness. Minimal spice and some butterscotch. Well rounded.

9. Matt’s Homebrew – Malty. Medium body with good spice and sweetness. Pumpkin present.

10. Williamsburg AleWerks Pumpkin Ale – Malty. Very spicy with lots of cinnamon. Tastes like homebrew yeast. Very sweet. Like a caramel apple.

11. Southern Tier Pumking – King of all pumpkin beers! Butterscotch. Butterbeer. Sweet. Marshmallowy. Kettle corn. YUM!

Pumking won best of show not just from me but from about half of the group. Matt’s top pick was the Williamsburg.

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A few pumpkin beers we have had but were not included:

Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin – yuck.

Post Road – boring.

Jack’s Pumpkin Spice – generic + boring.

Frog’s Hollow Double Pumpkin Ale – like.

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin – like a lot!

Schlafly – LOVE but sold out!!

A note about Cottonwood: it was the first pumpkin beer I LOVED when I discovered it in college and remained my favorite for years. It was brewed at Carolina Beer Co. in Mooresville. The original, however, was retired, and this new version by Foothills is just not the same. It’s good, but not as good.

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For the love of pumpkin!

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tina October 26, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Wish we had pumpkin beer :(

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2 Sophie October 26, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Pumking is definitely my favorite as well!

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3 Krissy @ Make it Naked October 26, 2012 at 2:50 pm

YAY! Happy birthday Kath! So fun! PUMKING for the win! I’m hoarding several bottles in the basement refrigerator.

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4 Erin @ WholesomeRD October 26, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Great roundup! We had a beer tasting and all agreed that Pumking was the winner too!

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5 Katie @ Talk Less, Say More October 26, 2012 at 2:59 pm

First of all, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Second of all, this is AWESOME and next time, can I join? ;)

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6 carol October 26, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Nothing to do with pumpkin. Nothing to do with beer. Just wishing you a happy birthday!

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7 Nikki October 26, 2012 at 3:04 pm

You’re lucky you can get Pumking! I’ve looked for it here in Boulder, CO, and apparently you can only buy it on the East coast:-(
Happy Birthday!

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8 Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table October 26, 2012 at 3:04 pm

This is a great round up! Of the ones I’ve tried, I agree with you. Blue Moon makes me want to barf. Schlafey can do no wrong. I love the Imperial Pumpkin, and heard a rumor there’s another version called the Great Imperial that’s even better, but I have yet to locate it.

If you ever find the Post Road Pumkin Ale or Terrapin Pumpkinfest, both are worthy purchases.

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9 Birdie October 26, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Happy Birthday, Kath!

May your scuffins be sold out,
Mazen have no pout,
Matt be most devout,
and
your oatmeal not taste like grout!

(just kidding in the last line – had to find a rhyme!)

Enjoy your birthday weekend!!!

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10 Jennifer October 26, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Happy Birthday!!! I hope you have a fantastic day and Maze does something special for you. :)

Those beers look interesting. I love the name Smuttynose. Too funny.

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11 Andrea October 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm

You totally inspired me to have a seasonal beer tasting of my own! I bought a variety yesterday and am going to have the tasting tomorrow! I haven’t had any of the beers you listed, and I’m not very knowledgeable when it comes to beer, so we shall see if I did good with my selection or not :) Now, when you have a blind tasting, how do you know which beer is which after you taste them all? Any tips are welcome : )

I’m going to have to refer back to this post later on and see if I can find some of these beers around me. I got the Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin, and I’ve heard mixed reviews, also got Angry Orchard Crisp Apple, Samuel Adams Octoberfest, New Belgium Red Hoptober, and a few others.

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12 Matt October 26, 2012 at 4:15 pm

For our purposes, I poured all the beers and knew which was which. One way to do a completely blind tasting is to have one person put the bottles in unmarked brown bags, crinkle them shut, and then have another person come and label them 1 through 10. Of course this only truly works if all the bottles are the same shape. But some beers come in stubby bottles, some in longnecks, and some in 22oz bombers so it’s easy to let bias enter into your tasting notes. Tasting blind is great – Kath thought she didn’t like the Dogfish from previous tastings, but you see how highly it scored!

If you’re tasting a bunch of beers in the same or similar style, then it’s nice to approximately go from low alcohol to high but I switched it up just a little in our tasting.

If you’re tasting beers from multiple styles then my first recommendation would be to go from least bitter to most bitter. If you don’t know how bitter a beer is, then the next best thing might be to go from light to dark. And as always, low alcohol to high alcohol is better.

And finally, a 2oz pour is MORE than sufficient… really you could do 1oz and still pretty much get the jist of a beer. Palate fatigue is definitely a problem in tastings. Try to have neutral bread or crackers around (we had some potato sourdough from the bakery) and some water at the very least. You can also have a little bowl of coffee beans to occasionally sniff to awaken your nose. Salty things are also good, like nuts. Cheese goes great with beer, but be careful not to have something too overpowering (like bleu). A light cheddar or goat is nice. Most importantly: nothing sweet! Sweet things will completely throw off your ability to taste the subtle sweetness in beers.

Have fun!

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13 Becca October 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Wonderful notes, Matt! Thank you for typing all this out. I am obviously very naive about beer because I never thought of many of the things you just wrote about. I’d love to host an apple cider tasting because that’s what all the rage with my friends these days.

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14 Andrea October 26, 2012 at 10:55 pm

Thank you SO much for the response – I really appreciate it. Very helpful! I’m definitely going to be referring back to this. Did all of the beer get consumed during your tasting? I’m just wondering what I should do if I have any left over – I don’t want to waste it. I’m sure there will be people who are more than willing to finish it off, but just in case. Sorry if that’s a silly question!

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15 Holly P. @ A Year in Wichita October 26, 2012 at 3:22 pm

I’m loving this idea! I adore seasonal beers and I could see blind beer tastings becoming a tradition with my husband and his family.

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16 Ashley October 26, 2012 at 3:22 pm

I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin beers for all the reasons that you love them, but I do like Oktoberfest brews! Bummer about Schlafly’s, I’ve always heard it’s one of the best (my fiance has already gone through three growlers of it this season!). Two other well-reviewed St. Louis pumpkin beers are O’Fallon Brewery’s and Trailhead’s.

My fiance and I are actually going to have our wedding reception at Schalfly Tap Room – very excited for all the delish beer we’ll have on tap (11!). In Budweiser City, this is exciting!

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17 Michelle (Peachy Palate) October 26, 2012 at 3:23 pm

My mouths actually watering reading through the descriptions! Pumpkin beer is not to be found in Ireland ANYWHERE!!! Number 11 sounds incredible! Happy Birthday again!

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18 Katelyn October 26, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Have you tried Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale by Stevens Point Brewery? That’s one of my favorites.

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19 Tiff @ Love, Sweat, & Beers October 26, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Thanks for the reviews. I find that I always get way more excited for pumpkin beers than I should. I forget every year that they aren’t all that great to me. haha I have to admit, I do wish I had one for pumpkin day though. :)

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20 Sarah October 26, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Happy birthday!

Love the beer lineup and tasting notes. I like some pumpkin beers but not all. I’ve actually seen Pumking here in Ontario (not true for many good US beers) so maybe I’ll try some.

Your little tasting glasses look awesome. Where are they from?

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21 Stephanie C October 26, 2012 at 4:06 pm

I think Pumking was out here.. as well as Schlafly. The best I’ve had so far has been Shipyard’s Smashed Pumpkin. Unbelievably.. I’ve yet to try Dogfish head’s Punkin’ beer… will have to rectify that this weekend…

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22 Stephanie C October 26, 2012 at 4:06 pm

er.. should say “I wish”

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23 Sara October 26, 2012 at 4:08 pm

If it’s available, you should try Terrapin’s pumpkin beer (ale?). It’s one of my favorites and local to Athens, GA.

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24 Megan Hassler October 26, 2012 at 4:35 pm

I realized it was National Pumpkin day half way through my bowl of Pumpkin oats and pumpkin rooibos tea. NOw it is time to buy some pumpkin beer and bake pumpkin bread. Happy Birthday!

* You should try Punk’n Ale from Unita Brewery if you can find it!

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25 Lindsey October 26, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Love this! Wish my hubby would get back into beer making! One thing missing from your post! A picture of the best pumpkin- the cat!

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26 Matt October 26, 2012 at 8:18 pm

haha, she scored worst on taste but best appearance!

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27 Katie @ Peace Love & Oats October 26, 2012 at 5:17 pm

What a fun way to celebrate your birthday!! I’ve never actually had pumpkin beer, I haven’t seen it in a bar or restaurant yet!

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28 Emma October 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Love the recap!! It definitely inspires me to host a beer tasting. I lived in St Louis and the first pumpkin beer I ever tried was Schlafley-set the bar high from the beginning!

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29 Sarah (The Simple Dietitian) October 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm

I’ll have to give Pumpking a try! I’ve only ever tried the Dogfish Punkin Ale, which is really nice. :D

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30 Justeen October 26, 2012 at 6:56 pm

A blind tasting sounds like so much fun! I can’t wait to try this sometime.

Love your notes! I agree – Pumking is the best!!

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31 emily October 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Happy birthday!!!

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32 Spice Chicken October 26, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Happy birthday, and thanks for sharing the pumpkin beer rankings and tasting notes. I will track down some of your favorites. A few weeks ago you blogged about a great-looking chili some friends brought over, and you shared their recipe. I have to tell you that I adapted it with Morningstar veggie crumbles and it is FANTASTIC! A new favorite.

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33 Cristin October 26, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Hi Kath,
I’m in VA, too. Where can I buy Pumking? I’ve sure you’ve said so before but I can’t find it. Thank you! I tried the Shock Top Pumpkin and was not impressed. :(

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34 KathEats October 26, 2012 at 8:59 pm

We buy it at Beer Run here in Cville. It sells out fast though, so you have to keep your eye out. i would call your store and see if they get it distributed there?

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35 The Healthy Apple October 26, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Happy Birthday Kath!!

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36 Molly October 26, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Hi Kath!

I really just wanted to take this comment/opportunity to say thanks for being such an inspirational blogger. After following you for YEARS I always wanted to start a blog. I FINALLY took the plunge and started one. It’s definitely more your sister Laur’s style than it is yours, but you were the one to truly keep me following the blogger world so THANK YOU

I can’t wait to see where I end up along this bogging journey and hope that 5-10 years down the road I end up as happy as you and your fam :)

-Molly :)

sheransheworkedsheconquered.wordpress.com

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37 KathEats October 27, 2012 at 2:20 am

Congrats Molly!

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38 Linda October 26, 2012 at 10:40 pm

Happy Birthday Kath! Wishing you another year filled with peace, love, and joy!

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39 Anne October 26, 2012 at 10:49 pm

I have never heard of pumpkin beer, sounds interesting

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40 Amy October 27, 2012 at 1:52 am

I’m not sure if you can get Rogue beers out east, but they make a good pumpkin beer! http://www.rogue.com/beers/chatoe-pumpkin.php

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41 Tammie Grey October 27, 2012 at 2:43 am

a nice treat/beer for halloween – pumpkin

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42 Sara @my less serious life October 27, 2012 at 7:04 am

you know i love my Pumpking! had some last night. glad to see it won here…

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43 Kristen @ Change of Pace October 27, 2012 at 7:05 am

Great post! When I drink a pumpkin beer I want it to taste like beer but it needs to have a pumpkin pie taste as well. There are so many pumpkin beers that don’t have enough “pumpkin” taste to them.

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44 katie October 27, 2012 at 8:07 am

Kath – I love your photos. It makes me want to eat every single thing you’ve ever photographed AND visit your gorgeous little city!

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45 Beth October 27, 2012 at 12:15 pm

I live in Maplewood, MO – and my next door neighbor is Schlafly Bottleworks :) Their pumpkin ale is incredible. I am so bias to it I’ve only tried two other kinds, Blue Moon and Shock Top, and neither compared! I’m happy to hear that Schlafly reaches farther than just the midwest!

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46 Els October 27, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Happy birthday from Ghent (Belgium). I love reading your posts. It’s the first thing I do in the morning after seeing off my kids to school…

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47 Christina @ The Beautiful Balance October 27, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Pumking is my all time FAVORITE beer! I am a sucker for pumpkin beer and always stock up for a rainy day. I have gone through a fair share of tasting fails and love that you posted this so that I can try others that are great.

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48 Carrie @ Season It Already! October 27, 2012 at 10:27 pm

I haven’t had all of the others, but Pumpking is still at the top of my list!

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49 Fran@BCDC October 28, 2012 at 3:17 am

I’ve never tried pumpkin beer…I suppose I should!

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50 Paula October 28, 2012 at 8:10 am

Pumking is my favorite, as well. Two others that I love, but didn’t see on your list are Harpoon and a new one (to me) this year from Southhampton. Those two, plus Shipyard, are tied for second behind Pumking.

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51 Alyson October 29, 2012 at 4:06 pm

I see you love pumpkin beer as much as I do! I have Schafly and Souther Tier’s pumpkin beers in my fridge right now! I currently live in Saint Louis, Missouri where Schlafly happens to be one of the local breweries so pumpkin Schlafly is one of my favorites and is rarely sold out here, but you bet I have two six packs stocked away before it goes out of season. I have yet to try Southern Tier Pumking, but after reading your post I can’t wait to pop it open!

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52 Sonia the Mexigarian October 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm

I have got to find a place around the South Bay Area to find an assortment of beers. It’s hit or miss at BevMo and the only other place that I know sells microbrews is Whole Foods and sometimes even that selection is off.

Now I want a pumpkin beer ;)

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53 Amelia @eating made easy October 30, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I have been off blogs for the last week, as my free time has been swallowed up by a tantruming toddler, so I was not able to wish you a happy birthday until now! Happy birthday!!! What a wonderful way to celebrate, and p.s. Maze gets cuter and cuter!! xoxo

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54 Rachel October 31, 2012 at 4:32 pm

All good choices. One of my favorites is the Saranac Pumpkin. And we recently tried Lakefront Brewery Pumpkin Lager. That was a great one!!

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