Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Ultimate Guide to 62 Pumpkin Ales in Houston

(I update this list every time I taste a new pumpkin ale...Last updated January 12, 2018.)

About this time every year, I become obsessed with all things pumpkin, especially pumpkin ales. So I decided to try all the ones I could find, rate them, and create my own definitive guide. All of these pumpkin ales were purchased in the Houston area. Is it just me, or are there a lot more pumpkin ales than there used to be?

These pumpkin ales range from almost pale, to amber, to stout.  I included pictures for most, so you can see the color.  Although I'm not a cider drinker, there are several pumpkin ciders available, and I picked the one I found most interesting to throw into the mix.

I should confess my personal prejudices about pumpkin ales:  I prefer them to be rich and smooth, malty more than hoppy, and with lots of pumpkin and spice flavor, so my ratings reflect that.

The list is grouped by my personal star rating and sorted alphabetically within each rating. In my house we use the Ebert Scale of 0-4 stars, which, when applied to beer, looks like this:

0 stars - Is this even beer?
* - awful
** - kinda bad
** 1/2 - almost good, but has some flaws (probably wouldn't buy it again)
*** - good (would buy it again)
*** 1/2 - very good
**** - outstanding

4 stars

**** Avery Rumpkin:  This pumpkin-spice ale is aged in rum barrels, so the aromas of rum and pumpkin dominate. On the palate it is thick, rich, smooth, and boozy, with a definite taste of spiced rum. The flavors are malty and slightly sweet, with honey and caramel, but without the cloying impression that some smoother, sweeter, high-alcohol beers have. Did I mention the high alcohol? Oh yeah, it's 18%. I almost docked it 1/2 a star because the finish is HOT, but then I realized this shouldn't be approached as beer. This should be approached like the Port or brandy you sip after dinner. It deserves that kind of time and attention.

**** Buffalo Bayou Pumpkin Spice Latte:  Solid aromas and flavors of pumpkin, spice, and creamy coffee.  A rich, thick stout that balances the sweet impression of the spice with just the right amount of hops and coffee-like bitterness.  The high alcohol content is also well balanced and integrated, so that it doesn't seem overly strong.  9% abv


**** Kasteel Ingelmunster Pumpkin:  A lovely golden color, with aromas and flavors of butterscotch, apples, pumpkin, and almonds.  This is unique, and I suspect one would either love it or hate it - clearly I love it.  There isn't much spice to it, which is usually a negative thing for me, but I don't even care.  This stuff is delicious.  8.5% abv

**** Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin - Very rich, heavily spiced, complex.  Strong but smooth.  Pure amazing pumpkin nectar of the gods. But sip it slowly, because it's 9% abv.

**** St. Arnold Pumpkinator (Imperial Pumpkin Stout) - This pumpkin stout is thick, dark, and strong, with lots of pumpkin and spice flavors.  It's ultra smooth with very little bitterness.  Absolutely delicious and disturbingly easy to drink.  Manages to be well balanced even though it's 10% abv.

**** St. Arnold Bishop's Barrel (BB) No. 6:  Imperial Pumpkin Stout Aged in Rum Barrels (aka "Rumpkinator") - It's a little unfair to include this on the list, since it's not widely available, but I tasted it at the Untapped beer and music festival at Discovery Green in 2014 and thought I might as well record my thoughts.  This is Pumpkinator aged in rum barrels, which complements the pumpkin stout beautifully, and it acquires quite a bit of rum flavor.  Incredibly good.  10% abv before barrel aging / 13% afterwards

3 1/2 stars

***1/2 BJ's Brewery Pumpkin Ale - Highly spiced and well balanced.  (Only available at the brewery/restaurant on draft, not in bottles.)  4.7% abv

***1/2 Boulevard Funkier Pumpkin Spiced Sour Ale - This is the bottled conditioned version of "Funky Pumpkin" (reviewed below at ***). Aromas of pumpkin, spice, tart apples, with a yeasty/earthy impression from the bottle conditioning (which involves aging the beer on the dead yeast cells after fermentation). Pumpkin and spice flavors are present, but not strong, which works in this case because those flavors might otherwise fight with all the other things already going on in this beer. Some fruity/flavored sours are sweet, but this is dry. Overall complex, well-balanced, and darn yummy.  8.5% abv

***1/2 Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin Stout - Dark and thick, with lots of coffee and chocolate flavors.  The spice flavors are present, but not screaming out, while the pumpkin is more subtle.  10.5% abv

***1/2 Harpoon's UFO (UnFiltered Offering) Pumpkin Ale - Plenty of pumpkin and spice on the nose and the palate.  Smooth and rich, but with a pleasant brightness and tartness - maybe even a little citrusy.  Great balance of flavors.  The internet tells me this is 5.9% abv, but so help me I could not find it listed anywhere on the bottle or 6-pack.

***1/2 Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale - Aged in oak bourbon barrels, this has a honeyed aroma and definite bourbon flavor on the finish.  The pumpkin and spice flavors are present, but not strong.  Good balance of rich, smooth, and strong.  10% abv

***1/2 Magic Hat "Wilhelm Scream" Pumpkin Ale - Well balanced, with moderate pumpkin and spice flavors, notes of vanilla and caramel, rich and smooth, yet with a bit of hop bitterness on the finish to keep it from being too sweet.  5.4% abv  (For those who aren't familiar with the "Wilhelm Scream," here you go.)

***1/2 Rahr and Sons Pumpkin Ale - A brown ale with lots of spice and caramel flavors.  8.7% abv

***1/2 Red Hook "Out of Your Gourd" Pumpkin Porter - The bottle describes it as "a dark ale brewed with pumpkin, spices, and maple syrup."  It's a great porter, with aromas and flavors of mostly coffee and maple syrup.  It's a 3.5-star beer overall, but I dropped it to 3 due to very slight pumpkin and spice flavors, but then bumped it back up to 3.5 for the maple flavor, which is a delicious addition. On a list of 50+ pumpkin ales, it's the only one to use maple syrup (that I know of), which is kind of amazing. 5.8% abv

***1/2 Rogue Pumpkin Patch Ale - Very malty, light on the hops, with moderate pumpkin and spice flavors.  Good balance of strong and smooth and easy to drink.  Very nice, long finish.  Tastes a little stronger than the 6.1% abv listed on the bottle.  I love that they've listed every single ingredient on the label.

***1/2 Shipyard Pumpkinhead - Lots of spice, especially cinnamon.  Crisp and great for a lighter style of pumpkin ale, that's not too rich, too heavy, or too hoppy.  Aftertaste of cinnamon applesauce.  4.5% abv

***1/2 Southern Tier Pumking - Has the advantage of smelling and tasting of graham crackers, going for the full pumpkin pie experience.  Comparable to Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin, but ultimately not as rich or flavorful, though still very good.  12% abv

***1/2 Southern Tier Warlock - This is an Imperial Stout and, like the Pumking, it has a distinct aroma and flavor of graham crackers, which is a good thing.  A fair amount of pumpkin on the nose and a lot of ginger on the palate.  I read a comment on another website that this tastes like someone injected a pumpkin with Guinness, and that's not far off.  8.6% abv

***1/2 Timmermans Pumpkin Lambicus - Lambics are made from wild yeasts and are often called "sours" due to their distinctive sour taste.  Flavored lambics are frequently sweetened (peach, cherry, and raspberry flavors are common), but this pumpkin lambic tastes dry.  It is tart, with a fairly strong sour component, a lot of pumpkin spice flavor, and leaves a tart apple impression on the finish.  I love sours, and I think this is a great one, but they aren't for everyone.  4% abv

***1/2 Whole Foods Market Brewing's Sweet Potato Pie Weizenbock - I'm cheating here, since this isn't a pumpkin ale, but sweet potato pie seemed close enough, and this stuff is seriously yummy. Tastes like sweet potatoes and spice.  Nice balance of malt and hops, a bit tangy, really well balanced, and dangerously easy to drink at 8.1% abv.

3 stars

*** Alaskan Pumpkin Ale - Easy on the pumpkin flavor, but a great balance of spices.  Smooth, malty, not too hoppy. It's not as rich or flavorful as some pumpkin ales, but it makes up for that by being extremely easy to drink. Not every pumpkin ale has to have a gimmick.  6% abv

*** Alaskan Pumpkin Porter - Great porter, very dark.  Tastes like spiced coffee, but not a lot of pumpkin flavor.  (This is the beer version of my usual Starbucks drink in the fall - tall black coffee with 1 pump of pumpkin spice - which I hear actually contains no pumpkin.)  7% abv

*** Anderson Valley "Fall Hornin'" Pumpkin Ale - Aromas of sweet spice dominate, but the palate is not too sweet. It's dark and malty, but also crisp, with detectable hops which stay on the right side of bitterness.  The pumpkin spice flavors are moderate, with more spice than pumpkin, and a definite impression of black coffee.  Nicely balanced.  6% abv

*** Anderson Valley "Pinchy Jeek Barl" Bourbon Barrel Pumpkin Ale - Aromas of caramel, vanilla, bourbon, and spice.  The flavor is smooth, malty, and boozy, but with a nice crispness, and not much hops.  The pumpkin and spice flavors are very subtle (mostly nutmeg), and the overall impression is like a brown ale, with a little smokiness on the finish due to the bourbon barrel aging. Nicely balanced. I probably would have given it another 1/2 a star if it had had more noticeable pumpkin or spice flavor.  8.5% abv

*** Avery "Gored" Pumpkin Ale - Aromas of pumpkin and apple, fruity on the nose and the palate, light on the spice, a bit of an earthy taste, malty but not sweet, with just enough hops for balance. Manages to give the smooth and thick impression that often comes from high alcohol, though the abv is only 5.3%.

*** Boulevard Funky Pumpkin Spiced Sour Ale - Aromas of tart sour apple, pumpkin, and a little spice.  On the palate it tastes like tart apple, citrus, a little pumpkin, and a lot of nutmeg.  It's crisp and refreshing, well balanced, and not very hoppy.  5.8% abv

*** Brooklyn Brewery Post Road Pumpkin Ale - Moderate pumpkin and spice flavors, nicely rounded and balanced.  I tasted this at the Untapped beer and music festival, but it is also available for retail purchase in the Houston area.  5% abv

*** Buffalo Bill's Brewery, America's Original Pumpkin Ale - Beautiful amber color (the picture doesn't do it justice).  Some pumpkin flavor, but lots of spice.  A good compromise between rich and sweet vs. crisp and hoppy.  6% abv

*** Central City Beer's Patrick O'Pumpkin - Moderate pumpkin flavor and mild spice.  Malty more than hoppy, with hints of maple and smokiness and a great bourbon flavor that isn't too over powering or boozy.  Well balanced.  This is a 3 1/2-star beer overall, but I demoted it to 3 stars on this list because the pumpkin and spice flavors are so mild.  8% abv and 27 IBUs

*** Crown Valley Brewing Imperial Pumpkin Smash (Stout) - Aromas and flavors of vanilla, molasses, chocolate, coffee, a hint of cigar, a bit of pumpkin, but not much spice.  This is rich and thick and strong, with a lingering taste of black coffee and bittersweet chocolate.  While I love it as a stout and would have given it 3 1/2 stars, I took away 1/2 a star for lack of pumpkin and spice.  Great stout though.  48 IBUs and 10.6% abv  (It's packaged uniquely in 4 bottles to a box.)


*** Cycler's Brewing Bonked Pumpkin - Light and refreshing with moderate pumpkin flavors, a lot of spice, and a little bit of vanilla. It has a great malty/hoppy balance, and everything works in harmony so that I wouldn't have guessed the abv is actually 9.5%.

*** Epic "Fermentation without Representation" Imperial Pumpkin Porter - Moderate pumpkin and spice flavors, with lots of coffee flavors. Good, but a little hoppy for my tastes.  8% abv

*** Karbach Krunkin' Pumpkin - Moderate pumpkin and spice flavors/aromas.  Nice, rich caramel-toast taste.  A little hot on the finish for me, but an overall good beer.  7.9% abv

*** Martin House Cuvee Pumpkin Latte - Aromas and flavors of pumpkin, vanilla, and lots of spice. Crisp and light, while also quite sweet and malty, almost maple-flavored. Easy on the hops. 5.2% abv

*** McAuslan Brewing's St. Ambroise Pumpkin - Aromas are sweet and malty, with pumpkin, spice, and molasses. Vanilla comes through strongly on the palate, along with the pumpkin and spice flavors and a hint of apple-like tartness. Smooth and not hoppy. I find it slightly over-carbonated, but then I'm more sensitive to carbonation than most. 5% abv

*** Nebraska Brewing Co. Wick for Brains - Plenty of pumpkin and spice flavors.  A good balance of richness and hoppiness (the can says 18 IBUs).  It also has an interesting pop top on the can.  6.1% abv

*** New Belgium Pumpkick - Plenty of spice, but not a lot of pumpkin.  The label tells me they've added a touch of cranberry.  This imparts a pleasant tartness (the "kick"), and the cranberry flavor is very subtle.  A bit sweet up front with some hop flavor at the end.  6% abv

*** No Label Nightmare on 1st Street Imperial Pumpkin Ale (Off Label series) - Moderate pumpkin aromas and flavors, easy on the spice, hint of vanilla. Very smooth, toasty, and malty. The spice profile leans more toward ginger and nutmeg than cinnamon. Pretty well balanced, but still a little hot at 9.27% abv.

*** Samuel Adams Fat Jack Double Pumpkin - Dark, with definite pumpkin and spice flavors.  Somewhat smoky from the smoked malt, and a touch of hop bitterness at the end.   I liked this one, but I'm not sure the smokiness is right with the pumpkin and spice.  Though the alcohol is not as high as some others on this list, and it did add a nice viscosity and mouthfeel, I think the beer would have been better balanced with a slightly lower abv.  8.5% abv

*** Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale -  Light and refreshing, with lots of floral, citrus (especially grapefruit), and hoppy characteristics.  6.5% abv, 45 IBU

*** Stevens Point Brewery's Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale - Lots of pumpkin and spice, especially cinnamon, and heavy on the vanilla. Malty, but not too sweet, not very hoppy, well balanced. My only complaint is that while the spice flavor lasts a long time on the finish, the other flavors fall off somewhat suddenly, giving it a slightly thin impression.  But overall this is a good beer.  The alcohol is less noticeable than I expected at 7.5%.  10 IBUs


*** Strange Land Brewery "Headless Gentleman" Imperial Bourbon Pumpkin Porter - Aromas of coffee, chocolate, pumpkin, bourbon, and mild spice. Tastes spicier than it smells, like a strong, bourbon barrel aged porter, thick and boozy.  The spices lean more toward the strong and sharp (like ginger) than the sweet (like cinnamon).  The alcohol is a little more apparent than I'd prefer, but it's a good beer.  Bottle conditioning gives it some thick sediment. 8.9% abv and 41 IBUs.

*** Uinta's Crooked Line Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin - Moderate aromas of pumpkin and spice, with lots of malt, caramel, and vanilla.  This is malty without being sweet, but the oak impression and the high alcohol nearly take over the pumpkin and spice flavors.  It's very strong, but pretty well balanced for 10.3% abv.

*** Upslope Pumpkin Ale - Gives a stronger impression of pumpkin and vanilla than spice. The spice component is more ginger than cinnamon. This is hoppier than many, but overall very well balanced.  7.7% abv

*** Wasatch Pumpkin - Heavy on the pumpkin, light on the spice.  This actually tastes like pureed pumpkin, and wins the prize for most pumpkin flavor on this list.  Balanced, easy to drink.  4% abv

*** Wasatch Black O'Lantern Pumpkin Stout - Lots of coffee and cocoa flavors.  Great stout, but little pumpkin flavor.  If I hadn't seen the bottle, I might not have known it's a pumpkin ale.  I'd give the stout 3 1/2 stars, but as a pumpkin ale, I'd demote it to 2 1/2 stars for lack of pumpkiny-ness, so I averaged it to 3 stars.  6.5% abv

2 1/2 stars

**1/2  Ballast Point Pumpkin Down - This is their "Piper Down" Scottish ale plus pumpkin.  The pumpkin flavor is present, along with lots of spice - especially ginger.  It's malty up front and hoppy on the finish.  I almost gave it 3 stars, but for the aftertaste, which is a combination of spicy ginger and bitter hops which I don't think works.  5.8%

**1/2 Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin/Harvest Moon - This is fine, but sort of the least common denominator of pumpkin ales.  Not too light, not too dark, not too pumpkiny, not too much spice, not too strong.  It is inoffensive, but boring.  Maybe a good place to start if you've never had a pumpkin ale or are not sure you like them.  5.7% abv

**1/2 Breckenridge Brewery Pumpkin Spice Latte (Nitro) - This one was almost great: lovely coffee aroma, not too heavy, not too light, strongly flavored but easy to drink, nice lingering pumpkin/coffee finish. But it has two issues. First, the nitro effect leaves the beer too flat. I like less carbonated beers, but even I think it needs a few more bubbles. Second and less important, the spice flavor is very faint.  5.5% abv

**1/2 Dogfish Head Punkin Ale - It kills me to give this only 2 1/2 stars, because I love DFH - both their beers and their devotion to reviving ancient beverages - but this just didn't do it for my tastes.  Sweet up front, followed by some hoppy flavors, as opposed to the smooth richness that many pumpkin ales offer.  Less pumpkin flavor and less spice than many.  If you think pumpkin ales usually don't have enough hops, try this one.  7% abv

**1/2 Infamous Brewing Pumpkin Massacre - This dark ale has aromas of coffee, a hint of molasses and nuts, but not much pumpkin or spice. It's more lean and hoppy and less sweet than I expected.  I found it too bitter on the finish and slightly burnt tasting.  7.5% abv

**1/2 Jolly Pumpkin's La Parcela-#1 Pumpkin Ale - Ironically, the Jolly Pumpkin brewery (known for wild ales and sours) came a little late to the pumpkin ale party, but now it has arrived with this pumpkin sour. The good news: this is a great sour, with aromas/flavors of tart apple, orange peel, and grapefruit. It’s sour but not overly so, and hoppy without being too bitter. The disappointing news: the pumpkin flavor is very subtle, and the spice and cacao mentioned on the label are extremely faint. More pumpkin and spice would have been nice. The addition of cacao sounds fascinating, and though I’m not sure if a stronger cacao flavor would have worked, I wish they had given it a shot.  It's a 3-star beer overall, but since we're talking pumpkin ales, I docked it 1/2 a star for not being very pumpkiny.  5.9% abv

**1/2 New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Atomic Pumpkin - Voodoo Ranger is New Belgium's Golden IPA, and here it's combined with cinnamon, habanero peppers, and of course pumpkin. The aroma is all sweet cinnamon. The taste up front is lightly malty and highly spiced. The malty-beer flavor drops off pretty quickly to give way to spice, spice, some heat, and more spice. The original IPA is quite fruity, and that fruitiness comes through. Speaking of the IPA, I expected more hoppiness, and maybe it's there, but I have trouble differentiating it from the habanero heat. This is a cool idea, and I mostly like it, but I can't help feeling that there's a better way to do it...  6.4% abv

**1/2  Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat - This reminds me a lot of Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin. The pumpkin and spice flavors are very mild. It's simple, easy to drink, and generally inoffensive. Though I haven't tasted them side by side, this seems hoppier than "Harvest Moon." Maybe a good place to start if you're not really into beer, or not sure if you like pumpkin ales.  5.1% abv

**1/2 Texas Big Beer Pumpkin Pie - As the label promises, this is definitely big and malty, with lots of pumpkin, vanilla, graham cracker, and nutmeg flavors.  I nearly gave it 3 stars - I really liked the initial flavors - except the aftertaste was weird.  It had an apple-citrus effect on the finish which I didn't like.  7.8% abv

**1/2 Tieton Cider Works Smoked Pumpkin Cider - I mentioned that I'm not a cider person, so this is awfully sweet to me, although it seems in line with the sweetness level of most ciders.  It definitely smells of pumpkin and apples, which is a great combo.  However, the addition of the smoked apple wood is where this cider loses me.  I appreciate the idea, and I usually like smoked things, but I'm not a fan of the smoky aftertaste on a sweet cider.  My husband disagreed with me and liked the smoke effect, so your mileage may vary.

**1/2 Uinta Punk'n Harvest Pumpkin Ale - Plenty of spice, but not much pumpkin.  Not bad, but a little thin, and the flavor drops off suddenly on the finish.  5% abv  [This is an older review.  See below for an update for 2016.]

**1/2 Uinta Punk'n Pumpkin Ale - Tons of vanilla flavor, with moderate pumpkin and spice.  This ale is very smooth, and I think it needs something to balance the smooth, malty, vanilla more hops, or spice, or tartness, or ... something ...  One cool innovation is the labeling on the can that tells you what the beer will taste like in terms of hops, malt, body, and color.  I LOVE this idea.  [This review is from 2016. This may be a reformulation of the beer reviewed above.]

2 stars

** Sam Adams "20 Pounds of Pumpkin" - This begins with a pleasant aroma of sweet spice and pumpkin. The flavors are moderately pumpkiny and spicy, with more malt flavor than hops. Unfortunately, it has an unpleasant bitterness on the finish and leaves a bad aftertaste.  5.7% abv  [This review is from 2016.  This may be a reformulation of the "Sam Adams Pumpkin Batch" reviewed below.]

** Sam Adams Pumpkin Batch - Aroma of pumpkin with a hint of wet dog. Very little spice. I nearly gave this 2 1/2 stars, but I also found it too hoppy for a pumpkin ale, and the impression of alcohol was stronger than it should have been for a beer with 5.6% abv.  [This review is from 2015. The review of "Sam Adams 20 Pounds of Pumpkin" from 2016 may be the reformulation of this beer.]

1 1/2 stars

*1/2  Leinenkugel's Harvest Patch Shandy and Traveler Pumpkin Shandy - I'm combining these because they're the only shandies on this list, and I disliked both of them. I'm not a shandy fan - I usually find them too sweet - but I have had shandies in the past that tasted good.  These don't. The Leinenkugel has a nice aroma of pumpkin, spice, and apple, and tastes like vanilla and cinnamon. This sounds promising, but the flavor is cloying instead of crisp, it's overly carbonated, and has a bad aftertaste.  (4.2% abv)  The Traveler shandy also has a nice aroma (pumpkin, cinnamon, hint of graham cracker) and a decent taste up front, but finishes like cream soda with a hint of citrus.  (4.4% abv)  Both shandies are only slightly sweet.  I couldn't drink more than a few sips of either one, but if forced to choose, I'd pick the Traveler as the lesser of two evils.


I was surprised to find so many pumpkin ales available in Houston, and yet I'm sure there are some I missed. If you've tried one I haven't, please leave me a note in the comments, because I'd love to know how it tasted!

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