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
**** 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 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.
here you go.)
***1/2 Rahr and Sons Pumpkin Ale - A brown ale with lots of spice and caramel flavors. 8.7% 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
*** 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.)
*** 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
*** 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 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 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!