Thanksgiving evokes different images and feelings for everyone. With so much food and family involved, personal preferences regarding the great feast run strong, and many of those feelings are all or nothing. Of all the traditions synonymous with the holiday (aside from turkey, of course), one of the most divisive, love-it-or-hate-it dishes is pumpkin pie. If you happen to be a lover, or even an accepter, then you might just be a natural fan of the beer style known fondly as pumpkin ale.
Often released as seasonal autumn beers, pumpkin ales can be quite varied in style but always involve the addition of pumpkin in some form, ranging from fresh pumpkin pieces to pumpkin purée or flavoring. The beers are also frequently spiced with traditional pumpkin-pie flavorings, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. They can be mild, or over-the-top intense, but typically boast ample malty sweetness and little to no hop character (though there are “imperial” examples that may exhibit more hop presence).
Pumpkin ales are perfect for the fall season, providing crisp carbonation for hotter days and excellent length and warming characteristics (especially those with higher alcohol) for cooler nights. The aromas of these brews are usually strong, spicy, and inviting; open one up, take a big whiff, and transport yourself to the taste of pumpkin pie, fresh from the oven on Thanksgiving night.
For those who don’t love pumpkin, we also review a couple tasty fruit beers.
Good beer… what more should we be thankful for?
92 Alaskan Pilot Series Pumpkin Porter (Pumpkin Ale; Alaskan Brewing Co., AK). This is a welcome new addition to Alaskan Brewing’s Pinot Series lineup, and worth searching out. It pours a dark-brown, almost black, color, with subtle amber flecks when held against light. The pumpkin-pie spice aromas are front and center, alongside incredibly attractive notes of roasted malt and charred pumpkin slices with caramelized sugar on top. With over 11 pounds of pumpkin added to every barrel, the gourdy flavors are abundant, and the creamy mouthfeel is complemented by assertive baking-spice, molasses and sweet-smoke flavors that carry through to the long finish.
abv: 7% Price: $8/22 oz
91 Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale (Pumpkin Ale; Elysian Brewing Co., OR). This is a well-balanced and layered pumpkin brew that offers all of the pumpkin-pie characteristics one expects without being overdone. Over seven pounds of pumpkin go into each barrel brewed, and it shows with upfront notes of mashed pumpkin flesh accented with ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and allspice. The malty backbone complements the sweet pumpkin-pie flavors in the medium-weight mouth, but ample carbonation and moderate hop bitterness keeps the palate lifted and inviting. A toasted pumpkin-seed accent unfolds on the long, spicy finish.
abv: 5.9% Price: $9/12 oz 6 pack
90 Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (Pumpkin Ale; Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, DE). This pours a gorgeous, clear burnt-orange color with a small off-white head that quickly fades. The spice aromas—nutmeg, clove and cinnamon—immediately waft from the glass, with the rich, bready malt and roasted-pumpkin core providing a solid backbone. Toasted malt and gourd flavors lead on the medium-bodied palate, with brisk carbonation that keeps the mouthfeel lifted and clean. The spice notes return on the finish, alongside accents of brown sugar and faint hop bitterness.
abv: 7% Price: $9/12 oz 4 pack
90 Hangar 24 Local Fields Essence (Fruit Beer; Hangar 24 Craft Brewery, CA). This Double IPA is brewed with a generous amount of navel oranges, blood oranges and grapefruit, complementing the assertive hop profile and its resinous characteristics. The nose is bright and generous, with forward orange, grapefruit pith and citrus oil aromas. It’s full and round in the mouth, filling the palate with a slightly thick and chewy texture, but with medium carbonation to keep it from feeling too heavy. It’s well balanced, masking the high alcohol, and has a good smack of bitterness that sticks around on the close, finishing dry.
abv: 8.5% Price: $7/22 oz
89 Founders Rübæus (Fruit Beer; Founders Brewing Co., MI). With fresh raspberries added at multiple stages during fermentation, this is definitely a fruit-forward brew. It pours a stunningly clear and bright red color, with lively notes of fresh, ripe raspberries, pale grain and just a touch of funky tartness. The palate is lively, with brisk carbonation that lifts the rich fruit flavors. Medium bodied, this is best enjoyed quite cold to keep the mouthfeel fresh and the sticky sweetness that develops with warming at bay.
abv: 5.7% Price: $9/12 oz 6 pack