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Eight Pumpkin Ales Ranked

October 13, 2011  |  9:10am
Eight Pumpkin Ales Ranked

I love October. It’s the first month we get cool weather down here in Georgia, my wife makes the yummiest pumpkin bread and just about every American brewery trots out a pumpkin ale. We felt like it was our duty to steer you towards the best of these, so we bought eight from breweries we generally like, and had an office tasting—while David Wax Museum set up for a Live at Paste performance. Have I mentioned I love my job?

Each of these eight beers claimed to be a pumpkin ale, not an Oktoberfest (which is often a lager), and we judged them on taste alone. Ten Paste staff and interns, along with David Wax Museum drummer Greg Glassman (who is also a brewer for New York’s Fire Island Brewing) voted on our favorites and we count them down for you.

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8. Southern Tier Imperial Pumking
City: Lakewood, N.Y.
ABV: 8.6%
Tastes like: Candy Corn
Pumpkin flavor: Very high
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: Handing out to adult trick-or-treaters
The verdict:: Though one of our 11 voters thought this was the best of the bunch, three named it the worst. I guess it depends on whether you like beer that tastes like a bag of candy corn was simply melted into the batch. Even the mouthfeel is a little like drinking a candle. Southern Tier is a great brewery, but they have a Jelly Belly-ish knack for getting too literal with their flavors (the chocolate stout tastes like Hershey’s syrup).

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7. Hoppin’ Frog Double Pumpkin Ale
City: Akron, Ohio
ABV: 8.4%
Tastes like: Pumpkin pie
Pumpkin flavor: Medium
Spiciness: Very high
Perfect for: Spiking the eggnog
The verdict:: The nutmeg hits you before you even take a sip. The spices almost hide the flavor of the pumpkin. Not the best balanced, but undeniably flavorful. It’s the first beer I’ve tasted that begged for a scoop of Cool Whip on top.

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6. Shipyard Pumpkinhead
City: Portland, Maine
ABV: 5.1%
Tastes like: Cinnamon
Pumpkin flavor: Medium
Spiciness: Very high
Perfect for: Making gingerbread men
The verdict:: The lightest colored beer of the bunch has an overpowering cinnamon flavor that overshadows other notes like pumpkin…and beer.

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5. New Belgium Kick (Lips of Faith Series)
City: Fort Collins, Colo.
ABV: 7%
Tastes like: Cranberries
Pumpkin flavor: Mild
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: Thanksgiving dinner
The verdict:: New Belgium’s Kick should have turkeys on the bottle instead of pumpkins. This cranberry and pumpkin sour is delicious and very much the flavor outlier of the bunch. Our tasting panel either loved it or hated it, which is pretty much the case with any beer this sour. I personally had it at #2, so if you have a taste for farmhouse ales, this is something special.

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4. Heavy Seas The Great Pumpkin
City: Halethrope, Md.
ABV: 8%
Tastes like: An IPA
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: Watching some Charlie Brown
The verdict:: Heavy Seas took the best name for a pumpkin ale, but it’s a PINO (pumpkin in name only). That’s not to say that it’s not still yummy. The hoppiest beer of the bunch, The Great Pumpkin is a little soapy on the head but with hints of spice that still make for a tasty fall beer.

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3. Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
City: Rehoboth Beach, Del.
ABV: 7%
Tastes like: Your spice rack
Pumpkin flavor: Medium
Spiciness: High
Perfect for: A better football-watching party than your neighbors
The verdict:: The pumpkin is subtle, but Punkin still tastes like fall thanks to all spice, cinnamon, nutmeg and a hint of brown sugar. It’s a well-balanced, delicious beer—just what we expect from our favorite American brewery.

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2. Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale
City: Boston
ABV: 5.7%
Tastes like: Fall
Pumpkin flavor: Medium
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: Any day between Sept. 21 and Dec. 21.
The verdict:: They may be just a few barrels shy of mass-produced but Sam Adams often beats the craft brewers at their own game. This was clearly the best balanced beer of the bunch—darker, maltier and full-bodied.

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1. Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale
City:Easton, Penn.
ABV: 8%
Tastes like: Pumpkin Bread
Pumpkin flavor: High
Spiciness: High
Perfect for: Every day in October
The verdict:: This is what a pumpkin beer should be. It tastes unmistakably pumpkin-y while still very much tasting like beer. The label lists cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves, but no single spice throws it off balance. Their logo might as well be comic sans, and their labels are routinely the worst on the shelves, but the beer is undeniably great.

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