There was a time when pumpkin ales, as a phenomenon, WERE the “seasonal beer” market in this country. As the second great wave of craft beer expansion gathered steam in the 2000s, they were the first “seasonal beer style” encountered by many drinkers who were discovering better beer for the first time, myself included. And they promised an enjoyable, easygoing, accessible beer style that just so happens to coincide in many occasions with the American sweet tooth—a market that few food and drink-makers have ever lost money pandering to. All of these factors made pumpkin beer the undisputed king of seasonal beer styles, where it remained until the last few years.
Now, however, it would seem that things have begun to change. The 2015-2016 beer season was the first suggestion that perhaps the enthusiasm for pumpkin beer was now trending downward, rather than up. You can find a number of stories of increasing amounts of pumpkin beer ending up rotting on the shelves after the season was over, and breweries significantly decreasing pumpkin beer production. Producers such as Samuel Adams, who have had numerous pumpkin offerings in the past, streamlined their portfolio into a single pumpkin beer. “PSL” (pumpkin spice latte) mania may still be going fairly strong, but pumpkin beer’s best days may now be behind it.
As much as I wish we could say this was upsetting news to us at Paste … we really can’t. Because honestly, we’re pretty tired of pumpkin beer as well, and with good reason! If you read these blind-tasting pieces regularly, then you know they’ve been going on for a few years. But pumpkin beer? That particular tasting has been going on for longer than “a few years.” We’ve done it every single year since 2011. It’s the longest-running tasting that Paste has ever done. Hell, the pumpkin beer tasting predates my own employment at Paste by three years. And we’ve even managed to increase the size this year to the make it the biggest pumpkin beer tasting ever, not because the style is expanding but because our press list continues to do so.
So with that said, 2017 may be our farewell to pumpkin beer. Barring unforeseen circumstances—perhaps Donald Trump will choose pumpkin beer as the official beer style of America, leading to massive boom in right-wing beer buying—next fall we’ll wave farewell to this particular tasting and fill it with something we haven’t already done … 7 times in the past.
So let’s get to it! One last trip to the pumpkin patch! The final winner of the BEST PUMPKIN BEER title!
A Note on Beer Acquisition
As in most of our blind tastings at Paste, the vast majority of these pumpkin beers were sent directly to the office by the breweries that choose to participate, with additional beers acquired by us via locally available purchases and the occasional trade. We always do our best to reach out to breweries we’re aware of that make exemplary versions of particular styles, but things always do slip through the cracks. We apologize for a few significant omissions that we couldn’t acquire, either due to seasonality or market shortages. There will never be a “perfect” tasting lineup, much as we continue to try.
Rules and Procedure
- This is a tasting of pumpkin beers, largely determined by how the breweries chose to label their products. To be admitted, it had to be labeled as pumpkin/squash beer, presumably with spices. There was no specific ABV limit. When in doubt, we simply allow a brewery’s marketing to define a beer’s style, and expect them to stick to the designation they’ve chosen.
- There was no limit of entries per brewery, as we didn’t want to handicap the breweries that choose to specialize in pumpkin beer. The beers were separated into daily blind tastings that approximated a sample size of the entire field.
- Tasters included professional beer writers, brewery owners, brewmasters and beer reps. Awesome, Paste-branded glassware is from Spiegelau.
- Beers were judged completely blind by how enjoyable they were as individual experiences and given scores of 1-100, which were then averaged. Entries were judged by how much we enjoyed them for whatever reason, not by how well they fit any kind of preconceived style guidelines. As such, this is not a BJCP-style tasting.
The Field: Pumpkin Beers #s 63-21
It’s no secret that there are some less-than-pleasant offerings within the realm of “pumpkin beer.” During the course of this tasting, we had a good number of sickly sweet or artificially flavored entries, which are almost never going to do well in a Paste blind tasting. On the better side of pumpkin beer, we experienced the usual wide range of approaches, from traditional spice-driven pumpkin ales to the boozy imperial variants and the outliers: Pumpkin porters, imperial stouts, Belgian ales and sours. Some of our favorite usual suspects made the top 20, while a few of them just missed the cut. Here’s the top two-thirds of the entries.
As always, I’ll remind you that the beers listed below are simply presented in alphabetical order, and as a result are not ranked. I repeat: These beers are not ranked.
Avery Brewing Co. Rumpkin
Blue Ghost Brewing Co. No Noggin Pumpkinhead Ghostman Ale
Bond Brothers Beer Co. Everything Nice
Breckenridge Brewery Nitro Pumpkin Spice Latte
Brewery Vivant Pumpkin Tart
Brooklyn Brewery Post Road Pumpkin Ale
The Bruery Midnight Autumn Maple
D9 Brewing Co. Latte Pumpkin
Deep River Brewing Co. Pumpkin Pie Porter
Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. Pumpkin Hunter
Dogfish Head Punkin
Dry Dock Brewing Co. Half Moon Pumpkin Ale
Due South Brewing Co. Isle of MaGourdo
Elysian Brewing Co. The Great Pumpkin
Elysian Brewing Co. Night Owl Pumpkin Ale
Foothills Brewing Co. Cottonwood Pumpkin Ale
4 Noses Brewing Pump Action Imperial Pumpkin Ale
Four Peaks Brewing Pumpkin Porter
Heavy Seas Beer Great’ER Pumpkin
Hi-Wire Brewing Sour Pumpkin Ale
Iron Hill Brewery Pumpkin Ale
Lakefront Brewery Pumpkin Lager
New Belgium Atomic Pumpkin
NoDa Brewing Co. Gordgeous
pFriem Family Brewers Pumpkin Bier
Rocket Republic Brewing Co. SteamPumpkin
Rogue Ales Pumpkin Patch Ale
Samuel Adams 20 Pounds of Pumpkin
Southampton Pumpkin Ale
Southern Tier Brewing Co. Pumking
Southern Tier Brewing Co. Cold-Press Coffee Pumking
Southern Tier Brewing Co. Rum-Barrel Pumking
Southern Tier Brewing Co. Warlock
Station 26 Brewing Co. Scott’s Imperial Pumpkin
Swamp Head Brewery Pumpkin Spice Latte (white stout)
10 Barrel Brewing Co. Jamaican Me Pumpkin
Two Roads Brewing Co. Roadsmary’s Baby
Two Roads Brewing Co. Roadsmary’s Other Baby
Wicked Weed Xibalba
Wicked Weed Barrel-Aged Xibalba
Wolf’s Ridge Brewing Pi
Wolf’s Ridge Brewing All The … Pumpkin Spice Latte
Wormtown Brewery Fresh Patch
Next: The finals! Pumpkin beers #20-1