The Great Pumpkin Beer List: The Best and Worst Pumpkin Ales

Drink Lists
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The Great Pumpkin Beer List: The Best and Worst Pumpkin Ales

There isn’t a seasonal beer style more ubiquitous than pumpkin ale—it’s the defining “seasonal” of the American craft beer market, and likely what a lot of folks on the street would mention first when told to name a “seasonal beer.” Few flavors go into the vogue so hard and during such a limited period of time, but if you survey brewers, you’ll typically find them ambivalent on the subject. Some truly love a well-made pumpkin beer. Others only make them at this point because the customer base expects (and demands) a slew of pumpkin-flavored brews every fall.

Perhaps it’s because of this obligation that we’ve seen more and more attempts at expanding the pumpkin beer category in recent years, as brewers think outside the box for ways to work the word “pumpkin” into a fall lineup in unique ways. It’s not all about the cut-and-dry “pumpkin ale” anymore—in 2014, you’re likely to find just as many pumpkin imperial stouts, pumpkin sours, Belgian pumpkin ales and barrel-aged pumpkin brews. And we here at Paste tasted them all.

Yes, in our 4th Annual Pumpkin Tasting, we had more beers than ever before. Good, bad and middling, we tried 25 different pumpkin ales, and ranked them from worst to best, including 15 from last year’s tasting that we didn’t repeat. Some of last year’s beers that we re-tasted made incredible leaps as they gained new appreciation among our tasters. Others slipped down from their high spots. Here we countdown from the worst to the best pumpkin beers we could find. Let us know which ones we’ve still somehow missed in the comments below.

SouthernTierWarlock (Custom).jpg 47. Southern Tier Warlock Imperial Pumpkin Stout
City: Lakewood, NY
ABV: 8.6%
Tastes like: Decades-old Easy Bake Oven brownie mix, rehydrated with black licorice liqueur.
Pumpkin flavor: Medium
Spiciness: High
Perfect for: Crafting an extremely effective homemade ipecac.
The verdict: The unholy big brother of Pumking, it’s like taking that already offensive beer and stirring in a mixture of Nestle’s Quik, liquefied black licorice and whatever form of tar they use to pave blacktops.

horny-copia.jpg 46. Horny Goat Horny Copia Pumpkin
City: Milwaukee
ABV: 5.7%
Tastes like: A Pier One scented candle
Pumpkin flavor: High
Spiciness: High
Perfect for: The Halloween frat party
The verdict: This is everything wrong with pumpkin ales. It tastes more like whoever dreamed up the Bud Light Lime Lime-a-Rita imagines pumpkin beer should taste like.

shock-top-pumpkin.jpg 45. Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat
City: St. Louis
ABV: 5.2%
Tastes like: Budweiser made it.
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: Low
Perfect for: Putting out the fire of your jack-o-lantern
The verdict: Q: What do American macrobrews and making love in a canoe have in common? A: They’re both f—-ing close to water.

IMG_1392.jpg 44. 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: This is one of the most divisive beers we’ve come across. Though one of our judges thought this was the best of the bunch, several 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. As one of our tasters put it: “You never go full pumpkin.”

anderson-fall.jpg 43. Anderson Valley Fall Hornin’ Pumpkin Ale
City: Boonville, Calif.
ABV: 6%
Tastes like: Pumpkin juice
Pumpkin flavor: Medium
Spiciness: Low
Perfect for: When you’re so thirsty you don’t care what your beer tastes like.
The verdict: The only real flavor coming through is the pumpkin sweetness, but even that doesn’t hit you very hard in this bland entry from a promising brewery.

IMG_1385.jpg 42. 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.

blue-moon-pum.jpg 41. Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale
City: Golden, Colo.
ABV: 5.7%
Tastes like: Lemon-ale
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: Low
Perfect for: Fall…in Florida.
The verdict: Blue Moon’s attempt at a pumpkin ale tastes a lot like you’d expect. Call it a citrus-y pumpkin wheat.

cisco-pumple.jpg 40. Cisco Pumple Drumpkin
City: Nantucket, Mass.
ABV: 6.88%
Tastes like: A thin spiced beer
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: High
Perfect for: A bachelor’s version of potpourri
The verdict: Hops meet spice with very little body or complexity.

shipyard-smashed.jpg 39. Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin
City: Portland, Maine
ABV: 9%
Tastes like: Someone spiked the pumpkin ale
Pumpkin flavor: Very high
Spiciness: High
Perfect for: Late-night Halloween pranks
The verdict: The booziest of the bunch unfortunately wasn’t one of the best. Like Southern Tier, the idea here seems to be Maximum Pumpkin Overdrive and only works if you love pumpkins even more than you love beer.

TheFearPumpkin (Custom).jpg 38. Flying Dog The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale
City: Frederick, MD
ABV: 9.0%
Tastes like: Past-ripe pumpkins and old socks.
Pumpkin flavor: High
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: Giving to that one friend who loves Pumpkin Anything.
The verdict: There’s something definitely off here. This imperial pumpkin ale shows its booze off, but there’s some kind of funky flavor component present that lingers on the tongue like wet cardboard. Not pleasant.

lakefront-pum.jpg 37. Lakefront Pumpkin Lager Beer
City: Milwaukee, Wis.
ABV: 6%
Tastes like: Drinking Bud out of a hollowed out pumpkin
Pumpkin flavor: Very High
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: People who love redundancy
The verdict: This “lager beer” definitely doesn’t skimp on the pumpkin but that didn’t turn out to be a great thing.

blue-point-pum.jpg 36. Bluepoint Pumpkin Ale
City: Patchogue, N.Y.
ABV: 6%
Tastes like: A solid beer
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: An unseasonably early snowfall.
The verdict: Last year we were unimpressed by Bluepoint’s pumpkin beer, but it faired a little better this year—either the beer or our tastebuds must have improved.

WilhelmScream (Custom).jpg 35. Magic Hat Wilhem Scream Pumpkin Ale
City: South Burlington, VT
ABV: 5.4%
Tastes like: Slightly vegetal, in an authentically pumpkin sort of way.
Pumpkin flavor: Medium
Spiciness: Low
Perfect for: A fireside pumpkin roast.
The verdict: Actually tastes a bit like pumpkin or squash, more authentically than most. A mild mix of spices cover all the bases. Pretty decent, middle of the road, easy-drinking pumpkin ale.

IMG_1393.jpg 34. 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.

uinta-punkn.jpg 33. Uinta Punk’N
City: Salt Lake City
ABV: 4%
Tastes like: Something out of Harry Potter
Pumpkin flavor: High
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: Serving at The Three Broomsticks
The verdict: Very strange flavor that split the jury, with some praising the unique spices and one proclaiming, “I’d only drink this Punk’N if I was more Drunk’N.”

harpoon-ufo.jpg 32. Harpoon Pumpkin UFO
City: Boston
ABV: 5.9%
Tastes like: It just came out of the oven
Pumpkin flavor: Medium
Spiciness: Low
Perfect for: Making sure First Contact is a friendly affair.
The verdict: This unfiltered ale smells like pumpkin bread with mild but tasty pumpkin and spice notes.

tommyknocker.jpg 31. Tommyknocker Small Patch Pumpkin Harvest Ale
City: Idaho Springs, Colo.
ABV: 5%
Tastes like: Pumpkin pie flambe
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: A late-night campfire
The verdict: In addition to pumpkin and spices, molasses gives Tommyknocker an almost smoky malt flavor