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

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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

StarrHillBoxCarr (Custom).jpg 30. Star Hill Boxcar Pumpkin Porter
City: Crozet, VA
ABV: 5.2%
Tastes like: A standard American porter haunted by the ghost of pumpkin pie.
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: Low
Perfect for: Dark beer fans who just want something with “pumpkin” in the name.
The verdict: A solid but unremarkable porter attached to some mild pumpkin flavor and spice, which is probably a good thing. Only stands out as much as the base beer, which is to say not much.

IMG_1390.jpg 29. 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.

smuttynose-pumpkin.jpg 28. Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
City: Portsmouth, N.H.
ABV: 5%
Tastes like: A PPA (pumpkin pale ale)
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: People who want to get in the spirit of the season but frankly would rather just drink an IPA.
The verdict: This is no hop bomb, but the floral notes still overpower the pumpkin and spice flavors.

post-road-pum.jpg 27. Post Road Pumpkin Ale
City: Brooklyn
ABV: 5%
Tastes like: Light pumpkin ale
Pumpkin flavor: Medium
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: Listening to The Fall.
The verdict: Brewed at one of our favorite breweries, Brooklyn, this one nonetheless left a lot to be desired with several judges complaining of wateriness and one saying “it tastes like pumpkin stem.”

st-ambroise-pumpkin.jpg 26. McAuslan St. Ambroise Pumpkin
City: Montreal
ABV: 5%
Tastes like: Pumpkin cider
Pumpkin flavor: High
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: Remembrance Day
The verdict: The McAuslan is unique in that the pumpkin flavor is at the front without the beer becoming too syrupy sweet. A cider-like effervescence gives it a lightness that balances the spice.

jolly-pumpkin-la-p.jpg 25. Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela No 1 Pumpkin Ale
City: Dexter, Mich.
ABV: 5.9%
Tastes like: Pumpkin Sour
Pumpkin flavor: Medium
Spiciness: Low
Perfect for: People who only drink sours.
The verdict: Jolly Pumpkin must have felt some pressure to brew a pumpkin beer—it’s in the name for crying out loud. But be warned that this is full-on sour—and the combination of pumpkin and sour takes a little getting used to.

terrapin-pum.jpg 24. Terrapin Pumpkinfest
City: Athens, Ga.
ABV: 6.1%
Tastes like: Octoberfest, Southern-style
Pumpkin flavor: High
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: Carving a masterpiece in your jack-o-lantern
The verdict: A flavorful beer with more hops and even malts peeking through the always-present pumpkin notes—all the more surprising since this is technically a pumpkin lager, not an ale. Creative stuff.

buffalo-bills-pum.jpg 23. Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale
City: Hayward, Calif.
ABV: 5.2%
Tastes like: Beer!
Pumpkin flavor: Medium
Spiciness: Low
Perfect for: Halloween in May.
The verdict: This is a year-round pumpkin beer, ‘cause that’s how they roll out in California. The pumpkin is mild, but the beer is very drinkable.

PinchyJeekBarl (Custom).jpg 22. Anderson Valley Pinchy Jeek Barl
City: Boonville, CA
ABV: 8.5%
Tastes like: Watered-down pumpkin whiskey
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: People who would rather be drinking a barrel-aged stout.
The verdict: Not overpowering as one might expect from a bourbon barrel-aged pumpkin ale, mildly tart with restrained wood and whiskey character and a tasteful level of pumpkin pie spice. Slightly better than expected.

HarpoonImperialPumpkin.jpg 21. Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin
City: Boston
ABV: 10.5%
Tastes like: A party in your mouth and every spice is invited
Pumpkin flavor: Medium
Spiciness: High
Perfect for: Spice-lovers
The verdict: Harpoon started with a big roasted-malt imperial stout and then tossed in a bunch of fresh pumpkin puree, molasses, cinnamon, nutmeg. The result is almost overwhelming flavor—this is definitely sipping beer.

GreatImperialPumpkinAle.jpg 20. Iron Hill The Great Imperial Pumpkin Ale
City: Maple Shade, N.J.
ABV: 10.2%
Tastes like: Grandma spiked the pumpkin pie
Pumpkin flavor: High
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: Watching a Peanuts special without the kids
The verdict: Iron Hill loves making pumpkin ale. The New Jersey brewery has 19 different varieties from rum-barrel aged pumpkin ale with brett to pumpkin weiss to pumpkin dubbel to a maple vanilla pumpkin ale. We tried The Great Imperial Pumpkin Ale, which has a great Charles Shultz-inspired label without getting into copyright issues. Made with Belgian candi sugar and molasses, it’s a very cloudy whopper of a beer.

new-holland-ichabod.jpg 19. New Holland Ichabod
City: Holland, Mich.
ABV: 4.8%
Tastes like: All the right spices
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: High
Perfect for: Getting ready for the haunted house
The verdict: Nutmeg and cinnamon are the basis for this spicy, complex, but smooth pumpkin ale that’s surprisingly flavorful for its low ABV.

elysian-great-pumpkin.jpg 18. Elysian The Great Pumpkin
City: Seattle, Wash.
ABV: 8.1%
Tastes like: Low-sugar pumpkin pie
Pumpkin flavor: High
Spiciness: High
Perfect for: When you really want to taste the pumpkin
The verdict: Elysian manages a massively pumpkin-y beer without the puckery sweetness of some of its fellow bombers. There’s a big bite and the front end that doesn’t let you forget you’re drinking beer.

IMG_1388.jpg 17. 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 one of the best balanced beers of the bunch—darker, maltier and full-bodied.

KentuckyPumpkinBarrelAle (Custom).jpg
City: Lexington, KY
ABV: 10%
Tastes like: A surprisingly restrained bourbon barrel presence in a typical pumpkin ale.
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: Low
Perfect for: People who simply want to dip a toe into barrel-aged waters.
The verdict: Even more subtle overall than the Pinchy Jeek Barl in terms of its barrel-aged character, this was actually a mildly pleasant surprise. Just enough bourbon barrel to let you know it’s there in an ale that wouldn’t be very interesting otherwise.

southhampton.jpg 15. Southampton Pumpkin Ale
City: Southampton, N.Y.
ABV: 5.5%
Tastes like: Somebody cares
Pumpkin flavor: Medium
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: Gearing yourself up for the onslaught of Trick-or-Treaters.
The verdict: Neither the pumpkin or spice is overpowering, but it all blends together in a way that says, “keep drinking me; I’m only 5.5%!”

elysian-night-owl.jpg 14. Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale
City: Seattle, Wash.
ABV: 5.9%
Tastes like: Gingerbread
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: High
Perfect for: When you don’t want milk with your cookies
The verdict: Ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg make this a dessert of a beer while citrus hops bring it all into balance. Just a well-crafted beer.

hs-greater-pumpkin.jpg 13. Heavy Seas Greater Pumpkin
City: Baltimore, Md.
ABV: 9%
Tastes like: Your dad’s liquor cabinet
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: Alternating with shots
The verdict: We may not have been swayed by The Great Pumpkin, but the Greater Pumpkin just isn’t messing around. This is a boozy beer, aged in bourbon barrels, balancing the pumpkin and spice with a whiskey kick.

OldeTownePumpkin.jpg 12. Straight to Ale Old Towne Pumpkin Ale
City: Huntsville, Ala.
ABV: 6%
Tastes like: Vegetables
Pumpkin flavor: High
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: People who love pumpkins but not pumpkin-spice lattes.
The verdict: So many pumpkin beers are actual fall-spice beers, but Alabama’s Straight to Ale leads with the gourd, adding a unique set of herbs to the mix. It’s more vegetable than sweet, but the combination works.

21stAmendmentHeSaidTripel.jpg 11. 21st Amendment He Said Baltic-Style Porter
City: San Francisco
ABV: 8.2%
Tastes like: A Baltic-style porter
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: Low
Perfect for: People who don’t like pumpkin beer
The verdict: Both of 21st Amendment’s He Said collaborations with Elysian Brewing use pumpkin and fall spice as subtle instruments in a larger symphony. This is a Baltic-style porter first, a pumpkin beer second. And it happens to be a big, bold, roasty porter weighing in at 8.2% abv.

OakJackedPumpkin.jpg 10. Uinta Crooked Line Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin
City: Salt Lake City, Utah
ABV: 10.31%
Tastes like: Booze
Pumpkin flavor: Medium
Spiciness: Low
Perfect for: Someone needing a stiff drink
The verdict: With a very Halloween-y 10.31% (get it?) ABV, this oak-aged behemoth has a giant sweet malt backbone with notes of whiskey, pumpkin, vanilla and spice (in descending order).

21stAmendmentBaltic.jpg 9. 21st Amendment He Said Belgian-Style Tripel
City: San Francisco
ABV: 7.2%
Tastes like: Belgian monks prayed it into existence
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: Low
Perfect for: Pretending your name is
The verdict: We could drink a good Belgian-style tripel in any given situation, whether we’re eating a big steak or mowing the grass. 21st Amendment and Elysian Brewing have created a delicious tripel with subtle pumpkin and terragon flavors. The secret ingredient is galangal, a ginger-like root.

rogue-pumpkin-patch.jpg 8. Chatoe Rogue First Growth Pumpkin Ale
City: Newport, Ore.
ABV: 5.6%
Tastes like: Fresh pumpkin rind
Pumpkin flavor: High
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: Harvest day
The verdict: Very pumpkin-forward without the cloying sweetness that other very pumpkin-y beers have. Rogue grows its own pumpkins and the beer is surprisingly light and fresh.

IMG_1386.jpg 7. 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: 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. Our winner in last year’s tasting did well once again.

sam-adams-fat-jack.jpg 6. Samuel Adams Fat Jack Double Pumpkin
City: Boston
ABV: 8.5%
Tastes like: An imperial stout in costume
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: A cold fall night on the porch. Cigars optional.
The verdict: This great, big beer is malty sweet as opposed to fruity sweet with just a hint of pumpkin and spices to qualify as a pumpkin beer. A definite outlier from the style, but so very delicious.

timmermans-pumpkin.jpg 5. Timmermans Pumpkin Lambicus
City: Itterbeek, Belgium
ABV: 4%
Tastes like: Veggie lambic
Pumpkin flavor: High
Spiciness: Low
Perfect for: Celebrating The King’s Feast in Belgium (Nov. 15)
The verdict: This is a lambic without the fruity sweetness. We’ll admit we didn’t appreciate the value of that in last year’s tasting, but this is a wonderfully unique take on pumpkin beer. Subtle and refreshing.

new-belgium-pumpkick.jpg 4. New Belgium Pumpkick
City: Fort Collins, Colo.
ABV: 6%
Tastes like: Cranberry sauce
Pumpkin flavor: Low
Spiciness: Low
Perfect for: A non-traditional Thanksgiving meal
The verdict: Made with cranberry juice and lemongrass in addition to the usual pumpkin and fall spices, Pumpkick has a pleasant tartness not found elsewhere on this list. It’s a more accessible version of Kick from New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series.

good-gourd-cc.jpg 3. Cigar City Good Gourd
City: Tampa, Fla.
ABV: 8.5%
Tastes like: A strong, malty beer with pumpkin and spice to match.
Pumpkin flavor: High
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: Impressing your beer-geek friends who think pumpkin beers are novelties.
The verdict: While the beers with the most pumpkin flavor tended to turn off our panelists with a cloying sweetness, Cigar City treats the pumpkin as a vegetable, finding sweetness from the ever-present malts in beer. The result is a very pumpkin-and-spice-forward beer that doesn’t taste like candy or pumpkin pie. It tastes first and foremost like a big, complex malty beer with strong enough of a backbone to carry the pumpkin and fall spice flavors. This is pumpkin beer done right.

DogfishHeadPunkin.jpg 2. 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 one of our favorite American breweries.

schlafly.jpg 1. Schlafly Pumpkin Ale
City: Maplewood, Mo.
ABV: 8%
Tastes like: Pumpkin beer!
Pumpkin flavor: Medium
Spiciness: Medium
Perfect for: Any Halloween party
The verdict: This is center-of-the-bullseye pumpkin ale weighing in at a hefty 8%. The Missouri brewery’s secret weapon seems to be the butternut squash. So tasty and so refreshing, it’s the Paste 2014 Pumpkin Beer Champion.

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