59 of the Best Pumpkin Beers, Blind-Tasted and Ranked

Drink Lists Best pumpkin beers
59 of the Best Pumpkin Beers, Blind-Tasted and Ranked

A casual glance at any pumpkin beer-related headline in 2016 will pretty much inexorably lead readers to only one conclusion: The old, grand gourd ain’t what she used to be.

This news has come down the chain, both in the form of statistics and reports from the likes of Forbes on the overall reduction of the traditional “pumpkin ale” category in craft beer. Once a more or less unassailable bastion of seasonal beer styles—really the seasonal beer style of the late autumn, coming along after märzen/oktoberfestbiers—pumpkin beer is now officially in a recession of sorts. If “peak pumpkin” was reached culturally sometime around 2014, we’re now combing through the flotsam left behind on the beach as that wave recedes. Several macro breweries have discontinued their pumpkin offerings. Other large craft brewers, such as Sam Adams, have consolidated multiple pumpkin beers into a single product. Still others have simply reduced their overall volume in 2016, citing the number of bottles that were left sitting on store shelves through the winter of 2015. The headlines alone are fairly dire-sounding.

Still, I’d like to make one thing clear: Pumpkin beer isn’t going anywhere. A seasonal style that has existed for more than 30 years since the advent of Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale in 1985, it isn’t about to just disappear overnight, because customer whims simply haven’t shifted that much. Pumpkin diehards have existed and will continue to exist, even if the rank and file craft beer drinker moves on to obsessing about a new, trendy style. If anything, the future of pumpkin beer as a style involves a greater degree of creativity, as beers incorporating gourds and autumnal spices seek new ways and new delivery methods to entice drinkers.

That’s certainly what we found in this blind tasting. I actually wondered if we would surpass our 2015 total of 45 pumpkin beers, but clearly I needn’t have worried—even in a “down year” where the pumpkin beer category is shrinking, we increased our total to a grand 59. The takeaway is simple: These beers are more varied in concept and execution this year than they’ve ever been before. Never has the label of “pumpkin beer” implied less about the final product, and that’s a very good thing. From pumpkin sours and imperial stouts to farmhouse ales and lagers, the quality of the pumpkin ale entries has actually increased, even as the category has decreased in sales. So let’s get into it.

A Note on Beer Acquisition

Like every other blind-tasting at Paste, we acquire these beers in a variety of ways. Most are sent in directly by the breweries when we send out a call for that style. Others we’re able to purchase directly because they’re available in Georgia. In that sense, we’re at the mercy of what is available, but regardless, we were able to put together the largest tasting of pumpkin beers we’ve ever done.

Rules and Procedure

– We accepted anything sent to us, as long as it involved “pumpkin” or “pumpkin spice” in the description, or had some other gourd/spice combo, as in the case of The Bruery’s Autumn Maple. There was no specific ABV limit, which means that a few beers labeled as “imperial pumpkin” were accepted right alongside the others. Don’t question it—it’s only pumpkin beer, after all.

– There was no limit of entries per brewery, as we feel a brewery such as Elysian that specializes in pumpkin beers should be allowed to strut their stuff in their chosen beer genre. The beers were separated into daily blind tastings that approximated a sample size of the entire field.

– Tasters included professional beer writers, brewery owners 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.

The Field: Pumpkin Beers #’s 59-26

Pumpkin beer was the first official beer tasting I ever conducted with Paste in the fall of 2014, and our annual tastings of this style pre-dates both my employment and our era of truly blind tastings. Which is to say that the folks at Paste have tasted a truly absurd amount of pumpkin beer over the years, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the style, it’s this: You really can’t predict these beers, from year to year.

Pumpkin beers just seem to be variable by nature. Even the classics of the genre, beers that tasters have enjoyed annually for many years on end, can be radically different from one year to the next. It makes for lists with a lot of variation—beers that we love one year sometimes don’t even make the ranked portion, the next year.

A note on Southern Tier Pumking: Because someone will ask, I’ll make a special point of verifying this. Yes, we tasted Pumking, as we have every year since 2013. Yes, we tasted this year’s 2016 batch. Yes, we also tasted the Warlock imperial stout from ST. Yes, we’re aware that these beers are well-liked by quite a lot of people. And finally, no, we still don’t like either of them, and every year, the blind tasting shows us exactly why. You don’t have to like it, but at least respect the fact that we’re consistent.

As always, the beers below in The Field are not ranked, because they’re simply the beers that didn’t make the top 25. Once again, these are not ranked.

Anderson Valley Fall Hornin’ Pumpkin Ale
Ballast Point Pumpkin Down
Big Boss Brewing Harvest Time Pumpkin Ale
Brewery Vivant Pumpkin Tart
Brooklyn Brewery Post Road Pumpkin Ale
Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale
Cigar City Good Gourd
Coronado Brewing Co. Punk’In Drublic
DESTIHL Brewery Pumpkin Flanders
DESTIHL Brewery Samhain Pumpkin Porter
Dogfish Head Punkin
Elysian Brewing Co. The Great Pumpkin
Elysian Brewing Co. Night Owl
Flying Dog The Gourd Standard Pumpkin IPA
Flying Dog The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale
Funky Buddha Sweet Potato Casserole
Greenbush Brewing Co. Unicorn Killer
Hi-Wire Brewing Pumpkin Lager
Heavy Seas The Greater Pumpkin
Karbach Krunkin Pumpkin
Lakefront Brewery Pumpkin Lager
MadTree Brewing The Great PumpCan
New Belgium Pumpkick
New Holland Ichabod
Shipyard Pumpkinhead
Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
Southern Tier Pumking
Southern Tier Warlock
Terrapin Pumpkinfest
Two Roads Roadsmary’s Baby
Uinta Brweing Co. Punk’n Harvest Pumpkin Ale
Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale
Wormtown Brewery Fresh Patch Pumpkin Ale
Wren House Brewing Co. Pie Thief

Next: The finals! Pumpkin beers #25-1

breck pump latte 2016 (Custom).jpg25. Breckenridge Pumpkin Spice Latte
City: Littleton, CO
ABV: 5.5%
The verdict: We have to give credit where credit is due on this one—with that name, and the fact that it’s a nitrogenated beer, we were expecting a total gimmick here, but the results are surprisingly fun. It’s one of the best examples of a nitrogenated pumpkin beer that we’ve seen, with a thick and creamy mouthfeel that easily sets it apart from the others on the table texturally. But most importantly, Breckenridge actually remembered to incorporate the latte portion of “pumpkin spice latte,” with a very pleasant, medium roasty coffee character that pairs very nicely with the obligatory cinnamon spice. It’s a pure, cold brew-like coffee note that really elevates this beer and brings it into harmony. Kudos to Breckenridge for delivering more than a Starbucks homage.

upslope pump 2016 (Custom).jpg24. Upslope Pumpkin Ale
City: Boulder, CO
ABV: 7.7%
The verdict: Upslope boasts of using “baby bear” pumpkins in this well-regarded, formerly GABF-gilded annual pumpkin ale, but as is typically the case in this style, you’re not exactly drinking it and thinking “yeah, that tastes like a gourd.” Classic-style pumpkin ales, of which this is one, live and die by the subtlety and execution in how they deliver on their spices, and Upslope’s example of the style cruises comfortably down the center of the pumpkin ale broadway. Looking up the background information, the thing that jumps out most readily is how well-hidden the 7.7% ABV is. In a style where the caramel/toasted amber ale maltiness tends to get very sweet, boozy and rich as the ABV creeps higher, you’d never know this one wasn’t a 4-5% ABV beer, as it stays nicely dry and drinkable. Coupled with Boulder’s elevation, that probably makes it a beer that could put you on your butt pretty quickly if you weren’t paying attention, but to us that seems an appropriate sentiment for the encroaching winter.

brew kettle strangsville 2016 (Custom).jpg23. Brew Kettle Strangsville Pumpkin Ale
City: Strongsville, OH
ABV: 5.8%
The verdict: We mostly know The Brew Kettle at Paste for being purveyors of fantastic hop-forward beers, including our 2015 IPA champ, White Rajah, but we’ve yet to taste anything else from them that was anything less than solid. Still, pumpkin beer isn’t quite the type of brew we usually associate them with in our mind’s eye, but it doesn’t surprise us to find out that they’re making a pretty good one. Cinnamon is the operative and most noticeable spice, but there’s a nice undercurrent of “squashiness” running through this one as well, a pleasantly vegetal note that at least evokes a bit of roasted pumpkin flesh. For all we know, no actual pumpkins were involved anywhere in the process for Strangsville, but we’re at least going to call out the entries on this list that remind us of genuine pumpkin, in the few instances they do come along.

reubens pump 2016.jpg22. Reuben’s Brews Imperial Pumpkin
City: Seattle, WA
ABV: 8.7%
The verdict: Reuben’s Brews was hovering on the periphery of our most recent 247 IPA blind tasting with several entries, so it’s good to see them break into the ranked portion here. Multiple score sheets for this imperial pumpkin ale describe it texturally as “rounded,” in reference to its deep, smooth maltiness, which conveys no rough edges. Like the last beer, the pumpkin character shines through nicely, supported by spices that hit cinnamon but also contain a prominent note of clove. The ABV also asserts itself, bringing in a bit of red fruitiness and a deeply toasted malt character reminiscent of Grape Nuts, with some corresponding bitterness. It’s a good example of the classic style of American pumpkin ale that has been amplified into a higher ABV strata—lacking the drinkability of Upslope’s 7.7% ABV example, but supplanting it with a greater sense of richness. Unrelated: We like how they subtly incorporated the Reuben’s Brews “r” into the design of the label.

rocket repub steam pump 2016 (Custom).jpg21. Rocket Republic SteamPumpkin
City: Huntsville, AL
ABV: 6.3%
The verdict: Rocket Republic’s offering, like some of the other pumpkin ales, throws its pumpkin directly into the mash and presumably extracts some fermentable sugars from them in the process. It’s decidedly on the drinkable side for 6.3% ABV, a solid take on the traditional pumpkin ale profile that features a moderate, judicious spice profile. Cinnamon and nutmeg are present, but there’s also a touch of some more exotic spice that may be ginger, or may be something we can’t quite identify. It’s simply a well-balanced pumpkin beer that doesn’t overextend itself.

bruery autumn maple 2016.jpg20. The Bruery Autumn Maple
City: Placentia, CA
ABV: 10%
The verdict: The Bruery isn’t the kind of company that would be content simply releasing a classic-style pumpkin ale, and you can be certain they’ve never really entertained the notion to do so. Rather, they make theirs with yams in addition to the spices, and we include it simply because it’s clearly intended to tackle the same market. It’s a big, boozy, spicy, aggressive beast of a beer when comparing the glass to a table full of smaller pumpkin beers, and almost overwhelming upon first inspection. Over time, though, it’s subtleties come to the forefront. We picked up more on the Belgian yeast strain this year than in previous times we’ve tasted Autumn Maple, which adds an exotic yeast/spice profile complementing big notes of vanilla and especially maple syrup, which really pops. One taster described it as “the last beer of Halloween night, right after the last trick-or-treater” leaves the doorstep, and we’re inclined to believe that’s the perfect application for it.

allagash ghoulschip 2016 (Custom).jpg19. Allagash Ghoulschip
City: Portland, ME
ABV: 6.9%
The verdict: Allagash really goes above and beyond when it comes to injecting a certain sense of gravitas and class into the oft-derided idea of “pumpkin beer.” Their pumpkin wild ale includes shredded pumpkin, molasses and pumpkin seeds in the mash before heading to the coolship to be inoculated with “the ghosts of beers past.” The result feels rather like what you would expect from a brettanomyces pumpkin ale, funk-forward and lightly tart, with prominent stone fruit and perhaps tropical aromatics. Woody character is obviously present, thanks to multiple years in the barrel, but they never threaten to take over and the primary impressions are still very much yeast-driven more than anything else. We had some pumpkin beers in this tasting that you would automatically refer to as true sours, but Allagash’s offering is more subtle and nuanced. This would likely be an excellent beer, whether or not any of the “pumpkin” theme ingredients were present.

due south mangourdo 2016 (Custom).jpg18. Due South Isle of MaGourdo
City: Boynton Beach, FL
ABV: 5%
The verdict: I believe this is the first appearance from Florida’s Due South Brewing Co. in our blind tastings, and they arrive with a pumpkin beer that did better than most simply because it had that little bit of extra oomph to make it memorable. It’s actually fuller of body than one would expect for its 5% ABV, with a tad more residual sugar as well, which amplifies the toasty malt and notes of roasted nuts/cocoa. Spices are more restrained than in some of the other examples, which makes this a pumpkin beer where malt is actually the star over pumpkin pie spice. The end product tastes a bit like a solid American brown ale, dosed judiciously with spices. We can roll with that.

schlafly pump 2016 (Custom).jpg17. Schlafly Pumpkin Ale
City: St. Louis, MO
ABV: 8%
The verdict: Schlafly is pumpkin beer royalty almost every year, which is well known in the midwest. This is a beer that has won this tasting in the past, and even if it doesn’t end up in the #1 spot every year, you always know it’s going to perform. It may be that the market has simply caught up to Schlafly a bit in formulating the archetypal “pumpkin ale,” but this is still one of the best examples of the classic style—on the darker side, and noticeably boozier and burlier as it treads the space between regular “pumpkin ale” and a truly bombastic imperial pumpkin ale. We get more “squashy” flavor in this year’s beer, with a vegetal note that gives way to a well-balanced blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and especially clove. The higher ABV also adds a touch of cherry-like red fruit and a definite impression that you’re drinking a heavier hitter. It retains a curious space between the lighter pumpkin ales and the gigantic, barrel-aged behemoths that many would likely find to be a sweet spot for this style.

iron hill pumpkin ale 2016 (Custom).jpg16. Iron Hill Pumpkin Ale
City: Newark, DE
ABV: 5.5%
The verdict: The top quadrant of this list, and especially the top 10, tend to be dominated by twists on the classic pumpkin ale formula, because so many of these beers do tend to fit into the same basic mold. To really end up in a good position as a classic-style pumpkin ale, then, it becomes more or less necessary to nail the balance, and Iron Hill’s beer does that. This is exactly the kind of beer that we don’t necessarily end up talking much about during the blind tasting itself, but every taster ends up giving it a good score when all is said and done. Lighter in malt character than some of the others, it has a touch of bready, doughy malt that is almost lager-like, with nicely balanced spices and a subtle hint of vanilla. It’s an easy fall beer to enjoy, and in quantity.

uinta funkn patch 2016.jpg15. Uinta Funk’n Patch
City: Salt Lake City, UT
ABV: 8%
The verdict: Uinta always presents a serviceable pumpkin ale in their annual Punk’n, but this new beer is far more adventurous, and we salute them for that. A brettanomyces-fermented pumpkin ale that straddles the imperial boundary, it’s fairly light and approachable on the spices. Every score sheet independently noted the tartness—but mild tartness—that is present here, combining with toasted, bready malt to create something that is almost like a lightly soured amber ale. The brett here doesn’t go hard on the funk or exotic, barnyard aromatics—rather, it melds itself into the spices and works subtly in the background. The tartness, meanwhile, is very gentle, fun and approachable; nowhere near puckering but simply inviting of another sip. If you know people who say they hate both sours and pumpkin beer, this could be the magic bullet that would change their mind on both.

point hog pump 2016 (Custom).jpg14. Stevens Point Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale
City: Stevens Point, WI
ABV: 7.5%
The verdict: When this beer won last year’s blind tasting of pumpkin ales, we said that ultimately this category was all about the spices, and the execution thereof. That’s still undoubtedly true, although this year’s greater influx of sours and other styles also made us more appreciative of alternative takes on pumpkin beer. But for those who really love their pumpkin beers sweet and spicy, Point’s Whole Hog offering is the true cream of the crop. It has one of the best noses of any pumpkin beer—as long as you really love sweet, fragrant, fresh cinnamon, and who among us doesn’t? With a richness akin to super dark brown sugar, it feels like a treat, but it still drinks more easily than you’d expect for the ABV. Dubbed “sweet, but not overwhelming,” to quote one score sheet, this beer is the platonic ideal of a sweeter, classic-style pumpkin ale. There are a lot of beers in this style that taste grossly artificial, but one imagines that this is what they’re hoping to pull off before going so far astray.

lakefront brandy pump 2016 (Custom).jpg13. Lakefront Brandy Barrel Imperial Pumpkin
City: Milwaukee, WI
ABV: 13.4%
The verdict: Wisconsin, if you weren’t aware of this, really loves its brandy. It’s the only place in the country where if you simply order “an old-fashioned,” you’re likely to receive one made with brandy rather than rye or bourbon. So I’m not at all surprised that Milwaukee’s Lakefront chooses to amp up their annual pumpkin lager with an imperial version aged in brandy barrels. It actually manages to do that in a pleasantly subtle way—unlike some of the other barrel-aged beers on this list, the booze and barrel character doesn’t absolutely explode out of the glass to announce itself. Toasty, bready malt is a star in this beer, with spices that favor nutmeg as the biggest note. The brandy comes through really nicely, with a fruity, grapey sort of decadence that you might simply mistake for a very high ABV rather than liquor barrel aging. It seems a bit silly to refer to any beer in this mold as “subtle,” but it delivers its flavors in a significantly more measured way than some of the other, really crazy barrel-aged examples we tasted.

elysian dark moon 2016 (Custom).jpg12. Elysian Dark ‘O The Moon
City: Seattle, WA
ABV: 6.5%
The verdict: No American brewery has specialized in pumpkin beer with quite the fervor that Elysian has, which has undoubtedly been a factor in helping pumpkin beer grow in size and breadth as a category. They make no fewer than four pumpkin beers in any given October season, but we usually tend to gravitate toward the darker ones. Dark ‘O The Moon is a straight-up pumpkin stout, a fusion of American-style stout (which is almost endangered, these days) and classic pumpkin spice ale influences. Sweet cinnamon dominates the nose in pleasant fashion, giving way on the palate to mild roast and brown sugar. Overall, the beer isn’t nearly so sweet as the aroma initially suggests, and it does a good job of asserting its “stoutness” without it overwhelming the supporting pie spice. It’s not the most complex of these beers in the spice department, but it does the cinnamon-heavy style well.

saint arnold pumpkinator 2016.jpg11. Saint Arnold Pumpkinator
City: Houston, TX
ABV: 10%
The verdict: It’s funny that this classic Saint Arnold pumpkin beer ended up next to the Elysian pumpkin stout, as they have very similar profiles—if anything, Pumpkinator like the previous beer on steroids. Still, tasting blind, you wouldn’t guess that it was 3.5% ABV bigger than the previous beer, and the way it hides that booze is one of its strengths. On the nose and the palate, Pumpkinator is another big cinnamon bomb, with a very sweet and fragrant spice profile that seems even stronger to us than we remember from previous years. Coupled with the dark brown sugar, almost molasses-like sweetness, the final beer is like a delicious snickerdoodle or molasses cookie—it makes you want to reduce it into a syrup and pour it over ice cream (or pancakes, for that matter). Like the last beer, this one doesn’t really dazzle you with complexity or nuance, but by delivering big, bold, crowd-pleasing flavors. It’s a Halloween night dessert treat par excellence.

central waters headless 2016.jpg10. Central Waters Headless Heron BBA Pumpkin Spice Ale
City: Amherst, WI
ABV: 8.5%
The verdict: This mouthful of a beer is a barrel-aged seasonal from Central Waters, and that’s almost always a good sign. I’ve seen the base beer described in places as a Scotch ale, although the bottle doesn’t specifically state this. Regardless, it has the deeply malty, toffee-like caramelization you would expect from that style, along with a melange of spices that hit upon cinnamon, clove and ginger. As for the barrel, there’s no missing that this is a whiskey beer. Bourbon vanillans and sour oak show up assertively on the nose in particular, but are reined in just a bit more on the palate. All of the flavors come into particular harmony if you give this one a few minutes to warm up. It’s exactly the kind of flavorful but nuanced barrel-aged beer that you expect from Central Waters.

rogue pump patch 2016.jpg9. Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch Ale
City: Newport, OR
ABV: 5.6%
The verdict: We really should stop being surprised each year when we drink this beer, because Rogue is making one of the best classic-style pumpkin ales in the country. We liked it last year, and it’s even better this year, really showing off the spirit of the “Rogue Farms” concept with pumpkins they grew themselves. Toasty malt is the anchor here, with great bready, deep malt complexity. You do get a hint of the “squashy” flavor that suggests the gourd itself, which is of course buttressed by spices: Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and a very nicely subtle note of vanilla. If it’s been a while since you’ve tried this one, go try it again, because it’s a great example of how classic-style pumpkin ales should be executed.

d9 head of horseman 2016 (Custom).jpg8. D9 Head of the Horseman
City: Cornelius, NC
ABV: 9.6%
The verdict: This beer finished #6 out of 45 last year, and now it’s #8 out of 59—not too shabby for D9, who seem to really know their pumpkin brews. This is a big beer that tastes like a big beer, with rather bombastic spices—“massive spice” to quote one score sheet. But it’s not just the spice, because everything else here is burly as well. “Big, chewy maltiness with hints of dark chocolate,” reads one score sheet. “Rich, hearty but not overwhelming” reads another. In short, this is how you do “imperial pumpkin ale” right, without completely going overboard. Non-barrel-aged imperial pumpkin ales actually had a fairly tough time in this blind tasting, but if more of them were like Head of the Horseman, it would be to their betterment.

wicked weed xibalba 2016 (Custom).jpg7. Wicked Weed Xibalba
City: Asheville, NC
ABV: 8.2%
The verdict: The most surprising thing about this beer isn’t that Wicked Weed would make a pumpkin ale, but that they would make a non-sour pumpkin ale—more on that momentarily. They simply refer to this beer as an “imperial pumpkin ale,” but it’s dark enough that they could easily get away with calling it a porter or stout—falling on the same day of tasting as Elysian’s Dark ‘O The Moon, it was notably the more purely roasty of the two, which is unexpected. The flavor profile is really interesting—nutty and roasty, with lots of pronounced cocoa flavors, supported by pumpkin pie spice. The chiles (ancho, serrano, habanero) don’t add appreciable heat, but instead amplify the roasted and dried fruity flavors. As a whole, it’s something genuinely unique to this tasting, and a beer we hope will become a yearly staple for that reason.

sam adams 20 pounds 2016 (Custom).jpg6. Samuel Adams 20 Pounds of Pumpkin
City: Boston, MA
ABV: 5.7%
The verdict: Sam Adams has been making pumpkin beer for a long, long while, to the point where they usually have multiple brands every year. However, reflecting the downturn in the pumpkin beer category, in 2016 they refocused all of their efforts into a single, new beer … and damn it if it isn’t one of the best seasonals they’ve made in years. There will surely be drinkers who miss some of their previous pumpkin offerings such as Fat Jack, but 20 Pounds of Pumpkin is more or less the best classic-style pumpkin ale you could ever expect to find in the cooler of your corner gas station. Toasty malt weaves in and out of rich cinnamon, with a mild, spot-on level of residual sweetness. It’s not too dry, not too sweet, not too spice-forward. On a table with lots of classic-style pumpkin beers, it was easily the one we all pointed to and said “yep, that’s what this style is supposed to taste like.” Good on ya, Sam Adams.

firestone el gourdo 2016 (Custom).jpg5. Firestone Walker, El Gourdo
City: Paso Robles, CA
ABV: 5.8%
The verdict: Goddamn, there’s a lot going on in this particular beer. Firestone may have come up with the most complicated way of incorporating pumpkin by fire-roasting them with bay leaves and walnuts before adding them to the beer to ferment and oak-age for a year. What you’re left with after all that time is a true pumpkin sour, although it doesn’t necessarily advertise itself as one. Tartness is firm and assertive but not excessive, and it works surprisingly well with an array of holiday spices. The individual flavors are a bit schizophrenic—I can’t think of many other beers that are hitting nutty, brown sugary notes and then BOOM, there’s a big lemon citrus one out of nowhere. It’s a beer that sounds a little weird on paper, but ultimately the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

wicked weed pompoen 2016 (Custom).jpg4. Wicked Weed Pompoen
City: Asheville, NC
ABV: 7.2%
The verdict: And speaking of pumpkin sours … this is much closer to the beer you’d probably be expecting when you saw the Wicked Weed name on the bottle. Aged in rum barrels with “charred ginger,” it feels a bit like the Star Trek mirror universe evil twin of Firestone’s beer—you know, in a good way. There’s a serious melange of unusual flavors going on here—pronounced ginger, molasses, red fruit and even a bit of grapey character that confounded us at first. It really does feel like a sour made for a season of colder nights, perhaps the sort of thing you’d drink out on the back patio in a turtleneck. The brettanomyces on this one don’t contribute a ton of funk, but they do their thing by adding layers of spicy complexity to a moderately tart barrel-aged beer that already wasn’t hurting for character. This is a beer that you should hand to someone, tell them it’s “a pumpkin ale” and watch the confusion spread across their face as they realize it tastes unlike any pumpkin beer they’ve ever sampled before.

elysian punkuccino 2016 (Custom).jpg3. Elysian Punkuccino
City: Seattle, WA
ABV: 6%
The verdict: Multiple years of blind tasting confirm: Punkuccino is definitely the crown jewel of Elysian’s staunch pumpkin beer lineup. This coffee pumpkin ale happened to be on the table during the same tasting as Breckenridge’s Pumpkin Spice Latte, which made for an interesting comparison. Unexpectedly, Punkuccino is actually significantly less assertive than the former in terms of the volume of straight-up coffee flavor. Rather, its coffee influences wrap subtly around the whole of the beer, with a nutty, very light roastiness that perfectly complements the underlying pumpkin ale. Cinnamon is very big on the nose on this one, but dials back somewhat on the palate, where you get a lot of very nice cocoa character. The balance is really superb, and that’s what this style is all about. As we wrote last year (when the same beer finished #4), this is like the hangover beer you drink the morning after Halloween with your pumpkin pancakes.

boulevard funkier pumpkin 2016.jpg2. Boulevard Funkier Pumpkin
City: Kansas City, MO
ABV: 8.5%
The verdict: Somehow we managed to acquire this upgraded version of Boulevard’s Funky Pumpkin without getting one of the original beers—go figure. But we’re fairly confident that we got the superior one, because Funkier Pumpkin is awesome. Lightly tart—less sour than either the Firestone or Wicked Weed beers—Funkier Pumpkin is a brettanomyces beer that features more of the funk/earthy qualities of brett that the name would probably make you expect. Effervescent, crisp and surprisingly drinkable for the ABV, it presents a bit like a pumpkin farmhouse ale with subtle spices, and a nice ginger note in particular. To quote one score sheet, “Refreshingly tangy and flavorful, fun and different for the style.” In a year when pumpkin sours have more widely become a go-to for breweries looking to execute this seasonal in an intriguing way, Boulevard pulls off a coup with their skillful use of brett.

cigar city gourd almighty 2016.jpg1. Cigar City Good Gourd Almighty
City: Tampa, FL
ABV: 11%
The verdict: The name of this beer more or less approximates the first thought that goes through your brain after taking a sip of it, immediately followed by “what is the ABV on this again?” Because good lord, this beer is a monstrous flavor bomb. The bourbon barrel aging really transforms the original Good Gourd, adding such a depth of flavor and intense fruitiness that the resulting beer almost seems more like a barrel-aged Belgian quad than something immediately identifiable as a pumpkin ale. Waves and waves of dark and dried fruitiness abound, with big plum, raising, etc notes on both the nose and palate. Big booze naturally brings with it decadent sweetness, but to quote one score sheet, “If you’re going to do big and sweet, here’s how to do it right.” The caramelization and vanilla character comes along with the whiskey barrel-aging, but the takeaway is just how much malt and fruit character they crammed into its frame, supported by spices that are actually fairly subtle—or perhaps they just have a harder time peeking out when you have so many other flavors turned up to 11. Regardless, Good Gourd Almighty is sinfully decadent—it feels like something you’d drink out of a little cordial glass at the end of a meal as a digestif. This would be an amazing pumpkin beer to split among several friends on Halloween evening, no doubt about that.

Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident craft beer guru, and he’s confident that pumpkin beer isn’t going anywhere as a style. You can follow him on Twitter for much more craft beer content.

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