Now that everything seems to be getting pumpkin-spice-ified these days, it’s easy to dismiss pumpkin beers as a fad. And while there are probably more pumpkin-themed beers on store shelves than ever before, brews made with the ubiquitous orange gourd are anything but a novelty—and they’re gonna be around for a while.
“Regardless of how you feel about the use of pumpkins, purée, spices or extracts, pumpkins are tremendously popular and here to stay!” says JT Thompson, Smuttynose Brewing Company’s minister of propaganda. (That’s his actual title.)
Back in the days of early American settlement by beer-drinking Europeans, Old World grains like barley were expensive to import and not yet widely cultivated. So in place of traditional malt grains, early American brewers turned to the ubiquitous pumpkin—a fruit native to the New World—to supply the malt for their beers. (George Washington was a brewer himself, according to this report in All About Beer magazine.)
The pumpkin beer renaissance began in 1985, when “Buffalo” Bill Owens launched what is believed to be the first commercially available pumpkin ale in America. The phenomenon spread—America’s roots are intertwined with the pumpkin, after all—and now American craft brewers annually churn out quality beers made with pumpkins and all the spices we’ve come to expect on the Thanksgiving dinner table.
One of our top picks: Wolaver’s Unfiltered Organic Pumpkin Ale. Without a doubt one of the finest pumpkin beers around, Wolaver’s certified non-GMO pumpkin ale achieves a rich, natural pumpkin taste without a hint of artificiality. The spices are muted, and the rich flavor is perfectly balanced, bringing the natural pumpkin—farmed in Shoreham, Vermont—to the fore. The attention to detail has paid off, earning it a coveted gold medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival.
Here, in no particular order, are 19 more to try.
(Calorie counts are per 12-oz serving, unless otherwise noted. And, as always, remember to enjoy responsibly.)
A seasonal favorite from Brooklyn’s home-grown brewery, the amber-orange Post Road Pumpkin Ale is malty, with a mild (but not overwhelming) spiced pumpkin flavor. It goes down smooth, but has a distinctly crisp finish that sets it apart. It’s also a good option for guys watching their intake, since it packs only 165 calories with 5.0% ABV.
America’s Original Pumpkin Ale
Buffalo Bill’s Brewery (Hayward, Calif.), 5.2% ABV, est. 156 cals.
First brewed in 1985 by American craft brewing legend (and documentary photographer) “Buffalo” Bill Owens, this is America’s first commercially available pumpkin ale. “The pumpkin thing is as American as apple pie. Pumpkin pie? Come on, that’s as American as you can possibly get,” Owens told All About Beer magazine in 2014. “When you have something that’s so culturally deep, everybody loves it.”
Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout
Cape Ann Brewing Co. (Gloucester, Mass.), 7.0% ABV, 330 cals.
This deep brown stout from Cape Ann Brewing Company has earned reviews almost as strong as the beer itself. As a stout, it’s bolder (and more alcoholic) than most other ales on this list—but it still maintains an earthy, spicy pumpkin aroma perfect for pairing with fall foods.
Marketed in bottles as well as distinctive orange cans, Pumple Drumpkin is a perennial pumpkin favorite—and not just on the island where it’s brewed. (Check out #pumpledrumkin on Instagram for proof.) The 6.0% ABV ale so popular, it seems, that one fan even got a tattoo of Drumkin, the Pumple pictured on the beer’s label and featured in the limerick poem on the box. “He pairs nicely with Nantucket bay scallops and football,” notes Cisco’s Tracy Wilde Long.
Dogfish Head (Milton, Del.), 7.0% ABV, 168 cals.
Dogfish Head’s pumpkin offering gets its name from southern Delaware’s decidedly screwy Punkin’ Chunkn’ competition, where a bunch of people hopped up on adrenaline (and, presumably, beer) combine their love for engineering, aeronautics, and projectile gourds. Punkin’ Ale was first introduced at the ’94 edition of the competition, before Dogfish Head was even officially incorporated as a brewery. Unlike the unfortunate pumpkins at the competition, however, the popularity of Punkin’ Ale only gained altitude since then.
The Great Pumpkin
Elysian Brewing Co. (Seattle, Wash.), 8.1% ABV, est. 243 cals.
One of several pumpkin-themed Elysian beers (Punkaccino is another seasonal special), The Great Pumpkin is an intense Imperial Pumpkin Ale—the world’s first, according to the brewery—with a whopping 8.1% ABV. The brewmasters add roasted pumpkin seeds to the mash, plus spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. It also earned a bronze at the 2012 World Beer Cup.
Pumpkin Ale (Great Lakes)
Great Lakes Brewing Co. (Cleveland, Ohio), 5.4% ABV, est. 165 cals.
Lighter than most other pumpkin ales, this “harvest in a bottle” balances the full complement of fall spices with a light hoppy and malty flavor. The brewery grows its own pumpkins at Pint Size Farm in Bath, Ohio, from which they’re hand-carved, prepped, and shuttled into the brewery for use in the 5.4% ABV beer.
Like all Harpoon’s UFO beers, the UFO Pumpkin is unfiltered, so it appears cloudier and tastes slightly sweeter and more fruity than other beers on this list. The flavor starts malty, but then finishes with a punch of flavor not unlike a heavily-spiced pumpkin pie. Definitely a taste for the adventurous.
Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukeee, Wisc.), 5.8% ABV, est. 190-200 cals.
Whereas most pumpkin beers are ales of some form, this Wisconsin native is one of the few pumpkin lagers around. And since it’s a lager, Lakefront’s brewers can let this smooth, rich beer gather strength for a full four weeks, mixing spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom with its natural malt flavor. It’s worth the wait: the Pumpkin Lager claimed a prestigious silver medal at the World Beer Championships in 2007.
Ichabod Pumpkin Ale
New Holland Brewing (Holland, Mich.), 4.5% ABV, est. 156 cals.
New Holland’s pumpkin ale not only brings an autumnal taste to the party, but also a decidedly haunting costume. (How does the Headless Horseman drink the beer, we wonder?) It’s a lighter golden-amber in color, and at 4.5% ABV and around 156 calories per bottle, it’s a perfect session beer for the carb-conscious guy who doesn’t want to sacrifice any festive flavor.
Pumpkin Patch Ale
Rogue Ales (Ashland, Ore.), 6.1% ABV, est. 168 cals.
Rogue is known for punchy, hoppy beers, so it’s no surprise that their Pumpkin Patch Ale is spicier and bigger-bodied than most other pumpkin ales. It’s made with pumpkins from Rogue’s own patch that are then shipped to the brewery nearby—hence the tagline “From Patch to Batch.” Plus, it’s sold in striking orange 750-ml bottles.
Samuel Adams (Boston, Mass.), 5.6% ABV, 179 cals.
Samuel Adams continues to branch out into seasonal offerings with their Pumpkin Batch Ale, a balanced 5.6% ABV ale that offers a more malty pumpkin taste than the brand’s other pumpkin beer, the Harvest Pumpkin Ale. It pours a clear amber, but has a taste profile similar to an unfiltered weizen, with distinctly fruity notes and a clove aroma that’s more pumpkin than pumpkin pie.
If you’re looking for a rich, bold beer that tastes like pumpkin pie in a glass, the Schlafly Pumpkin Ale is a great place to start. Popular with beer fanatics and casual fans alike—it’s won several national awards—this slightly hazy, amber-orange beer pours with an off-white head, and has a clean aroma of pumpkin pie spices (clove, allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon) and a taste to match. It’s also creamier than most other ales. One to savor.
A perennial pick in the pumpkin beer section, Shipyard's Pumpkinhead is front-loaded with a spicy taste and a crisp ale finish. It's an easy-drinking, everyman's beer. And, let's face it: It's got a cool label, which always counts for something when you walk up to the Halloween party.
Pumpkin Ale (Smuttynose)
Smuttynose Brewing Co. (Hampton, N.H.), 6.5% ABV, est. 185 cals.“We’ve been brewing Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale since 2003, in part as a homage to our colonial forebearers who brewed beer with whatever they could find, including pumpkins, which we use in the brew,” says Smuttynose’s JT Thompson. The brew is made with natural pumpkin purée, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, evoking (surprise!) a pumpkin pie.
Southern Tier claims this Imperial pumpkin ale has been “bewitched and brewed with pagan spirit.” Pagan spirit aside, they’re doing something right—Pumking is always a favorite among intrepid beer-drinkers who demand pumpkin ale fit for royalty. This deep copper ale is certainly stronger and richer than most other pumpkin beers, but still offers complex notes of malty sweetness, cloves, and even a nutty nose not unlike the smell of pecan pie. Witchcraft, indeed.
Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale
Stevens Point Brewery (Stevens Point, Wisc.), 7.5% ABV, 251 cals.
Hard to find, but a worthy brew if you can get your hands on it—the Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale claimed gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2012 and at the World Beer Championships in 2013. It’s made with both sweet and savory pumpkin pie spices, and has a rich, malty body.
If you like your beer light and sweet, this beer’s for you. A shandy—that is, a beer made with lemonade—this bright, floral beer tastes like a pumpkin pie and a lemon pie somehow got combined in the oven and then made into a fizzy, alcoholic beverage. Be careful you don’t drink it too fast.
Uinta Brewing Co. (Salt Lake City, Utah), 5.0% ABV, 139 cals.
Brewed with 100% all natural pumpkin, this organic pumpkin ale is spicy, flavorful, and delicious without being over-the-top—and, at only 139 calories per bottle, the lightest beer on this list. It’s also earned accolades on the competition circuit, too, claiming silver at the World Beer Championships in 2010.