For this, the last of my Autumn Beer Series, I have saved my favorites: the pumpkin ales! These uniquely American ales combine differing degrees of roasted or canned pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and other seasonings to create some of the most fabulously smooth, malty, delicious beers of the year. The Oktoberfests are all well and good, but to me, no beer really evokes the feeling of fall's arrival like the pumpkin beers — the combination of pie spices and squashy goodness is as seasonally specific to me as the turning of the leaves. Of course, as with all beers, no two pumpkin beers are alike. Here are my thoughts on four of the most common in our area.
Appearance: Deep copper red with a full, long lasting head
Aroma: Slightly sweet nutmeg spice with a yeasty note.
Flavor: Malty with a bit of cardboard on the front; dusty, dry wheat flavors persist on the mid-palate. The finish is dry and short.
Gourd Grade: Olive Garden's Fried Zucchini Sticks
Made by brewing giant Coors, this beer is probably the easiest pumpkin ale to find. Just as you don't go to Olive Garden for the authenticity, nor should you go to Harvest Moon for real Pumpkin Ale flavor — each is best when it is the only game in town. However, like OG's Fried Zucchini Sticks, the Harvest Moon is not badly made, just not all that authentic.
Appearance: Light Amber with brown hues. Head is full and lingering.
Aroma: Striking, intense clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg, along with a very slight malty sweetness.
Flavor: Sharp clove and other spices on the front of the palate, and surprisingly dry throughout. The finish leaves a tannic sensation on the tongue (not unlike that which you would get from red wine), along with the lingering flavor of cinnamon.
Gourd Grade: McCormick Pumpkin Pie Spice
For lovers of pure spice, this beer is a dream — no other pumpkin ale out there is so spicy that you can FEEL it on your tongue. However, just as when taking a big heaping spoonful of pie spice, the flavors here are intense, and the actual pumpkin element is not to be found.
Appearance: Golden Brown with a full, lingering head.
Aroma: Nutty, roasty notes with a hint of cinnamon and sugar.
Flavor: Malty sweet on the attack, with a slight note of allspice. Medium bodied and smooth, with persisting flavors of nuts, pumpkin, brown sugar and cloves.
Gourd Grade: Jack-O'-Lantern
Just as the Jack-O'-Lantern is the quintessential symbol of October, Dogfish Head Punkin is the quintessential pumpkin ale, combining beautifully the elements of spice, malt and pumpkin in a highly drinkable fashion. Year in, year out, of all the pumpkin beers on the market, this is my go-to for everyday enjoyment.
Appearance: Dark Amber brown, with short lasting, brown tinged head.
Aroma: Subtle combination of sugar, cinnamon and pumpkin — like pumpkin pie filling, but balanced and understated.
Flavor: Nuances of cranberry, cinnamon, nutmeg, and roasted nuts on a very full, almost creamy body. The finish is slightly sweet and leaves the lingering flavors of pumpkin and spice.
Gourd Grade: The Great Pumpkin
This is the most well balanced and nuanced pumpkin ale in the patch. The relatively high alcohol content provides a luscious mouthfeel, on which is carried the perfect combination of sweetness and spice. Though not cheap (
$20 $10/ 4 pack), this is a fantastic beer, and personally, I could spend a good hour just smelling it. Were Linus not a minor, I would assume this is what he was waiting up all night for.
If any of these sound appealing to you, make sure to grab them up sooner than later, as production runs on some of these beers are extremely short, and supply usually dries up well before Thanksgiving.