Four Pumpkin Ales

By: Christopher Willey

It’s that time of the year when the air turns crisp. Summer is now behind us, Halloween is creeping up, and Thanksgiving is around the corner. As we all know, one of the most cherished icons of the fall holiday season is the pumpkin. During Halloween, a classic tradition is carving those bad boys. Then, all of the food suddenly has pumpkin in it, including one of my favorite desserts, pumpkin pie. Over the past few years the extent of the involvement of the pumpkin in fall festivities has taken another step. It has found its way into our beer. Here is a breakdown of some of the more popular pumpkin beers and one man’s opinion on which one is the best.

Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale

First ImpressionBlue Moon’s Pumpkin Ale is part of their seasonal collection of beers. It can be sometimes hard to find in your local coolers. I am a fan of Blue Moon beer so I was excited to try this new style. The label is festive with orange hues and a painting of a pumpkin patch. When I poured it into my glass I immediately noticed an abundance of effervescence, but it quickly died off. The clarity was clear and the color was amber with slight tints of orange and brown, reiterating the feeling of the fall season. The smell was very yeasty, like I was standing in the Blue Moon brewery itself. After a moment I could smell hints of grain, but it seemed a bit musty. My first impression was not what I was hoping for. Even with the effervescence, it was lacking a freshness that I usually expect from a good beer. Perhaps the batch I purchased was a little “over-the-hill”.

Taste– Initially, I thought the beer tasted clean with earthy overtones. After reading the label I found that Blue Moon added a touch of wheat to give it a grainier flavor. The tinges of pumpkin were there, but perhaps too subtle for my taste. I was hoping for a spicy kick, but instead got a fruitier flavor. Besides that the essence of the Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale was too malty…smooth, but very malty. I would not recommend this beer to people who like a little hoppy flavor in their brew. However, I would suggest it for people who like some fruity undertones in their beer.

Grade: C

ABV-5.7

IBU- 35

Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale

First Impressions– The next beer I tried was “America’s Original” Pumpkin Ale by Buffalo Bill’s Brewery out of California. Judging by the label, this pumpkin ale seemed like it was going to be grittier and pack a little more of a punch. Once again we have a label with a pumpkin patch, but with orange and black colors, giving it a gloomier look, more indicative of Halloween, specifically. As I poured I could smell an acetic aroma that told me this was very different from the Blue Moon. The color wasn’t necessarily amber, but more of a burnt orange color and it looked thick and cloudy as it had a haze to it. The bubble size was very small, signifying a naturally carbonated beer. Already, my senses were percolating and I could tell this would be a good beer.

Taste– The foretaste definitely had a bite to it, which is more my pace when it comes to craft beer. It was spicy, but I could not taste the pumpkin for the life of me. The taste was very astringent. So much so that I could not find a recognizable spice, however the indiscernible taste I could not get enough of.   This beer is more on the hoppy side than malty. You can tell that Buffalo Bill’s Brewery went out of their way to make this specifically for the fall. It is crisp, dry and has a nice bite, just like the air during this time of year. This ale would be a perfect reward after a long afternoon of raking leaves.

Grade: B+

ABV- 5.2

IBU- 45

Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat

First ImpressionShock Top is Budweiser’s attempt at craft beer. There are several flavors that came out over the past few years. Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat is done “Belgian style”, then fused with pumpkin and fall spices. To be honest, I have found that their styles of beer have been surprisingly well received by my taste buds. However, being a Budweiser product I kept my expectations low, but I must admit it looked good. The presentation was well done. The Label is green and orange with fall effects along with the familiar “orange slice man” that dons the wheat Mohawk. There were a few steps to the pour. Being a wheat beer, they wanted you to pour until ½ an inch left in the bottle, swirl, then pour the rest. Wow, was this beer thick. The first things I noticed were the little black chunks of what I think was nutmeg or cinnamon. Maybe I didn’t swirl quite enough, but it wasn’t anything that would deter me from drinking it. The color was brown and it was so thick that when I held it up to the light it was completely opaque. This beer had quite a bit of character. The aroma was bready with a grainy malt odor to it.

Taste– As I sipped this pumpkin wheat the mouth feel was fatty. I could distinctly taste the cinnamon and nutmeg and was pleasantly surprised. This beer was very good. Shock Top definitely gave the world of craft beer another solid brew. It wasn’t too hoppy. It wasn’t too malty. It wasn’t too fruity and for the first time I could actually taste the pumpkin at a level that was well-balanced. It certainly captured the essence of fall, but it wasn’t crisp like Buffalo Bill’s ale. It was smoother and nutty with subtle undertones of fall spices that made it the most rounded of the pumpkin ales thus far.

Grade: A

ABV- 5.2

IBU- 32

Shipyard Brewing Company’s Pumpkinhead Ale

First Impressions– This beer has the best label by far. Pumpkinhead Ale has a picture on the label reminiscent of the headless horseman in Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow, but instead of being headless and holding a jack-o-lantern, the jack-o-lantern sits atop his body and he is holding up a frothy brew. All I can say is, “Awesome!” Shipyard Brewing Company is based out of Portland, Maine and never having tried one of their beers before I wasn’t sure what to expect. The pour was stupendous. The sizes of the rising bubbles were nice and small, the head was thick and creamy yet the look of the liquid was clear, even brilliant if you ask me. The aroma was very appetizing. It was as if I poured a pumpkin cider into my glass. It was intense and nose-filling, but not to a fault.

Taste– Just like the Shock Top, I could immediately distinguish the cinnamon. The sweetness that hit my tongue at that moment told me that I had found what I was looking for. This beer had captured the season perfectly. It was cidery, toasty, and a little citric. I found the beer to be brisk and clean. I am not keen to cider beers and this beer was definitely that, but I could not get over the taste. It was as if I was drinking a pumpkin pie. This was what a pumpkin ale should be. The spices were flawlessly combined. I would recommend this ale over any of the others. I wouldn’t recommend drinking it with food. It stands alone with its unique flavor and would be very satisfying for ball games, sitting by the fire, or at a hoppin’ Halloween party.

Grade- A+

ABV- 4.7

IBU- 22

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