Fall is here, and I am in my own personal heaven… It’s pumpkin beer season!
Since I’ve turned 21 I feel like the numbers of pumpkin beer available on shelves have tripled. Everyone has a favorite, but there are just too many to try in such a short season that you can’t find out. So I decided to help.
The other night, my boyfriend Alex and I painstakingly sampled seven different pumpkin beers. The things I do for this blog… I deserve a Nobel prize. We based tested each beer based on four things, scored through numbers 1-5: Color, smell, pumpkin flavor, and overall flavor. We averaged those numbers to find a solitary score along with a short write-up. Here’s what we found, scored from best to worst. Alex’s score is listed below mine, but since this is my blog the rankings reflect how I saw them:
1. Imperial Pumpkin Ale: Weyerbacher
My Score: 3.875
Alex’s Score: 4.5
My Take: This was one of our last beers to taste. By then I was tired and ready to throw in the towel, and I was worried that would ruin things. I was wrong. The beer was a much deeper red than any other of the ones we’ve tasted before- creepy Halloween beer? It had a very sweet smell but I was happy to know that it overpowered the hops. It almost tasted like pumpkin pie. Sweet, but savory. It was so diverse, and like all good beers, it got better as it got warmer. Would I buy this again? I’m planning to after work!
Alex’s Take: Right when the beer hit the glass I knew this was going to be one of the better beers. It was a really dark red, a definite diversion from the orange ambers that dominated the night. Its spicy bouquet exploded right from the beginning. It was the sweetest smelling beer without a doubt. There was a strong smell and taste of cloves which worried me as it’s not my favorite spice but it actually added a really nice twist. That along with the good overall pumpkin spice made this a beer that I would definitely get more of.
2. Hipp-O-Lantern Imperial Pumpkin Ale: River Horse Brewing Company
My Score: 3.5
Alex’s Score: 4
My Take: Of course I had to sample a South Jersey beer, and I wasn’t let down. Maybe it was fresher because it comes from such close quarters, but I haven’t been let down at this brewery yet. The foggy brown color was less than desirable, and the hops smelled a little too strongly for me, (I’m not a huge fan of extra hoppy beers) but the nutmeg and cinnamon that were hidden in the scent found a way to stand out in the taste. And as it warmed in my hand, all spice and even more nutmeg began to warm up in the scent as well. I would order this beer again: especially since I believe the freshness is something I won’t be able to find elsewhere.
Alex’s Take: Nothing particularly memorable about this beer but it was one of the most drinkable. The color was deep and opaque, and the smell was very strong. The flavor didn’t quite match the bold smell. Spices hit right at the front before succumbing to a bitterness that was the beer’s downfall. It did, however, finish with a nice kick. Coming from right here in NJ, it was one of the fresher beers which me want to try it again even more. I will be going back for a six pack.
3. Pumpkin Fest: Terrapin Brewing Company
My Score: 3.375
Alex’s Score: 3.5
My take: In a pumpkin beer I want a few things before I take a sip: a rich, amber color and a burst of cinnamon, cloves and all spice in the scent. I was drawn into Terrapin’s beer as soon as I poured it. The scent carried into the first taste, but the aftertaste was lost a little in the Oktoberfest lager- normally a pumpkin beer is an ale- and I tasted a little bit too many hops for my liking. Overall, I would buy this again in an instant.
Alex’s take: This beer didn’t wow me at the time but the more I think about it the more I want to drink it again. Before I even knew what this beer was trying to be I described it as “Marzen-like” the typical german malty beer associated with Oktoberfest. I usually think marzens are bland and pretty undrinkable. No so for Terrapin. Turns out pumpkin spices are the perfect complement to the sumptuous maltiness of the marzen. I might have to buy a case.
4. Pumple Drumkin Spiced Ale: Cisco Brewers
My Score: 2.75
Alex’s Score: 3.5
My Take: I’m not going to lie: I chose this beer because of the adorable little pumpkin on the front. I originally wanted to skip it because of the idea that you “can’t judge a book by it’s cover,” but it’s a beer, not a book so whatever. The color was a very dark amber, slightly orange, and exactly what I was hoping to find in a pumpkin ale. Unfortunately, I missed the spices that are promised in the name in both the scent and the smell. I was overpowered by the hoppiness. There was a freshness from the hops that some IPA fans might love, because it brought out a particular freshness, but I was looking for warmth and spice. I wouldn’t buy this beer again, but I’ll certainly keep the bottle close by for when I need a smile.
Alex’s Take: When we opened Pumple Drumpkin I was very excited to try it. It was the only beer we tried to have any kind of hoppy smell to it which is something I love. The flavor was a big letdown though. It was absent any pumpkin flavor and didn’t pack any of the hops its nose boasted. Not a bad beer and I might give it another shot before I write it off completely.
5. Pumpkin Ale: Smuttynose Brewing Company
My Score: 2.63
Alex’s Score: 2.5
My Take: This bottle had the weakest color out of all the beers, almost resembling a typical lager. The scent carried most of the taste, with a strong hit of nutmeg right from the start followed by a sweet cinnamon scent. This beer would have suffered without it, however, as the flavor matched the color more than anything: slightly bland, almost flat even. Mild was definitely a good way to put it, but like I said the scent really made it a harmless beer to drink. Not worth a second try, however.
Alex’s Take: Sad to say this was one of my least favorite beers of the night. I love Smuttynose but this was not up to their standard. The smell was sour and the taste was overly acidic. There were times when I found myself enjoying it but the feeling would subside with the next sip. Just an odd taste that I can’t really put my finger on. I don’t think I would get this one again.
6. Punkin Ale: Dogfish Head Brewery
My Score: 2.625
Alex’s Score: 1.75
My Take: This is the original pumpkin ale, and the only one I would drink for the longest time, and I hate myself for ranking it so low, but I was unbelievably let down. Alex and I theorize that the liquor store we visited restocked the shelves with last year’s bottles, and I’m going over to ask them the honest truth tomorrow (will I get the truth? Let’s see) because there is no way that Dogfish would put out this product. I had this beer on tap at their Rehoboth, DE location and it was one of the best beers I’ve ever drank, so for us to have sipped this super carbonated, flavorless ale on Saturday has to be a fluke. So I will most definitely be ordering this beer again, from a different store. This beer is one of the reasons I got into craft beers in the first place, so it just goes to show how easily tainted one craft beer can be from store to store.
Alex’s Take: This had to be an old bottle because I bought two cases of this last year and loved every sip. And this bad tasting would not discourage me from buying a case of Punkin again, year after year.
7. Imperial Pumking: Southern Tier Brewing Company
My Score: 2.5
Alex’s Score: 2.75
My Take: Of all the pumpkin beers- with the exception of Dogfish’s Punkin Ale- that I was going out to purchase, there was an overwhelming number of people that told me that this was the best, and of all the beers we tasted this was the beer that let me down the most. The beer was a light gold color, not the most appealing color when you’re looking forward to pumpkin. The scent had a strong metallic ring to it, so much so that upon taking my first sip I had to stop and hold my breath. That metallic scent led into the taste, unfortunately. It completely ruined the flavor for me and I gave the rest to my dad who actually loved it. Was this another bad beer from the store? I don’t know, but I don’t think it matched my expectations either way.
Alex’s Take: I always have this beer recommended to me. Southern Tier has rarely steered me wrong but this beer was missing something. It had the most interesting color. It was almost bright orange which I thought was cool. The only thing I could smell from this beer was candy corn, something that probably ruined the rest of the tasting for me. There wasn’t a ton of pumpkin flavor, but it was different enough to make it stand out. There was a hint of brown sugar to go along with the dry bitterness of the Pumpking. Overall, I thought it was missing some complexity. It’s deep flavor was its biggest plus but also its biggest downfall as it made it a little one-note. I don’t think I could even finish another glass of this beer.
Do you have a pumpkin beer that we simply have to taste? Shoot me a comment, or tweet me @EricaBauw!