Jeff Owens from the Blacksburg beer and wine shop Vintage Cellar let us in on the history of pumpkin ale. It is a uniquely American beer. 200 years ago barley was scarce, but pumpkins were plentiful. Because pumpkins were so available, people started to ferment and use them as fermentation vessels. Pumpkin ales start to pop up on shelves everywhere as fall approaches, but each one is unique and the flavor profiles can vary greatly.
Owens also revealed their top three best sellers are Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, Schlafly Pumpkin Ale, and Alewerks Pumpkin Ale. We picked up the two that were available as well as a few others to sample. We selected two from Southern Tier, an imperial stout and an imperial ale, to compare different styles. Here are our thoughts on the six pumpkin beers we tried:
This Imperial Ale has an ABV of 8.6%, but you would never know it. You can taste the hops, but it is sweeter than expected with a buttery taste rich in spices.
Our Decision: Best if you want to get drunk.
While the rest of our selection is available nationwide, this pumpkin ale is from a small brewery in Danville, Pennsylvania. Reminiscent of cider, this brew’s aroma is on the sweeter side, but has a light and balanced flavor.
Our Decision: Best beer for tailgating.
High in nutmeg notes, this ale is minimally sweet and the pumpkin flavor is subtle. We also voted this one best in packaging.
Our Decision: Best if you don’t want something sweet.
This bourbon barrel-aged ale is gorgeous with a rich amber color and a darker tinted head. It is heavy on the spices and has a woody flavor with nutty notes.
Our Decision: Most unique and spiciest.
This is the beer version of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. On the sweeter side, this ale has a lot of pumpkin and cinnamon flavor, just like pumpkin pie.
Our Decision: Best overall and most pumpkin flavor.
This Imperial Stout is the counterpart to Southern Tier’s Pumpking. It has an allspice aroma and a subtle pumpkin flavor with woody notes.
Our Decision: Best if you like dark, complex beers.
With pumpkin beers, you can expect certain flavor notes: pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. We found they can fall anywhere on the spectrum from sweet to earthy, so you can find one to satisfy all tastes. From tailgating to dessert, there's a perfect pumpkin beer for all situations.