Like the Bollywood addiction to re-interpreting Hollywood films like The Matrix 15 years after the fact, we are also known to return to the scene of the crime. What is the best pumpkin ale is a question we explored recently, with Southern Tier’s Pumking coming out on top. And while The Barley Whine could never drink all of the pumpkin beers brewed in the U.S. this year, there are so many great ones available we felt another round was only fair to give a better sampling of all the variety in this style. So let us get right to it: Best Pumpkin Ale Part II.
As always, we blind tasted brews of a similar style, rated between 1 and 10, with .5 as the only allowable decimal. Beers are ranked based on style, not metaphysical eminence as libation.
- Cigar City – Good Gourd: #1 (tie). Brassy in color with a mild savory/sour nose. Sweet roasted malty notes battle a subtle boozyness (8.5& ABV) as the front palate is hit with a gourdiness, modest spice, and just enough hops to balance the sweet. Tied for our favorite brew. Unfortunately not distributed in our locale.
- Rivertown – Pumpkin Ale: #1 (tie). Translucent brown with a soapy, spicy aroma. Minimal spice in flavor with subtle nutmeg, but huge pumpkin fruit taste. Not too sweet, with some maple.
- St. Ambroise – The Great Pumpkin Ale: #3 . Light brown, smelling strongly of pumpkin pie spices. Taste is classic pumpkin ale with more p.p. spice and a lot of sweetness. Dry finish did not appeal to everyone.
- Thirsty Dog – Pumpkin Ale: #4. Another light brown brew with solid spice scent. A bit thin as a brown ale, with nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and pumpkin. Like St. Ambroise this plays right to form and does it well.
- Jolly Pumpkin – La Parcela: #5. A curve ball. Funk/sour on the nose, big time. Cloudy gold, this beer, in the middle of all the pie inspired samples, tastes super sour. Some gourd, spice, and possibly oak creeps in, but this is a lot of sour. Everyone liked this, but not everyone got the ‘pumpkin ale’ nature.
- Buckeye Brewing – Pumpkin Dead: #6 (tie). Translucent brown, with weak carbonation. Pumpkin is there and spice is present but barely. Overall some hops in the finish but nothing to write home about.
- Tommyknocker – Small Patch Pumpkin Harvest Ale: #6 (tie). Dark brown, almost opaque, the darkest by far of the nine sampled. With a roasted malt and spiciness in the nose, this beer brings only a slight p.p. spice profile along with a roasted malt backbone. Not much pumpkin or anything else.
- Shipyard – Smashed pumpkin: #8. Sweet nose, smelling of mothballs. Its like a pumpkin pie that has been sitting in grandma’s dresser. The p.p. spice and pumpkin fruit are there, but booze and more mothballs dominate. Good carbonation and a clean finish.
- Buckeye Brewing – Pawpaw: #9. “The North American native pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a temperate tree fruit in the mostly tropical custard apple family, Annonaceae.” according to Kentucky State University. It is the largest fruit native to North America, and has a tropical fruit flavor. The beer was a translucent amber, smelling of Juicyfruit and caramel. Taste was of mild sweetness, but with no pumpkin or p.p. spice. None of the tasters had a history with the pawpaw fruit to know if the flavors were legit.
Round two brought us more diverse, delicious beers. The Rivertown Pumpkin brought more pumpkin flavor than anything previously tasted, and the Cigar City Good Gourd was a complex, modestly sweet delight. In our area neither of these beers are easily available, although the Rivertown more so than the Tampa based CC. The Canadian St. Ambroise was a very nice brew you may find at your local store. In the Cleveland area, Thirsty Dog has bottled a complex treat that delivers at a higher level than more famous, nationally distributed competitors. While Southern Tier’s Pumking may be the most universally palatable of all pumpkin beers, this tasting revealed four more autumnal ales worth hunting down for pumpkin lovers. If you can find any of the top four, they will not disappoint.