Nothing elicits the abject horror of the Halloween season quite like the tepid swill that is your average pumpkin beer. Usually overpowering, often sickly sweet, and almost always lathered with a noxious melange of spices, we’ve come to learn that this holiday tradition is essentially a brewers’ equivalent of proposing a threesome to his wife. Odds are it’ll end in abject failure, deep regret, and (eventually) some scrambled apology… but when it works, oh man, cherish it. Luckily, we’ve saved you an October’s worth of guesswork, rue and remorse and picked out the eight best pumpkin beers of the 2015 season. So sit down and crack open a true October ménage à trois of alcohol, spice, and pumpkin.
8. GREAT PUMPKIN ALE
Cambridge Brewing Company, Cambridge, MA
The brewers at Cambridge Brewing have certainly not forgotten the basics in a swirl of autumn-induced hysteria. Great pumpkin beer starts with great beer. And seamlessly infused underneath this brew’s roasted (almost smokey) aroma of baked pumpkin lies a sturdy scaffold of earnestly world-class red ale. As well, despite its thick body and peculiar nutmeg aroma, Great Pumpkin Ale may be the easiest drinker of the season. If we could, we’d down this all the way through spring and summer.
7. THE GREAT PUMPKIN
Elysian Brewing Company. Seattle, WA
No hyperbole intended. Drinking this beer is 100 percent like imbibing a pumpkin pie. We imagine this had to have been the intention at Elysian Brewing, because from the graham cracker malt to condensed milk sweetness and the mellow layer of canned pumpkin, everything points toward the same desert. Skip the fork, grab the bottle.
6. GOOD GOURD IMPERIAL PUMPKIN ALE
Cigar City Brewing. Tampa, FL
Viscous, aggressively candied (maybe cloyingly so) and easily identified by its mid-taste, hyper pungent pumpkin kick—there is no room for mixed opinions here. You will love Cigar City’s Good Gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale, or you will pour it down the sink after the first sip. Unlike other beers on this list, this creamy brew unabashedly doubles down on all ingredients; heaping pumpkin and a hazy swirl spices into a bold, brash 9.4% ABV body.
5. PUMPKIN PATCH ALE
Rogue Ales. Newport, OR
We’ve come to expect a certain, over-the-top abandon from Rogue—a brewery whose philosophy on flavor is reflected in their consistent over- and misuse of the word ‘revolution.’ But Pumpkin Patch Ale bucks our bias here. It’s not just extraordinarily tasty, but exquisitely balanced to boot. With the base of a creamy English ale, Rogue delicately coats on a fresh, pungent layer of homegrown, just-ripe pumpkin. There’s spice here too, but it’s faint, and the beer never loses that malty, refreshing core. This is one of the rare pumpkin brews you wouldn’t think twice about drinking two or three of.
4. IMPERIAL PUMPKIN ALE
Weyerbacher Brewing Company. Easton, PA
Weyerbacher’s pumpkin beer hits with a heavy, boozy punch that—to be fair—you should probably expect from a self-identified 'imperial’ ale. But this gruffness is part of the allure. This pumpkin beer is not masking anything, not with sugar nor with crazy amounts of spice. Hazy, chewy and altogether pumpernickel bready, Imperial Pumpkin Ale basks its rough edges in an unsweetened tang of canned pumpkin. We suggest you approach this heavy brew with the same reckless disregard you bring to yet another fall wedding’s open bar.
3. PUMPKIN ALE
Schlafly Saint Louis Brewery. Saint Louis, MO
Sugarcane sweet with the gleaming hue of burnished copper, Schlafly’s gourd-infused brew seemingly forsakes complexity—favoring a single, unflagging flavor from first whiff through to aftertaste. Think toasted gingerbread (heavy on the clove) with the umami chew of cold pumpkin pie, all floating on a crisp, lager-smooth wash. Or, in a less charitable way of putting it: boozed up Sam Adams with pumpkin spice. Purportedly Schlafly’s brewers cut the recipe’s roasted pumpkin inclusion with butternut squash. Whatever they’re doing, it works.
2. WHOLE HOG PUMPKIN ALE
Stevens Point Brewery. Stevens Point, WI
Holy shit. Whole Hog may be the closest thing we’ve ever had to a chai tea enema—with its first-sip bombardment of tangy ginger, rich allspice and clove, pungent cinnamon and nutmeg. But, hold strong, in a second you’ll find that there’s actually a balanced, quaffable beer in there too. After the seasonal-spice backhand, this beer decays into a smooth, luscious amber ale with a malty, banana-nut bread backbone. As for the pumpkin? Stevens Point opts for the Dogfish Head school of thought on pumpkin flavor, where less is certainly more.
1. PUNKIN ALE
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Milton, DE
Bubbly and copper, with subdued notes of cinnamon, dark brown sugar and just the slightest bite of meaty, roast vegetable, with Punkin Ale Dogfish Head contends almost zero pumpkin flavor is the right amount when making a great pumpkin brew. They make a damn compelling argument. A profoundly easy drinker, you could probably pass this beer off hold its as a fantastic (if uniquely spiced) American brown ale to pumpkin-prejudiced friends.