You're most likely preparing for some type of Halloween festivities and you want to be the cool guest that brings the best seasonal beer you can find. Well we recruited 6 close friends to power sample 17, yes 17, pumpkin beers to do the dirty work for you. Some were great. Some were not (we'll spare you the details). Below represent our picks of the pumpkin patch.
Best in Show: Schlafly Pumpkin Ale
A newcomer in our pumpkin beer rotation, this brew from St. Louis' Schlafly was the pick of the patch. It's perfectly balanced, starting with a nice malted flavor, then following up with squashy pumpkin notes and just enough spices to let you know they're there, like being in the kitchen when pumpkin pie is baking. Unlike other brews this one doesn't wear out your palate, making it a great choice if you plan to sip pumpkin beer all night (seriously, sip it, it's 8.0% ABV).
Best Big Bottle: Epic Brewing/DC Brau Fermentation Without Representation
This big format beer is one of the best collaborations we've tasted in any category. The classic porter flavors of chocolate and roasted malt combine with pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices to create a surprisingly smooth, sweet pour. It's not as overtly heavy as a "traditional" imperial pumpkin beer, but it's high alcohol content still packs a punch. Fermentation Without Representation is what other pumpkin beers wish they could be when they grow up.
Best Brew From a Major Player: Samuel Adams Fat Jack
"Fat" is the perfect way to describe this double pumpkin (read: imperial) ale. It's not for the faint of heart, nor is it good for long sessions but if you're splitting a bottle with a few people this one is the heavy hitter to go with. Sweeter than the other contenders we tried, the caramelly, malty brew is like drinking a boozy pumpkin pie, but the spices aren't overly aggressive. This would be great as a dessert beer to finish off your evening, or as a delicious palate wrecker to start off a night of competitive bobbing for apples.
Best for Healthier Drinking/Saving the World: Wolaver's Organic Pumpkin
This organic brew from New Hampshire was the most purely pumpkin beer we reviewed. While it wasn't an overly remarkable drink it made the list for being the most unadulterated. Good pumpkin forward flavors with a decent amount of spices to make it seasonally relevant. As with the Schlafly, this is a good session beer if you plant to stick with pumpkin for the night.
Best Stalwart: Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale
Weyerbacher is not a brewery that's shy about big flavors and their Imperial Pumpkin is no exception. Spice forward in both its smell and taste, this beer lets you know it means business. It's high alcohol gives it a nice warming characteristic and gives you the sense that you're eating pumpkin pie next to the fireplace. Just don't have too many or you may actually end up in the fire.
Best Wildcard: Devil's Backbone Brewing Company Ichabod Crandall
Let's make two things clear: we bought this because Red loves pumpkin beers and I love the label. I mean, c'mon, it's a headless bow hunter riding a bear. Picked up at a quick stop in Charlottesville, VA, this one is lighter across the board and while it wasn't my favorite, Red appreciated its uniqueness and the fact that we can't get it in NYC. It's the pumpkin beer for people that don't normally like pumpkin beers.
Bonus Beer: Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin
We actually had this one after our official tasting, but if you're in a bar that's pouring it or a store that's selling it you should definitely drink a couple of Night Owls. This beer has the heavier, more prominent pumpkin and spice flavors that hit you immediately, but saves you from the higher alcohol content that the other big boys carry. A great balance for those that love drinking their pumpkin pie, but still want to be able to form complete sentences after a couple.