Ah, pumpkin beer season. There used to only be a few of these brews on the market, but as consumers’ flavor preferences have continued to evolve and shift seasonally, practically every brewery has rolled out a pumpkin beer. If you love fall, this is both awesome and confusing. How do you decide which to buy?
Well, I did some of the work for you. I blind tasted 11 different pumpkin beers and rated them in order to choose three top pumpkin beers for fall 2016.
The method: 11 pumpkin beers that were found at Kroger or Total Wine were poured into anonymous, numbered cups and rated on amount of pumpkin flavor, overall taste, and balance. After one round, I chose the top four and tasted those again to choose one favorite and two runners up. I’d suggest trying all three of my winners this fall!
The Overall Winner: Southern Tier Pumpking
I always hear that this is a favorite pumpkin beer and apparently my taste buds align with the masses. This beer possessed aromas of pumpkin pie and additional flavors of hazelnut, pie crust and ginger cookies when tasted. In fact, I thought this brew had the most pumpkin flavor of the bunch—to be honest it was surprising how many “pumpkin beers” didn’t taste or smell like pumpkin at all when sampled blindly. Try this one for your most pure taste of fall in a glass.
Runner Up: New Belgium Pumpkick
On the nose I got light pumpkin and spice aromas, but also some mineral and granite notes. When tasted, I did get pumpkin pie and baking spices, but this beer possessed an overall lighter mouthfeel than a lager, although it did leave a pleasing, sweet bit of pumpkin pie flavor on the finish. The beer’s description mentions a “kick” of cranberry juice—hence the name—that brightens up the ale. I didn’t taste cranberry per se, but am assuming that the lighter consistency and slightly sweeter, tarter flavor might originate here. This brew is definitely worth a try, particularly for those who prefer lighter style beers.
Runner Up: Coney Island Brewing Co. Freaktoberfest Big Ol’ Pumpkin Ale
This beer begins with coffee aromas and ends with a pleasing hint of pumpkin pie. On my first round of tasting, I wrote “pumpkin spice latte” as my main flavor descriptor. As it turns out, this beer is brewed with espresso beans, pumpkin and spices. It has a slightly fuller mouthfeel, which will please those who like heavier beers, but not overpower fans of lagers. In fact, I’d actually say the balance of coffee, pumpkin, and spice is more pleasing than the overly sweetened latte at America’s favorite chain coffee shop. Try this for a distinctive twist on your typical pumpkin beer.
Local Brewery Shout-out: Three Notch’d Pumperkin Pumpkin
As stated, for my actual tasting I chose to stick with beers that were easily found around town instead of focusing on one-offs at local breweries or specialty stores. However, in my Richmond wanderings, I have sampled one brewery beer that’s deserving of a shout-out: Three Notch’d Pumperkin Pumpkin IPA is available at the new RVA Collab House that recently opened in Scott’s Addition. The Charlottesville-based brewery’s pumpkin IPA showcases light and pleasing pumpkin and baking spice flavors that balance out the hoppier nature of the English hops in the IPA, making for a pleasant pumpkin beer that’s quite drinkable without tasting too heavy or overpowering .