Tricks and treats in pumpkin beer varieties


Taste test: Tricks and treats in pumpkin beer

The quality of a pumpkin beer is in the taste buds of the beholder. Some prefer a subtle pumpkin finish to a traditional ale while others desire the equivalent of a pumpkin party in their mouths with every associated spice invited. Making sure a pumpkin brew is exactly what you want on that scale can be difficult without doling out hard-earned cash on a cart-full of six packs.

To get a pulse on what the local liquor stores have to offer in gourd-flavored suds and to get you to your desired pumpkin beer faster, I recruited a fellow pumpkin flavor enthusiast, Daily Sentinel Managing Editor Laurena Davis, and her husband, Scott Davis, who is not as excited as we are about sweets and spices in his beer, to test out what brews we could find left on local shelves. Each beer was rated for its pumpkin potency, the strength of its spices, bitterness and overall taste on a scale from one to five, with one being the lowest score and five being the highest.


SamUEL Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale

Emily: The first sip reminds me of taking a bite of pumpkin bread but with less sugar and spice. Good ale taste without the bite some darker beers display. (Pumpkin: 3, Spice: 2, Bitterness: 2, Overall:                  4)

Laurena: Rich and malty — leaves a little nutmeg bite on the tongue. I like this ale a lot, even though the pumpkin flavor is subdued. It captures the mellow and earthy flavors of fall. (Pumpkin: 2, Spice: 3, Bitterness: 1, Overall: 4)

Scott: There’s a hint of pumpkin flavor at first. Not very spicy — more overall ale flavor as you drink it. Kind of like an old girlfriend: stable, somewhat uninteresting, dependable, leaves you wanting something more exciting. Could serve it as an ale and wouldn’t offend ale drinkers who don’t like fruity beer. (Pumpkin: 2, Spice: 2, Bitterness: 1, Overall: 3)

Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat

Emily: The bitterness and body of a good pale ale with a hint of pumpkin. Relies on spices to tell you it’s a pumpkin beer but even those aren’t too obvious. Unlike Shock Top’s lemon and raspberry varieties, the ingredient that makes this beer seasonal takes a back seat while wheat steers the flavor. (Pumpkin: 1, Spice: 1, Bitterness: 3, Overall: 3)

Laurena: A fresh pumpkin flavor cuts through the grain in this wheat beer. A fan of all Shock Top variations, this one didn’t disappoint me. The spice is light and not at all overwhelming. (Pumpkin: 3, Spice: 1, Bitterness: 1, Overall: 4)

Scott: No real distinct pumpkin flavor — not spicy at all. No real aroma. Similar to the Sam Adams, but more subdued. The pumpkin and spices seemed to mask the wheat beer flavor a bit. Completely non-offensive to wheat ale lovers. (Pumpkin: 1, Spice: 1, Bitterness: 1, Overall: 3)


Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale

Emily: Smells like pumpkin but the spices dominate the actual taste, particularly nutmeg and a hint of what seems to taste like Old Bay Seasoning. Kind of a bland aftertaste. I would recommend this to a routine ale drinker who doesn’t want to get far out of his or her comfort zone with a pumpkin beer. (Pumpkin: 1, Spice: 3, Bitterness: 2, Overall: 3)

Laurena: Strong first impression — but it’s not pumpkin. Nutmeg? No. Cinnamon? No. Clove? No. It’s spicy but indistinct. A glance at the label reveals it’s brewed with allspice, so that must be it. The flavor flexes its autumnal muscles without subtlety, but this beer doesn’t wow me. (Pumpkin: 1, Spice: 4, Bitterness: 2, Overall: 3)

Scott: Not very pumpkiny! A hint of pumpkin after the initial taste. Not spicy, at least not overwhelmingly spicy. Good finish. Very tasty fall-outdoor-on-the-patio-with-a-chiminea-roaring beer. (Pumpkin: 1, Spice: 1, Bitterness: 2, Overall: 2)


Avery Brewery Co. Rumpkin

Emily: Smells like red and black licorice and bourbon, which may make you want to brace yourself before the first sip. That’s not a bad idea, as this drink tastes like a biting whiskey mixed with hops, grain and a drop of Jagermeister. Better off doing this as a shot after you drink other pumpkin beers. (Pumpkin: 0, Spice: 2, Bitterness: 3, Overall: 1)

Laurena: Aging in rum barrels has imbued this ale with a strong whiff of rum. Is it beer? Is it liquor? At 18.1 percent alcohol, it’s a blur. As a matter of fact, after one swig I need to eat some more cheese and crackers to compose my thoughts at all! I find the confusion engaging, but would drink in only small amounts. This is no swiller. (Pumpkin: 0, Spice: 0, Bitterness: 0, Overall: 2)

Scott: I can’t imagine when I would ever want to drink this. The initial aroma is liquor. Just looked at the label and it is 18.1 percent alcohol. That explains it! No pumpkin flavor. It says it is aged in rum barrels, but it has more of a bourbon flavor. Very strong all around. Does not taste like a beer. (Pumpkin: 0, Spice: ?, Bitterness: 0, Overall: 0)


Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale

Emily: Strong ginger taste, which may appeal to some, but I like my ginger ranked third or lower in the list of ingredients for just about any spicy dessert. This beer is like a pumpkin pie in a glass without more than a slice’s worth of pumpkin. (Pumpkin: 1, Spice: 4, Bitterness: 3, Overall: 2)

Laurena: Pumpkin and spice are there, but it tastes thinner. It’s missing a warm or woodsy base to support unapologetic flavors. Ginger is present, but it can’t carry the load all by itself. I wouldn’t order a second glass. (Pumpkin: 1, Spice: 4, Bitterness: 2, Overall: 2)

Scott: There’s a ginger taste at first with a bit of a pumpkin finish. More watery than the others. Not a full-bodied beer. No dominant flavors. It’s like Pueblo — it’s a city, but there’s no culture, no flavor, no intrigue. (Pumpkin: 1, Spice: 3, Bitterness: 1, Overall: 1)


Tommyknocker Small Patch Pumpkin Harvest Ale

Emily: The bitterness of an amber ale or a brown ale with pumpkin and spices that aren’t overpowering but make their presence known. The subtlety of the pumpkin flavor will leave seasonal fans wanting more while true ale fans might enjoy the kick of a little something extra in this variety. (Pumpkin: 1, Spice: 3, Bitterness: 2, Overall: 3)

Laurena: Nutty and with a zing of spice. Pumpkin flavor is subtle, but pumpkin is a delicate flavor, always married with spices. Who eats pumpkin on its own? Brewers have the task of retaining the fresh flavor of pumpkin flesh in familiar notes of pumpkin pie spices. Lack of pumpkin flavor aside, I would drink this beer, enjoyable, throughout the brisk months. (Pumpkin: 2, Spice: 3, Bitterness: 2, Overall: 3)

Scott: More flavorful — akin to their Nut Brown Ale. Not a lot of pumpkin flavor. More body than the Elysian. I could drink this easily as a fall ale. It doesn’t stand out as a “pumpkin beer,” but a pretty good all-around ale. (Pumpkin: 1, Spice: 2, Bitterness: 2, Overall: 3)


If you need a snack to pair with your beer or want to take a non-alcoholic approach to getting your pumpkin fix, here are some seasonal snacks to stack in your grocery cart:

■ Hersey’s Kisses Pumpkin Spice

■ Yoplait Light Pumpkin Pie Yogurt

■ Pepperidge Farm Limited Edition Pumpkin Cheesecake Soft Dessert Cookies

■ Frosted Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts

■ Dreyer’s Limited Edition Pumpkin Ice Cream

■ Eggo Seasons Pumpkin Spice Waffles

■ Pringles Pumpkin Pie Spice chips

■ Country Crock Pumpkin Spice spread

■ Little Debbie’s Pumpkin Delights

■ Ghirardelli Pumpkin Spice Caramel chocolate squares

■ Thomas Pumpkin Spice Bagels

■ Philadelphia Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese

■ Planters Pumpkin Spice Almonds

■ Coffee-Mate Pumpkin Spice coffee creamer

■ Jell-O Pumpkin Spice instant pudding

■ Green Mountain Coffee Pumpkin Spice coffee k-cups

■ Jet Puffed Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows

Few things sound better this time of year than settling into a comfy recliner as the sun sets after a strenuous leaf-raking session and downing a dark brown ale and a slice of pumpkin pie.

Brewers nationwide are allowing pumpkin enthusiasts to put away the dessert and drink their nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger with an ever-expanding roster of pumpkin beers. It started as an East Coast trend a few years ago and expanded to the craft breweries of the West, according to Tyler Loomis, who works in the beer department at Fisher’s Liquor Barn, 2438 F Road.

Loomis said the prevalence of craft brews in Colorado has expanded drinker’s palettes and allowed seasonal flavors such as pumpkin to gather a devoted following.

“People are tired of the same old beer all the time,” Loomis said. “Everyone wants that fall flavor because there are so many good flavors in the fall. Pumpkin just goes really well with beer.”

Loomis said pumpkin and raspberry are close contenders for the most popular seasonal beer flavors, with berry being more of a summer ingredient. Demand is so high for pumpkin, Fisher’s ordered 10 cases of one of the premiere pumpkin ales, Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead, and ran out within a week, according to Loomis.

Pumpkin beers have been popping up on local shelves since late August, according to Monty Haltiner, president of the local Homebrewers Association chapter and a beer distributor for C R Goodman. Haltiner cautioned it may be hard for pumpkin enthusiasts to get their hands on some brands of fall seasonal beer by Halloween, considering most pumpkin brews are manufactured in small batches. Some varieties are already gone for this year.

“I’d recommend buying now if someone wants to save (a pumpkin beer) for Thanksgiving,” he suggested.

On a local level, Rockslide Restaurant & Brewery, 401 Main St., will introduce a pumpkin beer on or shortly before Halloween. The seasonal beer will remain on tap while it lasts.

The Rockslide recipe includes real pumpkin and spices that make it taste reminiscent of pumpkin pie, according to head brewer Zorba Proteau.

Getting the spices just right took a few tries at home, Proteau said.

“I certainly hope it’s popular. There’s nothing challenging about it, unless you don’t like pumpkin pie and those (people) are few and far between,” Proteau said.


Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Search More Jobs

734 S. Seventh St.
Grand Junction, CO 81501
970-242-5050; M-F 8:00 - 5:00
Subscribe to print edition
eTear Sheets/ePayments

© 2017 Grand Junction Media, Inc.
By using this site you agree to the Visitor Agreement and the Privacy Policy