It might not feel like fall yet, but now is the time to fill your jack-o’-lantern with ice and brews.
The popularity of pumpkin beer is increasing, as witnessed in both selection and consumption. The Wall Street Journal Market Watch predicts the seasonal favorite will make its best showing yet in terms of sales this fall. That means by the time you’re ready to shop for your Halloween party, the brew might be in ghastly short supply on store shelves.
Although its popularity is relatively new, pumpkin beer is not just another trendy by-product of the craft ale movement. The drink has its roots in colonial history. As far back as 1801, it was cited in medical texts for its restorative qualities.
As a squash variety native to North America, pumpkins were more plentiful to the early European settlers than malted barley, and they provided a good source of the fermentable sugars necessary for brewing. Today, the pumpkin and its spices serve mostly as additives to ales and lagers.
Each year, more and more breweries produce pumpkin beer. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but it offers a cross-section of brands available, perhaps including the one that’s right for your palate.
Lakefront Pumpkin Lager, Milwaukee. Utilizing a recipe sourced from Thomas Jefferson, Lakefront produces one of the few pumpkin lagers. The beer pours a light copper with a full, creamy head, with a light pumpkin and spice nose gives way to an even lighter presence on the palate.
There are two other locally produced pumpkin beers. Tyranena Brewery in Lake Mills produces Painted Ladies Pumpkin Spice Ale and Stevens Point Brewery bottles Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale. Unfortunately neither brand had hit the shelves by WiG’sSept.6 publication deadline.
Imperial Pumking, Southern Tier Brewing Co., Lakewood. N.Y. At 8.6 percent alcohol by volume, this ale is serious. Imperial Pumking pours a bright copper color with orange overtones. Its pronounced pumpkin spice nose is the prelude to a spicy palate with considerable effervescence. This brew is dangerously alluring.
Samuel Adams’ Fat Jack Double Pumpkin, Boston Beer Co. Part of the brewery’s Limited Release series, Fat Jack boasts 28 pounds of pumpkin per barrel of beer and an ABV of 8.5 percent. The beer pours a dark copper, with more pumpkin than spice on the nose and palate. It offers a nice balance for a powerful beer.
Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Easton, Pa. Another Imperial at 8 percent ABV, this one pours unfiltered with a dark amber opacity. Subtle pumpkin notes combine with pronounced spices, including cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom, to make this one a personal favorite.
Buffalo Bill’s Original Pumpkin Ale, Hayward, Calif. Buffalo Bill’s Brewery was the first to reintroduce pumpkin ale to the modern market, and the emphasis appears to be on the pumpkin rather than spice. The beer pours deep amber with as light nose and a clean, primarily pumpkin finish.
Tommyknocker “Small patch” Pumpkin Harvest Ale, Idaho Springs, Colo. With its blend of molasses and spice, this one is a little different. The beer pours with a dark, porter-like color and consistency. A pumpkin molasses nose gives way to mostly molasses on the palate. This one is not your typical pumpkin beer.
Wild Onion Pumpkin Ale, Lake Barrington, Ill. Available only in cans, Wild Onion is an unfiltered pumpkin spice beer that pours cloudy amber with a modest head. This one leans in the direction of pumpkin pie in a glass, with pronounced cloves on a palate that is pleasant and not overly sweet.
O’Fallon Pumpkin Beer, O’Fallon, Mo. Missouri’s little brewery that could was almost out of business a year ago. But new arrangements have helped the producer of one of our favorite pumpkin beers roar back to life. The beer pours an opaque copper with a bright, creamy head. The cloves on both the nose and palate are stronger than the pumpkin in this pie-style beer, which has a creamy mouthfeel and crisp effervescence.
Ichabod Pumpkin Ale, New Holland Brewing Co., Holland, Mich. Look for bright flavors here. The beer pours bright amber with a creamy head and pronounced pumpkin and spice blend on both the nose and palate. It’s clean, crisp and flavorful.
Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale, Portsmouth, N.H. Another personal favorite, this one pours with a clear amber color and modest foam. The deeply nuanced pumpkin nose gives way to a drier pumpkin beer with a better flavor balance.
Wasatch Pumpkin Seasonal Ale, Park City, Utah. As the lightest of the pumpkin beers at just 4 percent ABV, the Wasatch is another pie-in-the-glass beer. Pouring cloudy amber, the beer has a nice pumpkin spice nose, with a strong vegetable presence underneath the cloves and cinnamon. The beer isn’t sweet, but its flavors are pronounced.