Battle of The Pumpkin Brews
If you're anything like us, odds are that you've fallen victim to the very nature of the beast, or should we say ghoul, that is grocery shopping in October.
Every Fall, we watch pumpkin-flavored-everything permeate our grocery store aisles, and in our best attempt to be festive, we continue to fill our shopping carts with everything bearing the word "pumpkin" on its label. Here at SF Bartenders, though we do enjoy our fair share of pumpkin spice cookies, candy corn, and PSLs, being a beverage catering company, we tend to have a soft spot for the boo-ze.
Given that by nature, pumpkin beer has a tendency of being profoundly hit-or-miss, the team at SF Bartenders took the liberty of sampling every pumpkin beer that lined the aisle at our local Whole Foods market this year and are reporting back to you to save you the trouble-- and a few bucks (we’ll send you an invoice).
For the TL;DR version, the brews in bold were our fan faves.
1.) BUFFALO BILL’S BREWERY’S AMERICA’S ORIGINAL PUMPKIN ALE- ABV 6%, IBU 12
Before this sampling, our colleague Sarah proclaimed this ale as her "go-to pumpkin beer," and clearly she wasn't the only one who shared this sentiment. With Buffalo Bill brewing up the first commercial pumpkin ale to hit the market in 1985, he's kept OG pumpkin fans like us sipping for 30+ years now. Our man Bill's ale is a lighter-bodied beer, very sugary and sweet, which we best described as pumpkin candy-flavored. One of our favorite things about Buffalo Bill's brand was that the bottle cap flaunted the words "do not use teeth," which we enjoyed almost as much as our teeth did. All in all, a solid, classic, and hearty pumpkin beer to its very core.
2.) ELYSIAN NIGHT OWL PUMPKIN ALE- ABV 6.7%, IBU-18.
A beer that is far easier to drink than it is to pronounce, Elysian Night Owl is a pumpkin ale that SF Bartenders’ founder, Seth, described as “Aunt Diana’s pumpkin pie,” and though the rest of us have never met this mythical Aunt Diana, nor have we had her pumpkin pie, we couldn’t agree more. Brewed with 7 pounds of pumpkin per barrel and quintessential fall spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice, this beer is as close to liquid, alcoholic, pumpkin pie as they come. That being said, drinking more than a glass or two could be a feat given the sweetness, so it might be wise to share a "slice" with a friend.
3.) SHIPYARD SMASHED PUMPKIN ALE- ABV 9%, IBU- 26
The first word uttered from our team concerning smell and taste of this beer was “metallic.” The general consensus then graduated into describing the pumpkin flavor as “thin” and “artificial.” We went through the inaccurate flavor description listed on the bottle as if it were a checklist; "big body, it says? As far as body, no. I think its big in terms of alcohol content goes, but not body. Aroma? Yeah, I mean, I don't smell nutmeg, I don't smell pumpkin, I don't smell allspice, I don't smell clove.. It just smells like an artificial pumpkin beer."
If you couldn't already tell, we weren't particularly fond of Shipyard’s Signature Ale, and were in resounding agreement that it simply just tasted like cheap beer with cheap pumpkin flavoring. SFB would not particularly recommend, unless you're in a bind and looking for a cheap pumpkin fix, but given that this was one of the most expensive beers in this tasting, tipping the scale at over $9 for a liter at our local Whole Foods, you'd probably be better off opting for, like, anything else.
4.) DOGFISH HEAD PUNKIN ALE- ABV: 7%, IBU’s: 28
Sarah hit the nail on the head with her comment of “it’s the most well-rounded. It’s not too boozy, not too pumpkin-ey, [and] not too spicy.” Again, we found ourselves reading through the flavor profile listed on the bottle as if it were a checklist, but in this case, we were remarkably less reluctant to leave each box with a check; "I do taste the pumpkin spices, allspice, brown sugar. It is full bodied and well rounded."
Because of this, Dogfish won our pick for all-around most drinkable pumpkin beer by a landslide. Though we found The Elysian (or however you pronounce that) Night Owl, to be quite the hoot, this "Punkin" ale is the better option If you're searching for a pumpkin beer that you can drink more than one or two of. We also decided to throw in an honorable mention for best dressed because, bro, check out how freakin' cool that label looks.
5.) BUFFALO BILL’S BLACK PUMPKIN OATMEAL STOUT- ABV: 7.9%, IBU’s: 40
We were all in agreement that this beer bore a profoundly cardboard-like smell. Another key recurring descriptor was “granola.” Despite this acutely bland smell though, Seth described the taste as “..a carnival where they try to throw so much onto your plate that its just too much. You know, its just, the nose, the mouth, it lingers for days.” We appreciate the sentiment of our friend Buffalo Bill venturing off into other pumpkin beer arenas, but unfortunately he didn't exactly garner rave reviews from our team on this one.
6.) TREAT IMPERIAL CHOCOLATE PUMPKIN PORTER- ABV:7.8%, IBU’s: 30
Very big on the nose- lots of spices, but not overpowering. Unlike many of the other beers in this tasting, there were few notes of allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and more of raw pumpkin, or as Sarah put it, “no PSL. This is the real deal, like back-alley pumpkin.”
SF Bartenders is fully licensed and insured beverage catering company servicing events throughout the Bay Area and California. For more information or to hire bartenders, visit SFBartenders.co