Pumpkin beer is divisive. Mocked by many but purchased by millions, the category perplexes retailers, brewers, and consumers alternatively delighted and overwhelmed by all-pumpkin everything.
In the spirit of giving the people what they do (and do not) want, we gathered 28 pumpkin beers and ciders to create the one and only ranking you need. Included are the pumpkin beers we liked, those we think are perfectly passable, and a select few we very much do not suggest bringing to your next leaf-raking, football-watching, or sweater-wearing event.
Most of the beers we tasted fall into the category of pumpkin PIE beers, not pumpkin beers. Predominantly flavored with spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice, these are the beers that tend to invoke passionate reactions in both fans and detractors. The more subtle offerings, on the other hand, taste more like straight-up gourds than something a coffee conglomerate would sell. There were a few bad pumpkin beers that we found and a few really good ones, but more often then not the pumpkin beers we sampled were middling. Fine for a six-pack or two to get you in an autumnal mood, but nothing to write home about.
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Without further ado, here’s our definitive list, with the top 10 standout best ranked at the top.
10. Downeast Pumpkin Blend Unfiltered
O.K., so this isn’t a beer, but it’s as thick and juicy as a New England IPA, and more balanced in flavor than three-fourths of the pumpkin beers out there in the world. Pumpkin cider is the cubic zirconia of the pumpkin beer world; only in this world, the runner-up (cider) is usually better than the real thing (beer). It’s thick as unfiltered juice, with a weight you can feel on your tongue. It’s like you took some soft ripe apple from an apple pie, layered it with cinnamon, and then made it into a hard cider. Drink while wearing flannel next to a fire.
9. Southern Tier Warlock
Warlock is prime contentment. It’s listening to the raw sounds of a street performer playing the saxophone. It’s a pumpkin beer without the cloyingly sweet flavors no one really liked in the first place. There’s a Cheerios smell as well as taste, with big bitter notes to round it out. Toasted malt plays the lead in both color of the beer and taste. I don’t know how Warlock hasn’t cast a spell and made all of Southern Tier’s other pumpkin beers disappear yet.
8. Wasatch Brewery Black O’Lantern Pumpkin Stout
Pumpkin stouts are a nice variation on the sugared-up amber ales that normally get the pumpkin treatment. But Black O’Lantern isn’t high on this list just because it’s different. The beer has a dusty dry spice feel to it with a good dose of chocolate and clove flavor. The sweetness stays with you to the end while a slight bitterness balances it out. I don’t know why more breweries haven’t abandoned traditional pumpkin beers altogether to make pumpkin stouts, but then again I don’t know many breweries that can make a stout like Wasatch.
7. Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
A brown ale with pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg, this beer is clean. There’s a certain point when you drink pumpkin beers that you realize you maybe don’t like pumpkin, you just like all the sugar and spices people associate with pumpkin. This is a good iteration of that, because that fresh pumpkin feel sits exactly where it should be in the beer — in the back, where it’s barely noticeable. Dogfish Head keeps it real by making it a beer first, and then gently layering in the nutmeg and cinnamon and brown sugar.
6. Uinta Brewing Punk’n
Smells like a freshly baked pumpkin pie, and tastes light and refreshing as an autumn breeze. It’s got a light body and just a touch of hops to give it some bitter depth. The pumpkin spices are there, but not beating your tastebuds into a pulpy pumpkin pie mess. For the pumpkin spices, you get mostly cinnamon and nutmeg with some residual feel of cinnamon afterward. It’s balanced with just enough sweetness to stay interesting.
5. Elysian Punkuccino Coffee Pumpkin Ale
Sometimes a person just wants a trip to Flavortown, and drinking a Punkuccino is like walking into a Starbucks that makes no-fault, full-flavor PSLs. It’s what a pumpkin spice latte should taste like, if pumpkin spice lattes were supposed to taste like beer. The creaminess of coffee — top- notch coffee from Stumptown, nonetheless — with a hint of pumpkin spice. The creaminess and weight to the beer make this something to drink from morning till night. It’s a “while Rome burns” beer that you can drink in a nothing-matters- anyways mood as the world around you descends into chaos. No worries, no prior biases, all pleasure.
4. Samuel Adams 20 Pounds of Pumpkin
Boston Beer Company found a nice balance of pumpkin flavors and beer with their 20 Pounds of Pumpkin. It’s a clear amber beer with a nose in line with what you’d expect if you picked up something with a pumpkin on the label. The beer rides the line between the extremes of the pumpkin spice crowd and the beer crowd, and tastes like some marketing research went into this to find the perfect balance on the flavor scale. In the bottle that’s perfectly fine, because there’s nothing like a beer that listens to what the people want without abandoning its roots as an actual, drinkable, sessionable, alcoholic beverage.
3. Schlafly Pumpkin Ale
A beer big enough that you want to keep it in check, regardless of whether or not you want to finish off a six- pack. There’s a slight menthol end to the beer from the cloves, and overall the beer is heavy on pumpkin pie spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. The beer notes poke through the spice and alcohol. Americans like their pumpkin in pie form, where it tastes as little like actual pumpkin as possible. Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale is pumpkin pie, but in beer.
2. Upslope Pumpkin Ale
Putting this so close to the top might be cheating a little because Upslope’s Pumpkin Ale hardly tastes like pumpkin, but it’s my list and I’ll put things where they belong in terms of taste. It’s slightly bready and creamy, and extremely light on the tongue for how high the alcohol is. Not sweet at all. Not sure if it’s because of the baby bear pumpkins Upslope uses instead of regular pumpkins, or because of the lack of sugar and pumpkin spice, but whatever it is, this is a winner. It’s a pumpkin beer if you put a pair of binoculars on your taste buds and search for the spices, but it’s a good beer first, good pumpkin beer second.
1. Cigar City Brewing Good Gourd
I was more than desperate to find this beer in New York City to include on this list, and was worried I wouldn’t be able to find it in time. Luckily, I found the last one at a shop with a one-bottle limit, and my expectations somehow rose even higher. The taste held up to expectations. It’s more of a pumpkin bread beer than a pumpkin pie beer. It’s thick with flavor and low in carbonation, with brown sugar notes only slightly hiding the alcohol beneath. Allspice shines through, as does vanilla and nutmeg. This beer is a meal unto itself, and a must-try for both true lovers of pumpkin beers and true haters.
Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Wheat
A perfectly fine pumpkin beer with plenty of carbonation, nutmeg, and cinnamon flavors. Cheap, light, and sessionable.
Coney Island Freaktoberfest Big Ol’ Pumpkin Ale
Are you ready for your nightly shot of espresso? Coffee flavors come in strong in the Freaktoberest. It’s like a light toasty coffee with pumpkin spices well blended into the mix. It’s middle of the line — not too chalky, not too sweet. We don’t think anyone looking for a pumpkin beer would be upset by this, and we don’t think all the trend chasers who “hate pumpkin and anything sweet” would be turned off either.
Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale
The mid-range of boozy pumpkin beers. Every spice flavor you’d expect from a true pumpkin ale shines through in Weyerbacher’s imperial ale, but nothing to make it stand out.
Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
Smuttynose brings a few other spices to the table like coriander and ginger, but the sweetness of the pumpkin spices is thrown in as well. Instead of making the beer more complex, it makes it just a bit overwhelming. It’s a fine sipping beer, but hard to justify finishing a six-pack.
A barrel-aged beer with different nuances every year. It’s good, but there’s just one thing that’s hard to get over: how hard the alcohol cudgels every other flavor into silence. At around 18 percent alcohol by volume, drink Rumpkin with caution.
Brooklyn Brewery Post Road Pumpkin Ale
Vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon dominate with some brown sugar. If you ignore the carbonation, it tastes and feels like liquid pumpkin pie. Overall a decent pumpkin beer that I’d order again, but nothing really stands out.
Devils Backbone Pumpkin Hunter
Pumpkin Hunter drinks like it wants you to remember that it’s a beer. It tastes like a German version of a pumpkin beer with subtle notes of fresh pumpkin layered on a malty ale. The finish is slightly chewy, but there’s enough initial flavor to save it.
Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter
Dark malt flavors and pumpkin spice flavors belong together. Four Peaks’ Pumpkin Porter is a fine example of why. It’s malty and loaded with smooth pumpkin spice flavors. It’s easy-drinking and leaves you wanting more.
Elysian Great Pumpkin Ale
High-alcohol pumpkin beer can go one of four ways: Focus more on the beer flavors to hide the alcohol, focus more on the sweet flavors to hide the alcohol, embrace the alcohol, or menthol it up with cloves to hide the alcohol. The Great Pumpkin Ale is the latter, and you’ll want to split the bottle. It tastes and smells like canned pumpkin with a whip cream feel to it and it avoids being cloying or dusty. Hard to escape the alcohol and clove, though.
Ballast Point Pumpkin Down
Aroma is just short of heavy pumpkin and filled with the promise of a good Scottish ale. It tastes brown sugary and malty in a slightly off kilt with a tad too much sugar. There’s nothing great about this beer, but nothing all that bad either. It’s just a solid, slightly pumpkiny Scottish ale.
Elysian Night Owl
Smells like canned pumpkin right out of the gates. Night Owl has a slight menthol taste to it on the front but it lifts it up a little and makes it seem lighter than you’d think when looking at the smashed pumpkin orange color and 6.7 percent alcohol by volume.
Harpoon Pumpkin Cider
Surprise! It’s a cider sneaking its way into a pumpkin beer list. Harpoon’s pumpkin cider is tart and refreshing with just the right amount of pumpkin spice. Think like a good, non-alcoholic Martinelli’s cider, but reduce the carbonation to a more subtle level and add pumpkin spice. I want to drink this all day while picking apples and riding on trailer tractors full of hay.
Elysian Dark O’ The Moon
Pop open a Dark O’ The Moon and prepare for your taste buds to snuggle up in a chocolate blanket. A high cacao flavor with a good bitter feel at the end balances out the sweetness at the front of the beer. Dark O’ The Moon has a tan head and dark, full, and creamy body. I wouldn’t pick it up and say, “Shit, that’s a pumpkin beer,” but I would say it’s a good stout that’s in the category of pumpkin beers.
Two Roads Roadsmary’s Baby
A-plus name that trusts the consumer to put the Halloweeny feels together with pumpkin tastes. At first sip I didn’t want to like Roadsmary’s Baby because of the high clove taste, but I can’t help but find pumpkin spice comfort in it. It’s like going home to the room you’ve always known and loved, but there’s something different about it. Not different enough to make you feel uncomfortable, but different enough to make you think awhile and crack open another beer.
Greenport Leaf Pile Ale
Leaf Pile Ale is a beer fit for the people who don’t want to admit they like pumpkin beers. There are coffee notes, a malty sweetness, and some bitter hops. Leaf Pile tastes like they wanted to make a pumpkin beer that tastes like beer. If there weren’t an orange label stuck on the front, would people even know it was a pumpkin beer? Does it even matter? Leaf pile is a pumpkin beer and if you want to get in the season without getting in the pumpkin beer scene with something that tastes more like a traditional Märzen, then Greenport has the beer for you.
A watered-down version of a beer with an afterthought of pumpkin. I get why they encourage use of a cinnamon sugar rim.
Southern Tier Imperial Pumking
The pumpkin flavors in Imperial Pumking are of the Starbucks variety, and appear to be more about covering up the high alcohol than anything else. There’s something dish soapy about it, in all the wrong ways. It presents chalky, nutmeg notes. If you’re looking to get festively drunk before trick-or-treating, here’s your beer.
Wasatch Brewery Nitro Pumpkin
We’re happy to see nitro breaking into the pumpkinsphere, but it doesn’t work in this beer, which smells exactly like a cinnamon stick. Our advice? Stick with the Wasatch Black O’ Lantern.