The born-in-America tradition of brewing beer with the big orange gourds dates back to Colonial times—the Oxford Companion to Beer reprints a recipe for a rustic-sounding ‘pompion ale’ written in 1771—but the modern pumpkin ale more or less dates to the 1980s, when many gimmicky, too-literal versions tended to taste like cheap grocery store pie (or worse). Alas, some still do.
But many of today’s craft brewers are finding ways to utilize fermentable pumpkin starch and those fall-appropriate spices with far more skill. There’s no real parameters aside from using real pumpkins and spices like ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves in various combinations; the variations are a matter of skill and intent. Without further ado, here are our picks for three great pumpkin ales to try this fall as they come available, in order of strength.
The Great Pumpkin Ale (4.4%abv)
Cambridge Brewing Co., Boston, MA
Now an annual tradition, CBC’s fall offering is just 4.4% and smells of real pumpkin, not the faux pie-spice of a scratch-and-sniff sticker.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, DE
Inspired by the annual Punkin Chunkin World Championships held every fall, this started as founder Sam’s first-ever seasonal homebrew, using real pumpkin meat, cinnamon and allspice, and organic brown sugar.
Good Gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale (8.5%abv)
Cigar City Brewing Co., Tampa, FL
This burgeoning and adventurous craft brewery adds spices including Ceylon cinnamon, Jamaican all-spice, Zanzibar cloves and nutmeg, making for an intense but well-balanced brew.
Have you tried a pumpkin beer? Tell us below.