The Best Pumpkin Beers of 2014

While I usually do a round up of 13 pumpkin beers each Fall, this year I am approaching it a little differently. I’m going to recommend my three favorite pumpkin beers of this year. As it turns out, I started out the usual way and sampled 17 pumpkin beers from around the country. So the caveat at the outset is that there are probably more than 100, perhaps a lot more, pumpkin beers around the country and I didn’t try every one. The criteria I used to select the ones I tried is pretty random. I picked common ones that seem pretty easily available and ones I thought I would like. I then decided among those, which I liked best. There are two different strains in pumpkin beers. Those that are simple, e.g, take a brown ale or an amber ale and add some pumpkin and spices to it. And those that are more complex, e.g., take a stout and add pumpkin to it, along with a lot of spices, bump up the alcohol content and age it in bourbon barrels. In a sense it’s a little unfair to compare those different kinds of beer. However, there are some that straddle both categories. Because of that, I feel like it is possible to take a simple pumpkin beer and make it something more special. Of course, the opposite is possible too, take a complex beer and get the balance wrong, and you’ve got an awful mess. Anyway, in no particular order, the pumpkin beers I tried are as follows: Blue Mountain Spooky, Long Trail Imperial Pumpkin, Epic/DC Brau Fermentation Without Representation, Lickinghole Creek Pumpkin Ain’t Easy, Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, Brooklyn Brewery Post Road, Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin, Heavy Seas Great’ER Pumpkin, Aleworks Pumpkin, Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin, RJ Rockers Gruntled Pumpkin, New Holland Ichabod, Shipyard Pumpkinhead, Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream, Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale, Almanac Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine, Coronado Punk’In Drublic. Most were in bottles I bought and tried at home. The last two I had at the Great American Beer Festival. I don’t really like talking much about ones I don’t like, but for purposes of helping guide you in what to get, I found the Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin, the Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream, the Brooklyn Post Road and the New Holland Ichabod to be in the simple category and they did not bump it up a notch. I would probably avoid them given the breadth of other choices, unless you were buying for someone who is not really into craft beer. Shipyard Pumpkinhead and Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale are examples of beers that are not barrel aged and don’t have lots of crazy ingredients beyond just pumpkin and pie spices, but they really represent something special. I was also happily surprised with the RJ Rockers Gruntled Pumpkin and Aleworks Pumpkin. All three of my favorites, though, fall into the special category where the brewers bumped up the alcohol content, added some special ingredients and/or barrel aged the beer. I hate to be so predictable, but it is hard to avoid. The combination of flavors adds layers of complexity. If I were to expand the list to five, I might have included Pumpkinhead and Punkin Ale. Alas, that was not the way I decided to go. So here we are, the final three…(drum roll)…Number 3 – Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin, Number 2 – Heavy Seas Great’ER Pumpkin, and lastly, Number 1 – Almanac Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine. Really I would give all five of the latter five beers I mentioned a rating of five out of five proper pints, but I did like the Almanac the best. Unfortunately, I have not seen it on the East Coast. Of those available on the East Coast, the Heavy Seas Great”ER Pumpkin would win, but the Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin would be close behind.

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