Fall into pumpkin beer season.
Don’t call it a fad. It’s been here for years. Nearly 250 years to be exact.
Pumpkin beers are about as synonymous with the fall season as pumpkin spice lattes, but their origin actually goes much further back than that. According to “The Oxford Companion to Beer,” the American Philosophical Society published a recipe for a straight “pompion ale” as early as 1771. That’s right, we were brewing pumpkin beers even before we received our independence.
Pumpkin remained a beer ingredient into the 1800s before eventually fading off. It returned in the 1980s when the craft beer revolution was just beginning. In fact, it might have been one of the culprits behind that revolution.
Since its introduction as a primary beer ingredient, few beer adjuncts have been more polarizing than pumpkin. Some folks seem to love pumpkin beers while others remain adamantly opposed to them. Regardless, like clockwork, every year, they’re here. And if history offers any indication, they’re likely here to stay, too.
In northwestern Pennsylvania, we’re fortunate to have so many high-quality breweries, and many of them brew some of the best pumpkin beers that you can find this region. Here’s a detailed look at some of the high-quality pumpkin brews available in the area, including selections from local craft breweries as well as craft breweries who have a larger distribution footprint.
CAUTION! CONTAINS REAL PUMPKIN!!! — Voodoo Brewery, 11.3 ABV. This a perfect sipper to be shared with friends or family. Released every fall, this barleywine is brewed with more than 200 pounds of pumpkin and then aged in bourbon barrels with more pumpkin, cinnamon and Madagascar vanilla beans. It makes for a really unique combination, and it’s perfect for the cool fall weather.
The Devil’s Dark Side Pumpkin Stout — Lavery Brewing Co., 7.0 ABV. I’m a sucker for stouts, and I’m a sucker for pumpkin, so naturally, this is one of my favorites. Surprisingly, it’s not always easy to find a pumpkin stout on shelves, but thankfully, one of the better ones is made right here in Erie. With hints of clove, it’s a really nice introduction to stout season, serving as an appetizer right before we start to drink more stouts regularly throughout the winter months.
The Devil’s Pumpkin Ale — Lavery Brewing Co., 6.5 ABV. This has long been Lavery’s flagship pumpkin beer. It’s both sweet and spicy, but it’s not overpowering, which is one of the reasons why it’s so enjoyable. It’s also a nice example of a classic pumpkin ale and how the style was originally intended to be enjoyed.
Johnny Rails Pumpkin Ale — Erie Brewing Co., 6.5 ABV. Like Lavery’s Devil’s Pumpkin Ale, Johnny Rails Pumpkin Ale is another excellent local offering. It features a really nice pumpkin nose on the front end, but there are also notes of nutmeg and cinnamon. It’s a very well-balanced beer, and it goes down easily. For someone who might still be skeptical of the pumpkin beer style, this serves as a nice introduction.
Spooky Tooth Imperial Pumpkin Ale — Fat Head’s Brewery, 9.0 ABV. After you’ve conquered the lighter, more traditional pumpkin ales, Fat Head’s Spooky Tooth serves as a nice step up. The increased ABV provides a creamier taste, akin to liquid pumpkin pie. There are hints of brown sugar and pie crust throughout, though the beer is never “too much.” All of the ingredients complement one another nicely. It’s a nice example of why Fat Head’s remains one of Cleveland’s best breweries.
Punkin Ale — Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, 7.0 ABV. This is another example of a really nice classic pumpkin ale. The pumpkin is actually quite subtle throughout, allowing the brown sugar and spices to really take over. Like several of the other pumpkin beers on this list, it’s also subtle and goes down easily. It actually might be the most subtle pumpkin beer on this list.
Pumking — Southern Tier Brewing Co., 8.6 ABV. A listing of pumpkin-style beers would not be complete without including the “king,” which remains one of the most popular beers and is still the flagship of the brand. Pumking is not a cheap date, but for good reason, too. The beer features so many different flavors throughout, and they’re so strong that it’s clear this is not an inexpensive beer to make. It’s a beer that must be tried to understand why it’s synonymous with the style. LEL