by Patrick Thomas, Laurel Mountain Post Contributing Writer
As summer slowly begins to fade away, we see the leaves beginning to change colors, the temperatures dropping and that can only mean one thing; fall seasonal beers are here!
The history behind pumpkin beers (or at least what has been recorded) dates the whole way back to early colonial times, when the only “master brewers” were that of a Pilgrim descent. The primary motivations behind pumpkin beer arose from the decision to brew beer with cheaper, local products (such as pumpkin and squash) and lessening the burdens of expensive pricing on imported malts.
What we find in today’s pumpkin beers are a wide-range of ingredients including real pumpkin, imitation pumpkin flavors, cinnamon, cloves, brown sugar, nutmeg and caramel. While I attempt to group these fall seasonal beers into one category, let it be known that all of these beers have significant differences.
As you begin to embark on your flavorfully festive beer journey, you may notice vast differences in attributes such as alcohol content (average content is 5.0-7.0%), amount of hops, abundance of spices, color of the beer’s body and the strength of the aroma. Given the background information that I mentioned above, I wanted to share my opinion of ten fall seasonal beers to try during the next coming months. Before I jump into my list, I also wanted to share a few tips to make your experiences with each beer more enjoyable.
First, pumpkin beers pair great with a variety of foods including turkey, sweet potatoes, zucchini bread and (my favorite) bratwurst with sauerkraut. If you are unsure about which foods to pair these tasty treats with, a great base to work off of is to aim for foods with fall flavor, that can properly balance the pumpkin spices without “stealing the show.”
Secondly, for you experienced drinkers (there’s no need to be shy), try adding a shot of whipped cream or vanilla vodka once opening/pouring your pumpkin beer. Also, try lining the rim of your bottle, glass or growler with either cinnamon, brown sugar or both. These additional flavors not only please the taste buds, but are also guaranteed to put a smile on your face!
Third, the ingredients, spices and aromas within these beers are highly preferred to be served at 45 to 50 degrees. Within this temperature range, the smell will be stronger and the taste is considered to be the most flavorful. Although this is the preferred temperature, there have been known cases where people prefer either ice-cold or room-temperature. My advice would be to test each scenario and see which you prefer.
Finally, this list was compiled based off of my personal experiences, professional reviews and also, with the detailed help from a local beer distributor, Pittsburgh Street Beverage. But without further ado, I present to each of you my top ten list of seasonal beers to try this fall:
1. Punkin Ale, Dogfish Head Brewery
ABV: 7.00%. Key Ingredient(s): pumpkin, organic brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Description: As most avid beer drinkers know, Dogfish Head is known for brewing its beers on the extreme side with a plethora of hops and unique ingredients (i.e. pressurized orange peels and espresso beans), however the Punkin Ale hits the taste buds with a refreshing pumpkin flavor with a lesser “hoppy” taste. The Punkin Ale is viewed as a fall favorite, scoring one of the highest review averages with the professionals at BeerAdvocate. One final note, the Punkin Ale is also known for its distinct potency. While the aroma of the beer favors the mild side, the close similarity to pumpkin pie is a trait that the majority of pumpkin-flavored beers lack (so, don’t forget to take a whiff). Enjoy!
2. Pumking, Southern Tier Brewing Company.
ABV: 8.60%. Key Ingredient(s): pumpkin, caramel malt, vanilla, pie crust. Description: Southern Tier’s Pumking is back again this year and beer drink-ers anticipate the brewery to release more cases of its Pumking than ever before! This fall seasonal is known for its above-average sweetness, which is mostly credited to the caramel malts and vanilla flavoring. In addi-tion to the flavor itself, Pumking also offers a benefit to its drinkers with the beer’s aroma, which emits the smell of pumpkin pie with a buttery, pecan crust. The Pumking Ale is not for the mild beer drinker, expect this beer to deliver a strong, full-flavored taste (which of course is necessary due to the high alcohol content). If your mouth has started to water, have no worries because Southern Tier began releasing cases and kegs of its Pumking Ale in late-July.
3. Yuengling Oktoberfest, Yuengling Brewery
ABV: N/A. Key Ingredient(s): caramel. Description: America’s oldest brewery and a Pennsylvania favorite will return again this year with their nearly-infant version of an Oktoberfest (or MÓrzen). After sorting through countless numbers of reviews online, it seems that Pennsylvanians favor the Yuengling Oktoberfest (which I am sure is surprising). With a hint of caramel and an above-average level of carbonation, Yuengling enters its third year of Oktoberfest. This beer also has an enjoyable creamy, white head that goes down smoother than your average Oktoberfest offerings.An additional note for the Oktoberfest lovers, this mild version of an Oktoberfest beer has a weaker flavor yet that Yuengling touch that everyone enjoys. A word of advice for you Yuengling drinkers; when you get the chance, get your hands on a case of the Oktoberfest because they sell quickly!
4. Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale, Coors Brewing Company
ABV: 5.70%. Key Ingredient(s): vine-ripened pumpkin, wheat, clove flavoring. Description: Blue Moon provides customers with a drier version of a pumpkin-flavored beer, which results from lesser pumpkin spices and the slight wheat base. Crafted since 1995 (during a time which Oktoberfest beers were high in demand), the Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale combines the strong flavors from Oktoberfest beers with the delightfulness of seasonal pumpkin flavoring. The Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale “hits it right on the nose” with a spicy, caramel aroma and a hint of gingersnaps. This fall seasonal also has a lack of hops to it, which is not only expected from a larger brewing company but also ideal for non-beer drinkers at holiday gatherings.
5. Samuel Adams Octoberfest, Boston Beer Company
ABV: 5.30%. Key Ingredient(s): Bavarian Noble hops (for slight bitterness), caramel, toffee, barley. Description: As always, Samuel Adams Octoberfest provides another seasonal favorite with a milder version of an Oktoberfest beer. This beverage is actually considered an amber lager, which is not far from the traditional Boston Lager that many have known and loved. The beer provides a mild sweetness, but also provides the signature hoppy combination that people love about Samuel Adams. In my opinion, the quality that Samuel Adams provides for the price that each case is sold for is nearly a steal, offering customers flavorful yet hoppy taste for a great price. Similar to the Blue Moon Harvest Moon, Samuel Adams October-fest is also favored by many non-beer drinkers and is a great choice for holiday gatherings.
6. The Great Pumpkin, Elysian Brewing Company
ABV: 8.10%. Key Ingredient(s): pumpkin, roasted pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves. Description: Elysian Brewing Company, out of Seattle, WA, brings their Great Pumpkin seasonal beer to the table this year. According to Beer Advocate.com, The Great Pumpkin has one of the highest ratings of all pumpkin beers (hitting the rank of “outstanding”). If you are looking for a beer that packs a mean punch this fall, the Great Pumpkin’s alcohol-by-volume content is well above the average at 8.10%. However, do not let the high ABV fool you, the Great Pumpkin offers an in-tense pumpkin flavor with heavy flavorings of dark caramel, moderate cinnamon and a hint of brown sugar. This seasonal brew is also recognized for its heavy aroma, and it is one of the most potent pumpkin beers out there (in my opinion). With such a high alcohol content, yet heavy spices and flavoring, the Great Pumpkin is very drinkable with a fairly smooth finish. Expect some dryness at the end of each sip, but not enough to scare away the craft beer rookies.
7. Saranac Pumpkin Ale, Matt Brewing Company
ABV: 5.40%. Key Ingredient(s): vanilla, cloves. Description: May I have the attention of the light, tastier beer drinkers? This seasonal beer is for you! For starters, not many professional beer critics favor this pumpkin beer as much, but in my opinion I have noticed that Saranac Pumpkin Ale has a great appeal to those who enjoy a tastier beverage (as compared to a stronger alcohol taste). This fall seasonal offers a very slight dryness, paired with a pleasant aroma comparable to pumpkin pie with a cinnamon finish. Perhaps the biggest benefit that Saranac delivers with their Pumpkin Ale is the cost efficiency component of the beer. Saranac Pumpkin Ale is among one of the cheapest fall seasonals available and comes highly recommended for the “beer bargain shoppers.”
8. Post Road Pumpkin Ale, Brooklyn Brewery
ABV: 5.00%. Key Ingredient(s): pumpkin, barley malt, nutmeg, wheat. Description: The Brooklyn Brewery gives their drinkers another beer to rant and rave about with the Post Road Pumpkin Ale. For starters, expect this pumpkin seasonal to be heavily spiced with a slight hint of hops, offering a taste dominated by pumpkin, cloves and a sweet caramel finish. Although Brooklyn’s Post Road has below-average alcohol content, the heavy abundance of spices and a slightly dry finish shows much resemblance to the typical Brooklyn style of beer. Another unique attribute is the strong aroma of Post Road Pumpkin Ale, so don’t forget to take in the scent of the biscuity malts and faint cinnamon! From the perspective of the beer experts, the “tasty tradition” that Brooklyn Brewery offers is always worth at least a taste test, so drink up!
9. Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale, Shipyard Brewing Company
ABV: 4.70%. Key Ingredient(s): pumpkin spices, cinnamon, nutmeg. Description: If breweries were to create a light pump-kin beer, I think it would be very close to the Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale, brewed by Shipyard Brewing Company in Portland, Maine. The mild pumpkin taste is attributed to Shipyard’s addition of pumpkin spices (opposed to actual pumpkin) within this fall seasonal. Contrary to the majority of the available pumpkin beers, Pumpkinhead Ale also has an above-average level of carbonation that you will notice as the beer head begins to sizzle. This ale (although the attributes are closer to that of a lager) will be a slightly different than your typical pumpkin beer, given the artificial spicing and over-abundance of cinnamon spicing. The aroma is fairly weak, giving off a hint of pumpkin pie smell at best. For those of you who may check review websites such as Beer Advocate.com and RateBeer.com, do not let the reviews be misleading. Shipyard offers a pumpkin ale that is comparable to a light beer, with a mild presence of pumpkin flavoring and is not too aggressive with its alcohol content. If you are a bit hesitant, definitely stop by a local six-pack shop to give this underrated fall seasonal a taste!
10. Crimson Pumpkin, All Saints Brewing Company
ABV: 5.30%. Key Ingredient(s): 120 slow roasted pie pumpkins, toasty malts. Description: I wanted to take the time to recognize a local brewery located in Greensburg, All Saints Brewing Company, which has been very successful since opening their doors. They offer a fantastic version of a fall seasonal, Greensburg’s infamous Crimson Pumpkin. For starters, they use fresh (and local) pie pumpkins and combine those with a hybrid version of their most popular brew, the Crimson Halo (for those of you that have had it, I assume your mouths have started watering). This pumpkin brew goes down exceptionally smooth, with a comfortable touch of fall spicing that is certainly not over-whelming.The alcohol content sits at 5.30%, which is an average level for a pumpkin flavored beer. All Saints is open Wednesdays from 3 to 6 p.m., Fridays from 3 to 8 p.m., Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m. That being said, I highly suggest that each of you give this place a shot because their prices are beyond reasonable, the experience is unique, and most importantly, they brew each beer with exceptional detail and care. Enjoy your growlers!
I would like to personally thank my friends, Frank and Mary Mesich of Pittsburgh Street Beverage in Greensburg, for their fantastic knowledge of craft and specialty beers. Both of them were very helpful in providing detailed information on each beer, as well as going above-and-beyond to help me out not only for this column, but also as a fellow customer. For those of you located in Greensburg and its surrounding areas, I highly recommend that you stop by their store to check out the craft room (it’s like heaven in the form of a beer store). Also, Frank and Mary have assured me that they will have all of these beers available for walk-in or special orders, just in case any of you were “on the hunt” for some fall deliciousness!
I hope that each of you discovers at least one new beer to enjoy during these festive few months and remember, the beauty is in the eyes of the [pumpkin] beer holder. Cheers!
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Patrick is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Complementary to his enrollment as a graduate student, Patrick has always had a passion for not only providing help to others but more specifically to our growing youth. As a graduate assistant with the University, Patrick specializes in resume building, interview skills, career growth and personal development.
Aside from his educational background, Patrick also believes in the importance of volunteerism. As a third generation member of the fireman community, he continuously works with various fire departments in the Greensburg area through fundraisers, community involvement and the company marching band. His belief is that we, as members of society, owe it to each other to lend a helping hand to all of those in need.
On a personal level, Patrick currently lives with his lovely wife, Carly, in their Greensburg home. Away from his work schedule and household duties, Patrick especially enjoys spending his time with his wife, where they partake in various activities including mini-golf, cooking out, attending a Steelers game, and building an igloo.
Patrick’s main goal is to relate with the young readers of the Laurel Mountain Post. The purpose of his pieces are to provide useful tips and advice to the younger generation, as well as offer some entertaining articles along the way. While Patrick does aim to reach the younger readers, however, he also hopes to inspire all readers (including the parents of those younger readers) to keep learning new things on an every day basis.
What can a reader expect from Patrick’s articles? The answer includes a wide variety of topics from career development to cooking basics to upcoming music festivals to seasonal beers. As a young writer, Patrick looks forward to interacting with each of his readers and welcomes input from each and every one of you.